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Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain vs. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

March 4, 2012
Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and Becky Thatch...

Normally, I’m not fond of kids, but even I have to admit that getting lost in a cave is pretty cool. Image via Wikipedia

I don’t like kids, and I really dislike teenagers.  I despise hanging around them, and I don’t want to watch television shows about them, and I especially don’t want to read books about them.  However, if you absolutely must read two books about American kids (ugh… American kids are the worst, except for maybe the British), then The Catcher in the Rye and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer are considered two essential novels of American youth. 


The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain 

Tom Sawyer has the white picket fence scene, the graveyard scene, the courtroom scene, and the cave.  Most books have no memorable scenes; Tom Sawyer has at least four of them.  This book doesn’t have any N-words (like Huckleberry Finn) to make it controversial, but it does have Injun Joe, a murderer with a name that probably wouldn’t make it past the editors in today’s publishing industry.  If anything, Native Americans probably have a more legitimate gripe about The Adventures of Tom Sawyer than Afr… ugh, I’m not ready to get into that kind of argument yet. 

My other complaint?  There are way too many coincidences in this book.  I don’t do synopsises (C’mon, I refuses to believe that “synopses” is the plural form of “synopsis”)  because you can get those anywhere, but if you know anything about Tom Sawyer, you know that coincidences sometimes drive the plot.  Normally, I’d go into hyper-critical mode over a book that overuses the coincidence as a plot device, but Tom Sawyer’s coolness overrides the coincidences. 

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger 

Обкладинка книги "Над прірвою у житі"

Yeah, this copy is bland as hell, but I think it’s the one I read years ago. Image via Wikipedia

Holden Caulfield is sometimes described as the first example of “disaffected youth” in modern literature.  To me, “disaffected youth” simply means a kid who whines like hell. 

I don’t know.  A lot of readers think Holden Caulfield is cool (you, know, because he cusses like hell), but he comes across to me as a whiner.  In fact, he might be the first (kind of) contemporary whiner in literature.  If you’re tired of whiners, then you shouldn’t be able to stand Holden Caulfield because he’s one of the first pop culture figures to convince the American public that whining is cool. 

The title itself The Catcher in the Rye is a stretch, the type of extended metaphor that makes me really annoyed at literary fiction.  The author couldn’t title the book Holden Caulfield because that would have been unimaginative (like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer), but the concept of a catcher in the rye makes the book sound deeper than it really is.  The Catcher in the Rye is a simple book about a screw-up, and Holden Caulfield really isn’t that deep as far as characters go. 

It’s still a pretty good book.  But it’s not as deep as people pretend, and Holden Caulfield whines like hell.

People who really like The Catcher in the Rye get mad as hell at me when I say this. 

TOM SAWYER vs. HOLDEN CAULFIELD (spoilers alert!!!)

Tom Sawyer was way cooler.  He would take his beatings and go on his merry way without calling CPS or threatening a lawsuit or checking himself into a hospital. 

Holden Caulfield actually has it pretty good compared to a lot of kids, and he still whines like hell. 

Tom Sawyer has a lot to whine about but doesn’t whine. 

Holden Caulfield gets expelled from school in a way that only a screw-up could get expelled. 

Tom Sawyer skips school and takes advantage of his punishment. 

Holden Caulfield gets played for a chump several times in the book. 

Tom Sawyer plays others for chumps several times in the book. 

Holden Caulfield goes to a teacher’s house.  Need I say more? 

Tom Sawyer runs away from his home and watches his own funeral.   He would never think of bugging his teacher at home. 

Holden Caulfield dreams of protecting children (I think). 

Tom Sawyer actually protects children. 

Holden Caulfield witnesses lots of weird people and whines about it. 

Tom Sawyer witnesses a murder and (eventually) does something about it. 

Holden Caulfield gets beat up by a pimp. 

Tom Sawyer gets away from Injun Joe. 

Holden Caulfield hangs out with a prostitute and then in an act of chivalry… talks to her? 

Tom Sawyer hangs out with Becky Thatcher and in an act of chivalry takes her punishment for her. 

Holden Caulfield ends up in a mental(?) hospital. 

Tom Sawyer becomes a detective. 

Maybe I’m too old to determine who is cool and who is not cool.  But if I had to pick either Tom Sawyer or Holden Caulfield to hang out with, I’d choose Tom Sawyer.

From → Literary Combat

  1. I love kids, and I still think there are way too many shows about them. Especially the teenagers. Any adult who watched 90210 or Glee is missing something in their lives.

    • I’m guessing that Holden Caulfield would have watched 90210 or Glee (and then griped like hell about them), but Tom Sawyer wouldn’t have watched either of them. I kind of liked Shannon Daugherty (but not enough to actually watch the show or check to see if I spelled her name correctly).

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