Essay, Research Paper: Catcher In The Rye

Literature: Catcher in The Rye

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Although J.D. Salinger has only one novel to his credit, that novel, The Catcher
in the Rye, is recognized as an exceptional literary work. The key to the
success of The Catcher in the Rye is the main character, Holden Caulfield. There
are many different critics that view Holden in many different ways. Some believe
Holden to be a conceited snob, while others see Holden as a Christ-like figure.
It is my opinion, however, that Holden is somewhere in the middle. Holden
Caulfield is a character who has a definite code of honor that he attempts to
live up to and expects to as abide by as well. Since the death of his brother
Allie, Holden has experienced almost a complete sense of alienation from the
world around him. This alienation is evident in every part of his life. Holden
is unable to relate to anyone at the three prep schools he has attended. While
standing on Thomsen Hill, Holden cannot help but feel isolated when he observes
the football game, “you were supposed to commit suicide or something if Old
Pencey didn’t win” (Salinger 2). Not only does Holden feel isolated at the
schools he has attended; he has this feeling when it comes to his family as
well. Upon his return to New York City, Holden does not go home. Instead, he
chooses to hide out from his family. According to Ernest Jones, “with his
alienation go assorted hatreds – of movies, of night clubs, of social and
intellectual pretension, and so on. And physical disgust: pimples, sex, an old
man picking his nose are all equal cause for nausea” (Jones 7). Holden feels
Previts 2 as though all of these people have failed him in some way or that they
are all “phonies” or “corny” in some way or another. It is Holden’s
perception of those around him as “phonies” and again according to Jones;
“Holden’s belief that he has a superior moral standard that few people, only
his dead brother, his 10-year-old sister, and a fleeting friend [Jane] can live
up to” that make him a snob (7). Presenting Holden as “snobbish” hardly
does him justice. Critics such Frederick L. Gwynn, Joseph L. Blotner, and
Frederic I. Carpenter view Holden as a character who is “Christ-like in his
ambition to protect children before they enter the world of destruction and
phoniness” (Carpenter 24). Holden’s experiences throughout the course of his
life have created a desire in him to preserve the innocence of those he
considers to be innocent. He attempts to physically overpower Stradlater when he
realizes that Stradlater may have “screwed around” with Jane Gallagher, whom
Holden considers to be innocent simply because she “plays checkers with more
regard for the symmetry of the pieces on the board than for the outcome of the
game”(Gwynn 13). Along with Jane Gallagher, Holden wishes to protect his
sister Phoebe, who is very much like Allie in that she has a mix of youthful
innocence and generosity that overwhelms Holden. The best example of this
generosity is when Holden is moved to tears because Phoebe gave him all of her
Christmas money. Simple acts like this motivated Holden to want to be
Christ-like. Holden’s desire to be Christ-like is best evidenced in the
following quotation: “Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing
some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousand 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…” Previts 3 Not only is Holden Christ-like in his
desire to protect those who are “innocent” but he, like Jesus, truly
“loves his neighbors, especially the poor in goods, appearance, and spirit”
(Gwynn 14). Not only does Holden give ten dollars to the nuns in the station,
but he is also depressed by their meagre breakfast and the fact that they will
never be “going anywhere swanky for lunch” (Salinger 110). He also worries
about the ducks freezing in Central Park, sympathizes with the ugly daughter of
Pencey’s headmaster and even Sunny the prostitute (Carpenter 24). Perhaps the
quality that is most Christ-like in Holden is his ability to “forgive like
Jesus with his Judas, he [Holden] forgives Stradlater and the bellboy Maurice
who have betrayed and beaten him” (Gwynn 14). Because of his compassion and
ability to forgive others, Holden can also be viewed as a Christ-like figure.
While there is evidence to support Holden as both a snob and a saint, I believe
that Holden is a mix between the two. The Catcher in the Rye is the choice of
nine of ten murders, whackos, serial killers and, oddly enough, disgruntled
teenagers. John Lennon was killed to promote this book. In the movie Silence of
the Lambs, the serial killer John Hinkley was also a big Catcher in the Rye fan
as well. The level of general craziness surrounding the book is so bad the movie
Conspiracy Theory made it a running joke, even tracking the protagonist
portrayed by Mel Gibson by monitoring purchases of The Catcher in the Rye. The
reason that this book has a universal appeal to such a variety of people lies in
the main character, Holden Caulfield. He can be saintly or snooty, cynical or
sincere. Holden is generous to charitable to nuns and protective or children, or
be agitated at the “zit-encrusted” Ackely. Still yet, Holden is capable of
being quite cynical, Previts 4 the best example of this is in the very opening
of the book when Holden states, “If you really want to hear about it, the
first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my
lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they
had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like
going into it, if you want to know that truth” (Salinger 1). Despite his
ability to be pejorative, Holden can still be able to be quite sincere. This is
evident in his dealings with Phoebe. When Phoebe begins to cry, Holden first
“wanted her to cry until her eyes practically dropped out. [He] almost hated
her” (Salinger 207). Yet, a few seconds later he wants to take Phoebe to the
zoo and the park to assuage her pain. That is what I believe makes Holden
Caulfied such a fascinating and widely admired character. One minute he can be
bashing “phonies” then the next he will be acting “phoney” to a mother
of a classmates as he was on the train to New York City. So, Holden is neither a
saint nor a snob. He is a sarcastic yet sincere teenager who is pursuing
Quixotistic ideals of moral order. Holden is caught between the anxiety of
childhood and the maturity of the adult world. The appeal of J.D. Salinger’s
novel The Catcher in the Rye is due in no small part to the main character and
sole provider of information, the one and only Holden Caulfied. While some view
Holden strictly as an elitist or as a Christ-like figure, I find Holden to a
curious mix of the two. Holden is capable of displaying qualities associated
with either at any moment throughout the novel. It is this mixture of qualities
that makes Holden one of the most fascinating and popular characters in modern
literature. Previts 5

Carpenter, Frederic I. “The Adolescent in American Fiction” English
Journal, 46, No.6 (September 1957): 315-6. Rpt. in Holden Caulfield ed. Harold
Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1990. 24. Gwynn, Frederick L., Joseph L. Blotner.
“The Catcher in the Rye” The Fiction of J.D. Salinger (Pittsburgh:
University of Pittsburgh Press, 1958): 28-31. Rpt. in Holden Caulfield. ed.
Harold Bloom New York: Chelsea House, 1990. 13-14 Jones, Ernest “Case History
of all of Us.” Nation (September 1, 1951): p176. Rpt. in Holden Caulfield. ed.
Harold Bloom New York: Chelsea House, 1990. 7 Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the
Rye. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1951.
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