node your homework
Holden Caulfield is the main character and anti-hero of J. D. Salinger's novel 'The Catcher in the Rye' and champion of a generation of bewildered teenagers. Many people can identify strongly with his character, experience and ambitions, his character was allegedly the inspiration of John Lennon's murderer. What is it about Holden Caulfield that makes people idolize his not typically heroic disposition?
I myself was deeply puzzled by this, as after I first read the novel, I felt no great desire to scrawl on the inside of the book and rush out and shout about its brilliance, nor did I particularly empathize with Mr. Caulfield. In fact to tell you the truth he got on my nerves, with his self-importance and irritating expressions. But I was intrigued by the reaction other people have had to this book, so I re-read it, and although I still disliked the character I found some ratification for the fascination rendered by his being and will relate what I found about him here.
The most important feature of Holden's personality is his dislike of change. This is reflected in his persistence in finding out where the ducks go. However the fact that he doesn't - or can't - accept the obvious reason shows us that he is still, despite his rebellious exterior, both extraordinarily naive and childish (or stupid).
I suspect that if any cab-driver was unfortunate enough to tell Holden the truth he would be met by the reply, "How does a duck know what direction south is?" This was one of the reasons I found his character difficult to accept. How can a sixteen year old boy not realise something that my nine year old sister knows? It was so startling to me that I started to have doubts about it myself. Where do ducks go in winter? Is it different in America? No, it isn't, merely an indication of how two minds can operate in completely different ways.
One of the big factors in my dislike of Holden is the constant abuse of phonies, when in my opinion, Holden is a phoney himself. This is a boy, who wants to preserve his childhood, yet engage in the 'adult' activities of boozing and smoking. I find this slightly hypocritical, and consequently find it hard to empathise with his efforts to cut off the road to adulthood.
Another thing I found phoney about him is his wish not "to have any goddam stupid useless conversations with anyone," when he had spent the majority of the story initiating discussions with various people he meets. Holden also annoys me by being seemingly unable to distinguish fantasy from reality, and in doing so taking an extremely narrow-minded view of "the goddam movies."
Although I do agree with Holden about some of the people he calls phonies - headmasters and ministers for example - I get deterred from liking him by some crazy statement he comes out with, and nearing the end of the book I was beginning to weary of the many things that 'killed' him. But I also find Holden's views on religion are spot on. He admits he is an atheist, but he realised what Jesus was about, and how redemption was a key factor in his teachings, something that many devout Christians seem to forget. I hadn't expected those to be Holden's views and the new aspects of his beliefs certainly retained my interest in his character for a little longer. Ultimately too many of Holden's ideals conflict with my own for me to be able to care about his troubles or to identify strongly with him.
Neither do I like Holden's apparent naivety. I have already discussed his passion for ducks, but I also found him very immature for a sixteen year old boy who roams the streets of New York at night. He seems to believe that he is better than virtually everyone he meets, and yet seems unable to face up to all his own problems, like his failure of the education system, his mental health and his lack of a real friend he can converse with. He has no real understanding of life, illustrated by the way he acts about ducks and graffiti and his behaviour with the prostitute. He also chooses to ignore the advice given to him by Mr Spencer, and Mr Antolini, who had previously seemed to be a trusted mentor.
But Holden, despite his problems has developed a plan. He will be "the Catcher in the Rye", and any little children foolish enough to fall off the cliff and become adults will be saved, by Holden personally. Unsurprisingly this proves impossible to implement, as it seems little children don't want this crazy youth interfering with their lives. Indeed as Holden notes, "you could tell they didn't want me around, so I let them alone." After this attempt to do something about the phoney world Holden turns his attention to alternative solutions. Not wanting to grow-up and not having a passport to Never-Never Land, Holden at least had the good sense not to relinquish his life of his own free will, on the grounds that he "didn't want a bunch of stupid rubbernecks looking at me when I was all gory." After that he even starts to fret when he thinks he's going to die of pneumonia, and although it may be alcohol talking, he pronounces his sorrow for his parents, but is yet again concerned about remote relatives coming to his funeral, "the whole goddam stupid bunch of them."
Thankfully, by the end of the book, Holden has grown up. It takes a while to realise this, as it just sounds like the same old Holden, but he gives it away with the admission, "I sort of miss everybody I told you about." This hints that his childhood is over, and now the experiences he has just recounted are just boyhood memories. I hope this adult Holden will survive his New York experiences and be able to live a happy life, but Holden remains as uncommitted as ever.
I do not really have any great fondness for Holden, and would not be thrilled to meet him in person. It would never work, him and I, as I would think of him as a paranoid yank drop-out, and him of me as some kind of boring phoney. I can just about discern where his attractions might lie, for the very things about him that irritate me might endear him to someone else. And I can recognize a tinge of sadness in time's inevitable passing. But for me Holden Caulfield is just another waste by-product of the fabled rotting American dream.
Written in 1995, for my Higher English class.