Museums in literature – 01

Text and cover image by Federica Lusiardi, Inexhibit
Excerpts from The catcher in the rye - J.D. Salinger, 1951
Photos courtesy of The American Museum of Natural History, New York


Museums in Literature The Catcher in the Rye

Museum as a place for personality formation

The catcher in the rye – J.D. Salinger, 1951

Museums, how did they look when we were children?
The following short excerpts from The catcher in the rye by J.D. Salinger are unmissable, mainly because of the plain-spoken language of the protagonist who, looking for his little sister on a cold New York Sunday, remembers his experience of visiting the American Museum of Natural History in New York when he was a child, beginning from his general sensations.

“I loved that damn museum. I remember you had to go through the Indian Room  to get to the auditorium. It was a long, long room, and you were only supposed to whisper.(…) The floor was all stone, and if you had some marbles in your hand and you dropped them, they bounced like madman  all over the floor and  made a helluva racket, and the teacher would hold up the class and go back and see what the hell was going on.”

Afterwards, the narration becomes more precise and our hero remembers in detail some of the objects inside the showcases.

“Then you’d pass by this big glass case, with Indians inside it rubbing sticks together to make a fire, and a squaw  weaving a blanket. The squaw that was weaving a blanket was sort of bending over, and you could see her bosom and all.(…)
Boy, that museum was full of glass cases. There were even more upstairs, with deer inside them drinking at water holes. And birds flying south for the winter.”

At the end, Holden makes a remark on an aspect which was typical for classic museums, and that could be frequently found also nowadays: the changelessness of the collections.

“The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move.  You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds  would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole. Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you.”

Excerpts from “The catcher in the rye” by J.D. Salinger, 1951 – Little, Brown and Company





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