To intro Neil Andrew Charles final thoughts update on 49Up
The 7 Up series of documentaries visits with the same group of British people once every seven years, starting at age seven. This group of people was born in about 1956, so they are not of Holden's generation, but about 23 years younger: Holden was probably born in 1933 (he was thirteen in 1946 - see page 38 of CITR). Also, these people are British, not American. So there are clear differences right at the start. With an eye to getting peeks into Holden's future, I chose three of the documentary participants who share similarities with Holden.
Despite the differences of country and era, there's something about Neil that
came to my mind with the discussion of realistically aging Holden. Over the years,
Neil has been, by far, the most depressing person in the films. Year after year,
we saw him in a squat or housing project somewhere, alone, jobless, directionless,
questioning everything, dissatisfied, yet confident enough in his perspective that
he's sure he's living a better life than a suburbanite.
Neil started out as a very intelligent, imaginative, exuberant kid who had dreams. He dreamed of being an astronaut and also of being what I think would be the U.S. equivalent of a tour bus driver (driving tourist groups around, pointing out interesting places). Neil comes to my mind because, like Holden, he questions things and he is preoccupied with both wanderlust and a dread of living the typical life.
There are some differences between Holden and Neil that I should mention. Holden grew up in a very well to do part of New York City, spending at least part of his summers in the country with his family. Neil grew up in a middle class suburb of Liverpool. And while Holden's father was a corporate lawyer, both of Neil's parents were teachers. So there was a difference of surroundings and class. (Less significantly, Neil was the older of two boys, while Holden was the second of four children.)
I think both Neil and Holden started life as nice kids focused on pleasant things. Holden has idyllic memories of childhood, from vacationing with his siblings to school outings in museums. Holden values Phoebe's imagination ("Phoebe Weatherfield Caulfield") and her consideration and spirit (giving him her Christmas money). I think this suggests that he was rather like her when he was a kid. He seems to see children in general through rose colored glasses it doesn't occur to him that the "fuck you" signs were carved by children, instead of by adults. I think this is because he tends to assume that all children are nice kids like he was.
Neil: "I used to play games where you just went off by yourself in the schoolyard and imagined something happening, like America attacking Russia or something like that. You'd be an important character in the story and you'd rendezvous with your mates at the end of it and compare notes."
Neil@7: "We don't do much fighting in school, because we think it's horrible and it hurts. We pretended we've got swords and make noises like swords "
We can't say a lot about the home life of either Holden or Neil, but all was not sunny.
Holden had a nervous mother and a father who wanted him to do well in school.
We only know Holden at 16 (and at 17 while he was writing the story).
had been dealing with the loss of Allie for the previous three years. Prior to
that, big brother D.B. was in WWII, in active service: a stressful situation for
the family knowing that D.B. was in great danger. D.B. more recently moved away.
While Holden had idyllic memories of childhood, it is notable that his
parents are, at best, incidental in those memories.
In Holden's teen years, he was not doing well in school except for English classes.
Somewhat similarly, Neil said a few things that suggest to me that his parents were distant, uninvolved with him.
Neil@7: "When I go home, I come in and mummy gives me a cup of tea, and then I go out and play. And when it starts to get dark, I come in again and put on T.V."Neil applied to Oxford but didn't get in. He attended another university for one term but dropped out. At 21, he was a squatter doing temporary labor on construction sites. Physically, he is a gaunt, uncertain figure.
Neil@7: "I don't want to have any children, because they're always doing naughty things and making the whole house untidy."
Neil@21: "I don't think I was really taught any sort of policy of living at all by my parents. I was left to myself in a world which they seemed totally oblivious of. And I found even when I tried to discuss problems which were facing me at school, my parents didn't seem to be aware of the nature of the problem. [they were ambitious for me, but only] along set lines Some kind of indoor work which involved writing and reading I wonder how many parents really think of their children as individual human beings. [looking back at the first film] I could be happy one minute and I could be miserable the next minute. Everything was so mapped out for me."
Neil@21: "[My parents taught me to] Always think of other people first, before yourself, to a ridiculous, neurotic degree I suppose it's just basic Christianity, just sort of if somebody slaps you on one cheek, let them do it on the other almost literally, which gave me a few shocks when I tried to put it into practice."
Neil@21: "Maybe I went to the wrong university or maybe the university life didn't suit me. Either way, I felt a very great need to get out of the system. I was very, very bitter at the time [about not being accepted at Oxford]. I came to London because I think I wanted to start a new life."
