When I realized recently that I have never made a Classic Couple pairing of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951) and Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower (1999), I vowed to remedy that situation immediately. This classic/contemporary duo always reminds me of the start of the school year, which makes this the perfect time to write about them here. I’m sure this pairing has been done many times before, but I still think there are some interesting parallels worth discussing.
+ Lost souls. Both novels are narrated by protagonists who are unsure of their place or role in life. In the earlier book, the infamous Holden Caulfield who attends Pencey Preparatory Academy before deciding to roam around New York City for a while. Likewise, Charlie, a fifteen-year-old freshman, uncertainly navigates through his first year of high school as he simultaneously deals with a tumultuous home life. Both boys feel lost in a sea of people and just desperately want someone to understand what they’re going through.
+ Narration. Both novels are told through first person narration of their protagonists: Holden is telling his story from a mental institution, while Charlie writes his letters to an unknown audience. This particular similarity is what most closely connects these texts in my mind. The voices of the narrators are so distinct and clear that they feel as though they could certainly have been taken directly from a teenager’s mouth. Few readers may remember the specific events of these texts after reading them, but they surely will remember Holden’s incessant complaining and Charlie’s uncertain worrying.
+ School settings. This list would be incomplete without at least mentioning the school settings that make me associate these novels with this time of year. Holden begins his story at Pencey Preparatory Academy, a private boarding school, whereas Charlies begins his as a freshman at a public high school. Despite the differences between these two schools in terms of education styles and structures, they nevertheless evoke similar feelings of nostalgia and bittersweet fondness for those kinds of coming-of-age experiences.
This Classic Couple may seem a bit obvious or overdone, but I think that’s what makes it so interesting to discuss. Was Chbosky inspired, either consciously or subconsciously, by Salinger’s novel? I think it’s a testament to the enduring quality of The Catcher in the Rye that we still discuss it alongside popular books like The Perks of Being a Wallflower today. After all, isn’t that part of what makes a classic a classic?
Click here to check out other Classic Couples from past posts.
What do you think of this classic couple? What other books would you pair with The Catcher in the Rye? What are your thoughts on either or both of these books? Let me know in the comments section below!