Rye Essay, Research Paper
Understanding Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger s The Catcher in the Rye
J. D. Salinger s The Catcher in the Rye (Salinger 1953), is a novel told in an autobiographical manner which tracks Holden Caulfield on his two day sojourn through 1950 s New York City. This short twentieth century novel delves into the underlying problems that mire Caulfield to the point where it seems he will never enter the adult world. Holden’s misguided morality brings about a dysfunctional personality that begs to be psychoanalyzed, not only in his interactions with the outside world, but also his internal motivation and language. However, his inability to relate to the rest of the world in any manner will leave the boy forever baffling.
Caulfield s apparent virtue helps to mask his true character. It s not difficult to understand why readers have always ignored Holden s grave deficiencies as a person (Branch 42). After all, “he is very appealing, on the surface” (Costello 95). He “genuinely appreciates brief and isolated instances of kindness” (Lee 263) and “accurately pinpoints phoniness in low and high places (Edwards 556). Thus, it is easy to explain reader s acceptance of him. Indeed, these people are like Holden himself – the Holden who can be willful, contrary, often impossible, yet in a manner insistently of his own making and at odds with whatever he deems dull or conformist (Lee 102). Ambivalence is, in fact, characteristic of Holden, the surest evidence of his mental instability” (Furst 76). He is not what he and many readers assume he is: “an anti-establish figure whose
disgust is directed at other people (Edwards 557). Holden does not turn his face into the sunrise expressing his determination to overthrow the bourgeois capitalistic society in favor of socialist utopia. Indeed, the whole thrust of the novel seems to suggest there is no social or political or economic structure that could relieve Holden of the tragic implications of his physical, sexual, or emotional nature (Miller 134). Nay, Holden is more than this. He expresses this through his true self (Lee 103) which allows him to editorialize gloriously, fire off opinions” (Costello 96), and even, as it appears, brazenly flaunt his resentment at all the unlooked to burdens of writing autobiography (Mellard 212). The negative nature of Holden s inner self is shown through his two roommates, Ackley and Stradlater. Ackley is the negative image of self – “ugly, pimply, self absorbed” (Branch 43). Stradlater is the “somewhat – only somewhat – more positive double” (Branch 44) – “handsome, clever, and featured, albeit equally narcissistic” (Mellard 214). Allie is also idolized by Caulfield s mind as an exemplary model. Allie is a figure of Holden s ego ideal, the moi or ideal self that is unknown except through the objects in which it is inscribed (Furst 74). But it is this subconscious which often gets him in trouble. Holden s fantasies, the product of his vivid imagination, are even more varied and characteristically mingle the comic with the pathetic (Furst 78). However, Holden Caulfield is no clown; nor is he a tragic hero; he is a sixteen year old lad whose vivid encounter with everyday life is tragically humorous or humorously tragic (Miller/Heiserman 134). However, the author clearly suggests that Holden can change (Costello 97). The problems that the author describes “may represent merely one phase of his development (Furst 74). And, on the evidence of the story he tells [at the end of the novel], he no longer has any real need of therapy. He would appear to be as healthy, as whole, as sane as
anyone might ever be (Mellard 225). Thus it appears that the novel is trying to describe certain passing phases of adolescent behavior (Baumbach 467).
But, whether Caulfield is cured at the end of the novel or not, it is obvious that he struggles with sexual problems throughout. Holden s problem is reflected in his inability to relate sexually to females. But he fools himself. He believes he cannot get really sexy with girls he doesn t like a lot, whereas he cannot get sexy with a girl he does like” (Edwards 563). In fact, what he likes about Jane Gallagher is that the relationship with her won t go beyond the hand holding stage” (Lee 114). Furthermore, he is “genuinely innocent” (Furst 71) and “his love of Phoebe is touching” (Mellard 261), but “he himself is phony at times, and he has virtually no sexual awareness” (Edwards 564). Holden spends a lot of time hiding his true feelings, some of which include a wide variety of sexual perversions, such as “voyeurism” (Lee 115), “oedipal desires” (Mellard 117), and “possibly homosexuality” (Ohmann 32). But despite these wanton desires, Holden has had no serious sexual contact (Rosen 548). His “sex-book good manners” (Lee 116) lead him to “treat every sexual advance as a bayonet charge by the enemy” (Wakefield 73). It also leads him to want a sort of “symbolic castration” (Strauch 24). Therefore, the author is suggesting that Holden’s inability to realistically relate to women will leave him forever a virgin (Bloom 83).
Phallic imagery is also prevalent throughout the novel. “At the carousel Holden thinks of the golden rings pursued by the children. The ring is a symbol of phallic plentitude and as such is related to the imminence of castration” (Mellard 259). As is “Allie’s broken hand” (Strauch 25)
which “is related to castration as it is to death” (Mellard 260). Caulfield’s subconscious desire for “catharsis through castration” (Furst 80) may be encouraged by the “self outpouring in the course of the psychological treatment he is undergoing (Wakefield 74).
Holden’s inability to relate to the world is also evident in his awkward lack of ability to communicate with others. What has made this book such a classic among young readers, especially those of the baby boomer age is its authenticity of language (Smith 12). But it is that authenticity which makes his speech all the more confusing. “Communication is difficult, if not impossible for him with others because he inhabits quite a different world” (Bungert 182). “The very fragmentation of Holden’s speech, his frequent recourse to such apologetic approximations as ’sort of’, ‘and all’, and ‘I mean’; show his ineptitude in communication. Nevertheless, he goes on trying to talk to people” (Branch 47). Although in the novel, Holden may be a decent author, his elocution leaves something to be desired. “Holden’s approximations serve no real, consistent linguistic function” (French 248). They “simply give a sense of looseness of expression and looseness of thought” (Goodman 21). Often, “they signify that Holden knows there is more that could be said about the issue at hand, but he is not going to bother with it” (Hassan 278). “Holden’s twentieth-century prep-school vernacular, despite its automatic and somehow innocent obscenities and its hackneyed coinages also manages to communicate ideas and feelings of a quite complex sort within its sharply delineated boundaries. [Holden] has a deep concern with ethical valuation in his language, and it is the basis of the tension that lies in the instinctively succinct idioms” (Kaplan 32). Even the “plentitude of uncompleted phone calls that permeate the novel” (Carpenter 314) shows his inability to communicate; it never becomes clear “whether the calls
purposely end in failure or whether the boy simply has bad luck” (Chugnov 184). Either way, Caulfield will remain verbally isolated in the foreseeable future (Heiserman/Miller 28).
Only Salinger will ever completely understand all of the character’s complexities and flaws. He penned Holden Caulfield to be purposely enigmatic; to evade all attempts to pin him down to one stereotype. Salinger himself became a recluse after writing this book and the reader can only assume that some of Salinger’s own personal problems are mirrored in his portrayal of Holden. Because of this, only through more scholarly analysis of The Catcher in the Rye, can one hope to have a better comprehension of Holden.
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