Holden Caulfield in “The Catcher in the Rye”
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Holden’s favourite saying is “if you really want to know the truth.” I am going to give my views on what I feel to be “the truth” about Holden Caulfield.
Holden has relationships with many different people throughout the book. I am going to start by writing about some of the people he has relationships with.
The first woman that has had a large part in Holden’s life is Jane Gallagher. We find out about Jane, when Stradlater tells Holden that she is his date. Immediately Holden starts telling Holden his life story. It is obvious that Holden has a bit of an obsession with Jane, when he starts telling us all about her, even about her moves in checkers – “She wouldn’t move any of her kings. What she’d do when she’d get a king, she wouldn’t move it.” – We can see here that there maybe some kind of mental illness with Holden, because he remembers the oddest things about Jane. It may be that he is just cherishing the small details about her. He doesn’t seem to have a normal conversation with Stradlater about her at all. He then asks Stradlater -“Did she tell you we used to play checkers all the time, or anything.” – This is again an odd remark, because Jane Gallagher and Holden met during the summer, and she has probably forgotten about it now.
He keeps saying that he should go down and see her – “I oughta go down and at least say hello to her.” – He keeps saying this, but he never actually does, it seems he is too shy to go and see her.
We can begin to see here that Holden does get very emotionally attached to women, although he can be very shy around them.
We can tell that Holden has suppressed rage within him, as when Stradlater gets back from his date with Jane, Holden finds out that Stradlater and Jane may have had sex. Holden provokes Stradlater to attack him, knowing that he is no match for him. Holden some how seems to enjoy being beaten up. I think that maybe Holden is jealous of Stradlater. We can link this to when Holden gets beaten up by Maurice the pimp. Although when Holden is getting beaten up by Maurice he won’t back down and give him what he wants. After Maurice has left Holden pretends he has a wound in his gut and makes a bit of fun out of the situation.
When Holden looks in the mirror after being beaten up he describes how much blood is covering him. He remarks – “It partly scared me and partly fascinated me. All that blood and all sort of made me look tough” – It seems that Holden is fascinated by death. His brother Allie who Holden was very close to died when he was younger. This makes me think that Holden wants to be with his brother Allie, so he is not scared of death. This may be why he seemed to enjoy being attacked and seeing all the blood on his face and clothes, because it made him feel closer to Allie.
We can link Holden’s feelings about death to a bit later in the book, when he is lying in bed thinking about Stradlater and Jane. He says “Every time I thought about it, I felt like jumping out the window” – here we can see that Holden thinks about death a lot. Whether this time it was because of his jealousy of Stradlater or about him wanting to be close to Allie, I don’t know. It could be part of both. There are also other times when Holden is thinking about death – “Depressed and all. I almost wished I was dead” – Holden does spend a lot of his time thinking about death
Another woman who is a main part about “the truth” about Holden is a prostitute name Sunny. He meets Sunny through Maurice “the elevator guy” who asks him if he’s ‘Innarested in a little tail t’night?’. Holden agrees to a five dollar ‘throw’ and he tells us, “It was against my principles and all, but I was feeling so depressed I didn’t even think”
Before Sunny come to his room, Holden admits to us that he is a virgin and he is very nervous.
As we already know from chapter 3 Holden admits freely that he is “the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life” and has previously exaggerated about whether he has had sex or not, and makes fun of people who haven’t, even though he is a virgin himself – “He was a virgin if ever I saw one”. But when the time comes for Holden to have sex, he is to nervous and makes up an excuse to get out of it. Holden is embarrassed by the whole situation and justifies his lack of interest by telling her that he has just had a serious operation. When she asks him why he asked for a prostitute if he’d just had an operation he says, “I thought I’d be feeling a lot better than I do. I was a little premature in my calculations”
When the prostitute leaves, Holden starts to talk to his dead brother Allie. He remembers a time when he excluded Allie from playing with him and tells us, ‘once in a while, now, when I get very depressed, I keep saying to him, ‘Okay. Go home and get your bike and meet me in front of Bobby’s house. Hurry up” – Holden is obviously very guilty and is still mourning for Allie even though he died 4 years ago. Holden tells us that he feels like praying but can’t, and he launches into his interpretation of the New Testament.
