During class on Monday, we began to discuss Catcher in the Rye. I had never read the book in high school, though I’d heard it was a great book, and was excited to finally get to do so. Fortunately, it didn’t disappoint. It certainly lived up to its reputation of being a quality coming-of-age story.
The word “archetype” was brought up in class. Archetypes are like categories of characters that are commonly seen throughout literature, like the dumb blonde or the nerdy kid. However, Holden Caulfield, the main character of Catcher in the Rye, didn’t fit into any archetypes at the time of the book’s publication. J.D. Salinger effectively created a new archetype – the antihero. Holden was the book’s protagonist, but he wasn’t exactly a hero. He dropped out of schools left and right, stayed up late drinking and going to nightclubs while trying to act more mature than his age, and making himself look stupid at times. And yet his goal was to be “the catcher in the rye.” He wanted to stop children from losing their innocence. He did things that sometimes made him hard to root for, but at the same time it was also hard to root against him.
I think that this type of character is very interesting. One antihero that I can think of off the top of my head is Severus Snape from the Harry Potter series. He constantly antagonizes Harry throughout the series, but then we find out at the end that he had been secretly on his side, watching over him, albeit for his own selfish reason – he had been in love with Harry’s mother – rather than out of love for Harry. The fact that he loved Harry’s mother throughout the years made it so hard for many fans to hate him, even after all the abuse he put Harry through.
Before it was brought up in class, I’d seen antiheroes in literature before, but didn’t necessarily know what to classify them as. Now that I know the actual term for this archetype, I’m going to want to keep an eye out for more as I read more books in the future, because I really do like these antiheroes. They aren’t a straightforward fan favorite, and yet when it comes down to it, it’s really hard to root against them.