Neil@28: The most you can hope to achieve is to have the right to climb into a suburban train five or ten times a week and just about stagger back for the weekend. it seems to me that this is just a slow pass to total brainwashing. And if you have a brainwashed society, then you're heading towards doom. if I was living in suburbia, I'd be so miserable, I'd feel like cutting my throat. I know that when you look at a human being, there's more to that person than just a robot."
Neil@21: [reacting to the idea that his squatting is a kick against stability] "I don't think I ever had any stability. To be quite honest. I can't think of any time in my life when I ever did. I don't think I've been kicking against anything. I think I've been kicking in mid-air the whole of my life!"
Neil@28: "I've always had a nervous complaint. I've had it since I was sixteen."
Neil@35: "I've had an instinctive feeling I was a writer since I was sixteen."
Now, sixteen is the age Holden was during his "madman days" (the period the book covers).
He mocked the system, the life of elevators and busses,
phonies and he has self-doubts. Holden wants to break out into his own kind of living,
dreaming of living alone, in a remote cabin in the woods.
Neil had been squatting at 21, then roamed Europe for seven years, then moved into the country in Britain, as a homeless person occasionally getting work and cheap/free accommodations for about seven more years. He continued to be a very gaunt, solitary, independent-minded figure who sometimes questioned his sanity.
The series produced a change in Neil's life. In 42 Up, we learn that Neil moved back to London at 36 or so, with the help of another of the participants in the series (Bruce). Neil got a fair amount of continuing education. He became active in politics, winning an unpaid seat in an East End council. But, at 42, Neil is still not doing paid work, is still living off of the state. I think without the series, he'd possibly be even less well situated.
Would Holden's similar wanderlust, rebellion, and "madness" have taken him into a similar vagabond existence? Remember that Neil came of age in the 1970's, not in the 1950's. It's arguable that it would have taken much more daring for Holden to take off on his own from his comparatively limited well-off background. During the 1970's, many people were questioning "the establishment" and dropping out of society. And Holden did not have television growing up, but newsreels, radio, books, and newspapers. Television had brought more images of the wider world into Neil's living room. Further, coming from a wealthier environment, the people Holden knew best were mostly similarly well off people. He was socialized by their outlook more than by the family maid or by his fleeting contacts with cabbies, elevator boys, people in trendy clubs, etc. Perhaps Holden's "madman days" were more along the lines of a rather standard, limited teen rebellion.
Maybe Holden was more like Andrew, a rich boy who went off to boarding schools. Andrew was the only child in an easy-going family. His father was a merchant banker and newspaper columnist and his mother was the owner of a hair salon. They had a cottage in the country but lived in London during weekdays. (He started boarding school at the age of seven.)
Andrew: "It was marvelous for a small boy to be able to get out in the open spaces at the weekends and do all the things that you cannot do in London. I have loved the country ever since."
Andrew@21: "[the appeal of skiing is] the freedom and going in the snow, in the mountains, and the feeling of getting away from people if you can."
Childhood home life:
Andrew@7: "When I go home, I have tea. Then I practice my piano, then I practice my recorder, and then I start watching television. I have my bath at six o'clock and then go to bed at seven and read until half past seven."
Andrew@42: "My upbringing was fairly easygoing, not too pressurized."
Andrew did have some social conscience by his teens:
Andrew@14: "When I went to Glasgow and saw the Gorbals, that rather upset me to think that people are living in that state when we waste things every day."
Andrew@42: "Clearly everyone should have equal opportunity. I don't suppose I can do very much, really. Certainly, when I'm looking at someone who's applied for a job with me, I wouldn't look at their social background. I would see what they'd achieved and what I thought their potential was. More does need to be spent in the public sector still. The health service is desperately short of money still; more still needs to be spent on education."
Andrew@14: "[regarding money] Mainly to be self-sufficient to feel that you don't have to owe anything to anybody."
Andrew@35: "I think so long as one has enough [money] to be comfortable, that's really what one should aim for."
Andrew@42: "I know there are lots of people who work very hard and aren't very well paid."
On his career:
Andrew@35: I'm not sure that I have any ambition as such now just to progress with my work and so on."Andrew grew up to be a lawyer, a partner in an international law firm, with two boys, living in Wimbledon, which I take it is sort of suburban. He also has a cottage in the country. I felt he seemed a bit droning on in his life, a bit disappointed behind all of the good sense and balance. He seemed to have a pasty complexion. If Holden's life followed closer to Andrew's than to Neil's, he could well have become a lawyer like his father, the "madman days" just that: only days.
Andrew@42: " persistent. I don't like giving up, and perhaps it's also not being too adventurous, not wanting to do anything else once you start, you know. I've been on my job for twenty years; I haven't wanted to do anything else."