Soon “the elevator guy” and Sunny come back and demand more money of Holden, but Holden refuses. Although the pimp beats him up and the prostitute takes his money, Holden continues to hurl insults at the man until he can no longer speak. As the prostitute and her pimp finally leave Holden pretends to himself that he has been shot in the gut – again here we can see that Holden seems to greet the idea of death. Later on that evening Holden says ‘I felt like jumping out the window. I probably would’ve done it too, if I’d been sure somebody’d cover me up as soon as I landed. I didn’t want a bunch of stupid rubbernecks looking at me when I was all gory’ – we can link this to when Holden saw James Castle dead after he had thrown himself out of a window at his old school. Holden may be saying he would not want people “looking at me when I’m all gory” because he had seen James Castle looking “all gory” and did not want everyone staring at him and not knowing what to do with him as this happened to James Castle.
Later on in the book, we meet Phoebe who is Holden’s little sister. We meet her, when Holden sneaks into his house at night and finds Phoebe asleep in his older brother D.B’s bed. Holden spends some time watching her sleep, he looks around her room for a while and reads a few of her exercise books, which is surprising as he hates people nosing through his stuff. For instance when Ackley kept picking his personal stuff up at Pency. Holden said – “He always picked up your personal stuff and looked at it. Boy, could it get on your nerves sometimes.” – Holden gets annoyed when people take his personal stuff, but doesn’t seem to give a second thought when he is reading through Phoebe’s exercise books.
When Phoebe wakes up, she is upset that Holden has flunked school again. It is more like she looks after him than he looks after her.
Holden tells Phoebe what his ambition is – “Anyway, I keep picturing these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and
catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be” – this makes us like holden a lot more because it makes him seem so caring. But makes us think that there might be something mentally wrong with him, because it is not what the usual 16 year old boy would say. We can link his caring nature to when he meets the nuns. He gives them $10 towards a charity that they would next be collecting for. He then insisted to try and pay for their coffees. This shows that Holden is naturally kind hearted but a bit mixed up at the same time. He seems to judge people by there outward appearances not their personalities.
Holden also seems to think he is a lot older than he actually is. He tries to justify that he is older than 16 by showing people his grey hair on the side of his head. Whether this was to make people believe he was mature, or just to gain access to drinks in a bar, I don’t know. It was probably a bit of both.
There are a lot of motifs that Holden uses throughout the book. Some being Holden uses the word “madman” commonly as an adjective and in a variety of ways ranging from “[snow] was still coming down like a madman” to “I went right on smoking like a madman.” It seems probable that Salinger wished to convey that there is a bit of madness in the way Holden sees the world. The fact that the word comes up most often when Holden is criticizing himself could be a sign of further self-division from society.
“I was wondering where the ducks went when the lagoon got all icy and frozen over,” notes Holden in the second chapter of the novel. After that, he questions nearly every taxi driver about it and finally ends up by the lagoon himself one night in contemplation. The question is really one for himself, and mirrors a concern of Mr. Antolini’s where does a person go when his environment can no longer support him? The desperation with which Holden attacks this question in the later questions is like the desperation he feels to find someplace where he can belong. In the end, Holden realizes that the ducks go away and almost decides to himself. However, Holden finishes the novel with an implied commitment to changing his environment rather than fleeing it.
Holden’s attachment to the hunting hat can be seen in his early description of it: “This is a people-shooting hat. I shoot people in this hat.” Perhaps the “hunting” Holden does is one not of killing people, but of criticizing them. When he gives the hat to Phoebe, it may be symbolic that Holden has chosen not to separate himself from society any longer. As the hunting hat is red, and so was Allies hair, Holden may be wearing the red hunting hat to try and feel closer to Allie.
Reader’s cannot fail to notice that almost every person’s name which Holden references is prefixed by the word “Old,” as in “Old Stradlater” or “Old Phoebe.” I think this is an extremely clever device of Salinger’s which reminds us that Holden is not living out the narrative, but retelling it. In the telling, everyone has become a distant, old memory.
Social, Cultural and Historical
As this book was written by an American, there is a lot of information and extra details contained in it which are of an American style or culture. Probably the main part of the book which makes it stand out as American is the language. There are a lot of American saying or phrases of an American style. For instance Phony is a word used repeatedly throughout the whole of the book by Holden. Flits is the word used instead of a homosexual.
There are many mentions of American actors and songs that were aroung during the time that the book was written, for instance “Song of India”, “Laurence Olivier” – a famous actor from around the 1940’s when the book was written.