The Catcher in the Rye and Malcolm X - For the 'We Didn't Start the Fire' collaborative topic.

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The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye is a book written by JD Salinger, about the events which transpired n the life of one Holden Caulfield after he was kicked out of prep school for what seems like the thousandth time. The book was originally published in serial form in the USA over the years 1945 to 1946, and later collected into a single volume in 1951. Anyway, Salinger attempts to make Holden out to be a regular teenager, just like you or me *. However, he is rather different from his peer group, both in the story and in real life. For one thing, he hates movies, thinking that they are 'phoney,' and that anyone who makes them (which includes his brother) is a prostitute. He is also one of the few boys in his school who do not brag about their (fictional) sexual exploits. Holden tends to have trouble around people in general, but especially girls. He also drinks and smokes, does not know what to do with his life, and is plagued by moral doubts. Just like any teenager, then.

The book is primarily told in conversational style, a method which can best be described by this quote from The Simpsons *: "He writes the way people talk." For most of the story, Salinger uses dialogue-style words to get across the impression that it is actually Holden telling his story, not just a book about some guy called Holden Caulfield.

When the story begins, Holden is expelled from yet another prestigious (according to Holden, pompous) prep school, just a few days before term would have ended anyway. He then says goodbye to his school friends and, not wanting to tell his parents what has happened just yet, travels across America back to his home town, along the way meeting up with some old friends, trying unsuccessfully to go all the way with a prostitute, and eventually gets to his home, where he tells his little sister, Josie, what has happened, but makes her swears not to tell their parents. They then hang out for a few days, and the books ends with Holden watching Josie enjoying a carousel ride.

Along the way, Holden has many ideas of what he could do. The book takes its name from one of these: there is a song that goes "If a body meets a body comin' through the rye," though for some reason Holden thinks it is 'catches' instead of 'meets.' He thinks about this a little, and thinks that maybe a good job would be a guy who catches little kids who are about to run off cliffs which they do no see because of tall-growing rye. He discards all these ideas almost as soon as he has them.

The book is loved by academics, because it paints a very good picture of life as an adolescent. It is hated by all students who have had to do it for required reading, because it tries to tell them what they are like and their teachers insist that it does. The best idea is to avoid reading it between the ages of thirteen and eighteen. Otherwise, you will probably get some laughs out of it, and a few tears too.

Malcolm X

Most people are familiar with the black civil rights campaigns in America led by Dr. Martin Luther King. However, at the same time, there was another black rights activist, the rather more extreme Malcolm X, so called because he considered his true surname, 'Little,' to be a slave name, and adopted the surname 'X' to represent his lost tribe.

Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little, a Babtist on May 19, 1925, and converted to Islam circa 1952 . America at the time practised a policy known as 'segregation,' whereby black and whites were kept separate. For example, whites sat at the front of busses and blacks at the back; blacks could not use lunch counters in diners; there were separate public lavatories for blacks and whites, etc. Also, in the southern states, where blacks were far more numerous, they were frequently beaten, abused, and killed by the ruling white minority, and the most common perpetrators of this act were the Ku Klux Klan *. Malcolm X also seemed to have his own counterpart to the Ku Klux Klan, known as the Black Panthers.

While Dr. King desired a non-violent, peaceful solution leading to the eventual unification and equality for blacks and whites, Malcolm X was in favour of segregation - as long as it helped blacks. This meant that whites would be free to control the northern states and blacks would get the southern part of the union. Both these areas would presumably practise segregation in favour of the ruling race. Also unlike Dr. King, Malcolm X was fully prepared to use violence to achieve his aims. However, in 1964, a wondrous thing happened.

In that year, Malcolm X went on a pilgrimage to Mecca, the place where Muhammed was born. As part of the ceremony, all the gatherers waked around the main monument for hours on end. What struck Malcolm X was that, here, black, whites, Arabs, Asians, and all other races were capable of coexisting in perfect harmony, brought together by the power of their faith.

Malcolm X returned to America a changed man. He now saw the value of getting along with one another, and indeed became rather like Dr. King. However, he had along the way made some enemies, and he was shot be Muslim extremists on Februaury 7, 1965. Though not remembered by anywhere near as many as remeber Dr. King, Malcolm X remains as an example of the power of faith to heal all wounds.

For more information on Malcolm X, click here or here

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