The connection between J.D. Salinger, who died today at the age of 91, and the movie “Field of Dreams” goes deeper than James Earl Jones’ portrayal of author Terrence Mann, the character based on Salinger himself. In fact, the whole movie, as well as “Shoeless Joe,” the W.P. Kinsella book on which it is based seems a tribute to Salinger’s classic work, “Catcher in the Rye.”
Here’s what Glastonbury, Conn. high school teacher Mark Dursin, who shows the movie to his class in conjunction with teaching “Catcher in the Rye,” wrote about the connections a few years ago:
Holden desperately wants a place like Ray’s field. He wants to be the “catcher in the rye,” the guardian who keeps kids from losing their innocence, from falling from grace. He knows it can’t happen in real life, but he wants it anyway. (Of course, a place like Ray’s field can happen in the movies– an art form which Holden claims to hate. If Holden actually saw Field of Dreams, he’d probably dismiss it as being “corny” or “phony.” Or at least, he’d say those things, but who knows what he’d really feel deep down? )
Holden’s desire to be a “catcher in the rye” relates to his fundamental fear of change. This seems odd to say, since he has been to four different high schools, but Holden can’t deal with change and flux. This relates to one of the most important and most overlooked symbol in the book, for my money– just as significant as the “catcher in the rye” symbol: the “big glass cases,” which Holden talks about at the end of Chapter 16.
Holden marvels at how the “big glass cases” you find at museums preserve things: they keep objects and moments frozen in time. “Certain things they should stay the way they are,” Holden says. “You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone.”
Holden could probably really use a place like Ray’s ballfield, a place where time stands still, where the flux of life is held in stasis. Basically, the Iowa ballfield is the equivalent of Holden’s “big glass case.”
In Kinsella’s novel, protagonist Ray Kinsella (Salinger’s short story, “A Young Girl In 1941 With No Waist At All” features a character named Ray Kinsella, and “Rye” includes a character named Richard Kinsella) heads to New Hampshire to find the reclusive author, a scene played out on film when Kevin Costner arrives in Boston to find Mann and buys a hot dog with him in a suspiciously sparse Fenway Park concourse. (Among the extras in the crowd shots were youngsters Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.)
Despite what you might think of the film and its Frank Capra-esque hokiness, the core theme of chasing youth stands the test of time, much like “Rye” does almost 60 years after its release. And while Fenway may have its overwhelming flaws, it is our very own “big glass case,” wouldn’t you say?