The Holden Server

By Jeff Young of Academe Today

If Holden Caulfield -- the caustic protagonist of J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye -- were to put together a World-Wide Web page, this is what it might look like.

It's biting, sarcastic, and full of social criticism. And much of it is in Caulfield's own words -- in a searchable collection of more than 150 witticisms by the fictional anti-hero. The rest of the site adopts Caulfield's style to make fun of the Web and of students with writing assignments.

The site is the creation of Luke Seemann, a junior majoring in journalism at Northwestern University. The site isn't meant to be a stuffy scholarly resource, but it is certainly an interesting literary experience.

Click your computer mouse on a picture of a red hunting cap (worn by Caulfield in the novel), and a random quotation by Caulfield appears. A search feature lets users locate specified passages. The site also offers information about a mailing list for the discussion of Salinger's works.

More important, the site immerses readers in Caulfield's world. Fake advertisements at the tops of several pages peddle fictional services or tout institutions mentioned in Catcher, such as Pency Prep, where Caulfield goes to school, and Ernie's Bar & Piano, a Greenwich Village nightspot where he does some underage drinking. Some descriptions of what's available on the site are written in a Caulfieldesque style that pokes fun at the commercialization and inflated descriptions to be found on many World-Wide Web pages.

But what really makes this site a commentary is its "summary" of The Catcher in the Rye -- a literary tiger-trap for students who opt to read it instead of the novel. Though the summary is written with a factual tone reminiscent of Cliffs Notes, the information is almost all bunk. It gives the wrong names for characters, describes scenes that don't appear in the novel, and says that the book title derives from Caulfield's memory of playing baseball with his brother in a field of rye. "I added the faux summary to fake out slackers who didn't read the book, and to give Catcher fans a hearty laugh," Mr. Seemann says.

Caulfield's voice is a welcome one in the hype-gilded, flashy world of the Web. But Mr. Seemann doubts that Holden Caulfield would spend much time in cyberspace:

"I think Holden would spend about a week on the Internet, start a few flame wars on the discussion group ('y'all are a bunch of lousy perverts!'), then get bored with it. That's the kind of guy he is."