The Stranger VS The Catcher In the Rye

strangerWithout hesitation, I can say some literary writers who have influenced me to see the World (with capital W), but the real “giants” who gift me the most impact for my twelve years of beautiful life are Albert Camus and J.D. Salinger.  Last year I picked up a copy of The Catcher In the Rye and I was hooked. Last month, I had a whole stacked of books to read during my school holiday. I pored over them one by one, started to read. The Stranger won my heart straight away. This time, my writing is intended to be a deep dive, side by side comparison of their similaraties and difference. Those who don’t read the books yet might find this article is confusing as I don’t uncover the storylines in details.

The Stranger is a small powerful novella that talks about how a human battle his consciousness to trivialize everything — the killing, his subsequent arrest, his imprisonment, his trial, his conviction, and his sentencing, while The Catcher in the Rye is also a novella which talks about a teenager who has lots of problems in his daily life — getting expelled from school and roaming round New York — and he ends up doing things he isn’t supposed to do, although he thinks the other way around.

Both are not happy books; dealing with despair and isolation. Believe me, they are not upbeat stories. The characters (or the heroes) are similar in many ways;  they are too simple and too complex at the same time. Holden, the lonely teenager from The Catcher In the Rye does rash, life changing actions for three days while he is attempting to deal with the death of his younger brother. His recklessness — all inside his brain, tells him the eternal angst of growing up. He knows that walking underground in New York is a bad, bad idea; but he doesn’t let his brain influence his actions. The main protagonist in The Stranger, Meursault keeps everything more to himself and is introverted. His focus of attention is not placed outside, but rather, internally. On the day he kills the Arab, his brain — broken down by the harsh sunlight,  faintly telling him to turn back. For some reasons, he doesn’t and he shoots the Arab in the end.

ryeThose characters from both stories are haunting me. They are depicted as an individual who is alone and lonely in crowds, failing or refusing to interact or even acknowledge the others in the frame. Those characters are among the best and most advance in all of literature. Somehow — I don’t know how (it could be coming from my puberty hormones), I could connect with them, to feel the sense of not fitting in a place.

Now I come to the hardes part, which is the plot. At the beginning, the plots of those two are rather tedious. It starts off very slowly, but about half way through the books, the narrations are getting into the more bizzare sets of situation.  They may have different plots and different ways of each character gets dealt with his consequences, but the stories are rather simple. They have reaction chain that starts all because of an uncomplicated action. For example, The Stranger opens with Meursault who does not show any kind of grief or sadness at his mother’s funeral. In Holden’s case, it starts when he gets kicked out of the school and can’t go home.

Meursault and Holden are “heroes” like no other in literature. Do I like them? I do not know if I like someone who are obviously guilty of killing a man in cold blood or someone who hates the whole world not because the world is worth hating, but because he’s frustrated at his own immature ability to get along in that world. But, yet the more I think about them, the more I am interested in their dark outlook on life, the more I must admit that they are making sense. I don’t understand why, but the society often wouldn’t tolerate people who are different. These people are special, and it doesn’t really matter whether they are different or not.

In term of setting, these stories are placed in a very normal environment. It’s almost like a shard of daily life, only that it is carried out by an extraordinary character. Both these stories are not black and white. There is no antagonist and there is no heroes at all — like many other stories. It’s doesn’t take place in a fantasy land or beyond the rainbow. Needless to say, they are not uplifting books, but they are engaging, thought-provoking ones.

Jerome David “J. D.” Salinger is an American writer who won acclaim early in life. He leads a very private life for more than a half-century. He published his final original work in 1965 and gave his last interview in 1980. Albert Camus is a French Nobel Prize winning author, journalist, and philosopher. His views contribute to the rise of the philosophy known as absurdism. I thank them for their brilliant gifts. The two of them will stay inside me (unconsciously)  for the rest of my life.


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