The Great Catcher in the War

A January 28, 2010 photo shows a copies of
Photo credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer. It’s been a quick year. Too quick in fact. And now I find myself looking back.

“In what ways do actions tell more volume than words?” is the question that I’ll be exploring as we travel down memory lane.

In one of my favorite books of all time, The Chocolate War , Robert Cormier explores mob mentality against a lone non-conforming Jerry Renault. During this book, Jerry struggles with chronic depression over the death of his mother. However Jerry becomes inspired to do something with his life after reading a quote from T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” on the inside of his locker. “Do I dare disturb the universe?”

Trinity, the school that Jerry attends has an secret society of troublemakers, The Vigils, who controls the school from the shadows. This year the acting headmaster Brother Leon doubles the amount of chocolates needed to be sold in the annual chocolate fundraiser, and he enlists the help of The Vigils. However, the mastermind of the Vigils, Archie Costello, plays a prank on Brother Leon by ordering Jerry to not accept any chocolates to sell for 10 days, breaking school tradition. Jerry, with his new found purpose in life, decides to disobey this order by not accepting any chocolates even after the 10 days have passed. Why is this important?

Jerry’s actions, his will to not accept any chocolates skews him away from the student body, not conforming to tradition. An aura of shock comes from Jerry’s classmates and peers when he didn’t accept the chocolates for the first 10 days. After that, his peers ask each other “Will he accept the chocolates tomorrow or not?” By not accepting the chocolates on the 10th day, he basically slaps both Brother Leon and The Vigils in the face, telling them that he will not obey them or conform to school tradition, while not even saying a word.

Later in the book, The Vigils manipulates the student body to lynch Jerry with prank calls, bullying, and vandalism for “thinking that he’s better than them”. They even host a boxing match between him and the school bully, Emile Janza, beating Jerry within an inch of his life. Even with the whole student body against him, Jerry refuses to conform, broken and bloody, his actions illustrating his determination to be himself, to be someone different from the crowd.

In The Catcher in the Rye, some readers read through the whole book and get nothing out of it. However, there are multiple underlining themes and conflicts if you watch the actions of the characters rather than what they say. Holden, the protagonist, is obsessed with stopping time with things always being the same. He never calls the girl he loves, Jane, because he’s afraid it would shatter the image he has of her, just like when in The Great Gatsby Gatsby chickens out of having a date with Daisy, since he has a perfect image of her as his soulmate. Like Gatsby, Holden had good times with his “lover”, and wants to return to those days where everything was perfect. Where Allie was still alive, his parents didn’t fight all the time, and he had a best friend/almost lover to rely on. However Gatsby did eventually “turn out alright” because he worked hard because of his image of Daisy, Holden seemed to have no motivation after Allie died and he became sexually abused, failing his classes, becoming a liar, being a hypocrite (phony).

Because Holden was sexually abused as a child, he wants to be the catcher in that rye that  protects the innocence of children. Evidence of this sexual abuse is shown when he recoils from Mr. Antolini’s touch thinking that he was a pervert, and even in Holden’s words he said “When something perverty like that happens, I start sweating like a bastard. That kind of stuff’s happened to me about twenty times since I was a kid.” (193). It’s because of this sexual abuse that Holden takes measures to protect the innocence of children by like rubbing off f-bombs on the walls.

Jerry, Gatsby, and Holden have one thing in common: They all express their actions more than what comes out of their mouth. Jerry with his one-man rebellion against school tradition, Gatsby with his suave charms to capture the literal woman of his dreams, and Holden with him walking in circles, struggling with his sexual abuse. However, that’s all fiction.

In my AP English class, my teacher Mr. Z has expressed his care for his students through his actions rather than his words. For example, Mr. Z tries to consider the heavy schedules of his AP students when assigning homework or any type of project. In addition, he had a reflection system where students reviewed what they learned in a blog post and also inputted advice to Mr. Z on how to improve our classroom experience. But the action with the most volume is that Mr. Z stays after school and makes time for his students to have a one on one conference to review our essays and our work. This is what I’ll remember Mr. Z for, a different breed of English teachers. And for his bald head and no thumbs.

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