My third possible parallel to Holden is Charles. He
didn't participate in the series after he was 21 and is not in the 42 Up
companion book at all. His quotes came
from my transcribing clips shown in 28 Up (it had more of his quotes to choose
from than 42 Up did).
Charles was a rich boy. Like the other rich boys, his future was anticipated as being full of schools that he might attend.
Charles@7: "I might go to [lists a few schools]. I can't remember all the other places because mummy's got so many "
At 14, Charles was not feeling particularly driven by the prospect of wealth. His dress reflects this: his clothes are nice but not as formal as the other rich boys'.
Charles@14: "I don't particularly want to be rich, but I'd like to have enough money. Well, 'enough' [is] to have a nice house and to be able to send the children to a private school, if you wanted to."
He applied to Oxford and didn't get in (remember the same is true of Neil). In college at 21, Charles refered to "Oxbridge" with some critical perspective (the word,"Oxbridge," is a combination of Oxford and Cambridge, referring to upper class colleges). More generally, he has questioned the importance of status and reached his own considered conclusions.
Charles@21: "I'd say I'm pleased I didn't [get into Oxford] because there's very much a, sort of prep-school 'Oxbridge' conveyor belt. Ha. You get shoved out at the other end. And when you go to 'Oxbridge' (and it's obviously not true in all cases but I think for the majority), they mix with the same people as they were with at school and so on."
Charles@21: "I really don't see how one's life can be a failure. In that if I became a journalist and got sacked at 30. It's probably because I'd grown out of it or I'd changed so I was no longer suited to it. So therefore I'd find something else which I found I enjoyed and which my talents were suited to."
Asked what he thought he'd be doing at age 28, he chuckled, envisioning it:
Charles@21: "Hard to say. Probably scribbling away in some basement of some London newspaper or something like that."
After college, Charles indeed worked for a London newspaper. Then he went on to producing documentaries for a television station by age 28. I think that, at 42, he was the head of that television station's documentary division or something like that. There are only a few later photographs of him available: an intense man staring into the camera.
Like Holden, Charles questioned things, carefully thought about life in
general, was articulate,
and had a sense of humor. I think these character traits are very much like Holden
Caulfield, more so than with the other two people.
If Holden was most like Charles, perhaps if he continued to find stumbling blocks
in school, that could help
further his questioning everything and further develop his point of view and plans.
That is, like Charles, he'd start to see other viable options for himself. That
as opposed to running into a brick wall regarding his future.
However, Charles didn't seem to state a liking for the outdoors like Holden did. Although Holden was a composition-writing ace, maybe being outdoors is more important to him than to Charles. After all, with a brother as a writer, Holden would have seen his way clear to a future in writing, if that were really his dream. Or maybe Holden was best suited to writing but felt that, to survive as a writer, you'd have to either prostitute yourself (as he felt D.B. did), or live a bare minimum of an existence alone in the woods.
So those are three possible peeks into the future of Holden:
I think that Holden Caulfield, at 16, has strengths that could eventually let
him make intelligent, sophisticated choices. He makes compelling observations in
The Catcher in
the Rye, he keeps a wicked sense of humor, and reviews things after they
happen, making new observations. I don't see him disowning or forgetting the observations
of his "madman days." It's hard to believe that he'd become a corporate lawyer like his father.
I also see his background and situation giving him significant resistance to dropping out of
society for very long.
But a bad sign at the end of the book is that he seems to swear off reviewing the past. Maybe if Holden reconsiders and keeps that and his other strengths, he can integrate his views into his career choice. For example, he could work as a defense lawyer, perhaps in the 1970's he could have moved into being an environmental lawyer. For another example, he could work as a fiction writer and freelance journalist wandering the country.
I echo what others have said: it is impossible to say what Holden's future realistically is. But it's still interesting to take a look at the courses of real lives. Character and situation can shape a person's future, yet the person might also shape a new solution out of it all which is more than the sum of the two aspects.
24 January 2002
Update on 49Up:
The participants were interviewed and profiled again at age 49.
Charles continues to not be on the program.
Andrew is looking considerably happier and more relaxed, even showing some of his fun humor we only previously saw back when he was seven. He has quit working as a partner in an international law firm and now works in corporate law. This is the same profession Holden Caulfield's father had!
Finally, Neil has moved out of London and continues being involved in local politics (as a liberal in a conservative rural area). He continues to have no paying job.
You can see a clip of Neil's portion of the movie on YouTube (it was put up by the movie distributor, so it's going to stay): clip from 49Up. There is definitely more of Neil in the actual movie. I can just see Holden's dream of homeless rebellion in Neil, just replacing writing for Neil's involvement in politics.
8 March 2007