Pine Nuts: Holden Caulfield is the 20th century’s Huck Finn |

Pine Nuts: Holden Caulfield is the 20th century’s Huck Finn

I have a self-imposed rule that every other book I read has to be a non-Twain book, preferably written by an author who is not a dead white guy.

Having just completed “Life on the Mississippi” in preparation for a river adventure this November, I heard a call from J.D. Salinger from my library and, breaking my rule, I heeded that call.

The first time I read “The Catcher in the Rye” I was still in college, so this reading was a fresh look, and I enjoyed it all the more.

What a 13-year-old Huckleberry was to 19th century America, a 16-year-old Holden was to 20th century America, two quintessential white adolescents, predisposed to exposing and condemning frauds and humbugs. Both books are written in the first person as narrated by Huck and Holden.

Salinger’s main character, the amusing, immature, and slightly insane malcontent, Holden Caulfield, pays a visit to his biology teacher prior to leaving Pencey Prep, where he has been asked to leave for not applying himself.

Caulfield is invited in by Mrs. Spencer and immediately makes this candid observation, “They each had their own room and all. They were both around seventy years old, or even more than that. They got a bang out of things, though in a half-assed way, of course.”

I took umbrage at that characterization, but my feathers smoothed somewhat when I looked at the date of publication and found it to be 1951.

In a revealing conversation with his “former” biology teacher, Caulfield wastes no time in getting to the nub of the book …

“Life is a game, boy. Life is a game that one plays according to the rules.”

“Yes, Sir. I know it is. I know it.”

Holden then reflects to himself, “Game, my ass. Some game. If you get on the side where all the hot-shots are, then it’s a game all right. But if you get on the other side, where there aren’t any shot-shots, then what’s a game about it? Nothing. No game.”

Where Huck’s touchstone to humanity and morality is his African-American friend Jim, Holden’s is his little sister, Phoebe. Jim and Phoebe are guiding lights in the dark worlds of Huck and Holden, where frauds and humbugs are laying in wait around every bend in the river and on every corner in the city.

Both boys are stuck in a constant struggle between their hearts, which are sound, and their intellects, which are tainted by the societies in which they live. Both boys speak to the solidarity of the human race, and both imagine they will eventually be going to hell, though we recognize the goodness in their hearts, and are left feeling confident that neither of them will be going to hell anytime soon.

Even though they both talk kinda funny, we gotta love them two boys, Huck and Holden, as we patiently await their 21st century counterpart.

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

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