What the characters of The Catcher in the Rye tell us about Holden Caulfield
The main theme of The Catcher in the Rye is isolation, which is interesting coming from a guy who spills his guts out into the world for 200 pages. However, the contradiction perfectly characterizes Holden Caulfield; he can’t decide whether to get all his friends together for a round of drinks and chat or run off into the woods to get away Into-the-Wild style.
This is just the tip of an entire iceberg of narrative inconsistency. Holden hates fakers but lies constantly, hates Hollywood but pretends to be the star of a gangster movie, wants people to like him but intentionally irritates them for fun, and complains that everyone generalizes too much all the time. Holden’s narrative presence so completely dominates the story that it’s difficult to get an accurate reading of any situation, which means that everything that passes through Caulfield’s perception machine must be reverse-engineered before we can understand it. Let’s look at Holden’s relationships with the other two major characters in Catcher in the Rye.
According to Holden Caulfield, Phoebe is the (second) best person ever (right after her little brother, Allie, who died of leukemia). She is the kindest, smartest, most beautiful and superlative sister a person could wish for. So what does this tell us? Nothing without proof. Here’s a more nuanced approach to the brother-sister relationship:
Exhibit A: Phoebe takes Holden seriously. When Holden says he’s going to “hitchhike out west,” Phoebe packs his suitcase, sneaks it out of the building, packs it up for the day, and meets him at the museum with his red hunting hat on and everything. they need except the getaway car. She compares that to the reception Holden receives when she asks Sally to run away with him. (She gets the running part, only in the wrong direction.) Which isn’t to say that running off with Sally would be a good idea, but the point is that pretty much everyone laughs/scolds Holden like he’s a complete idiot, which we (and Phoebe) know couldn’t be further from the truth. TRUE.
Test B: Phoebe gives Holden things. Which may not sound like much, except she’s the only person in the novel who does. Holden constantly lends/gives things to the people around him, who often don’t offer even a thank you in return. Only in the first ten chapters -and there are 26- he lets himself be fucked for a coat, an essay, a typewriter and drinks worth thirteen dollars. Phoebe, on the other hand, not only shows immense gratitude for his gifts (remember when she lovingly puts away the broken shards of the record in a drawer?), but she also lends Holden her Christmas savings when she finds out he’s broke and goes home. returns them. the red hunting hat from him when he feels sad. It’s a sad day when a 10-year-old boy shows more generosity than the entitled teenagers of an entire high school.
Test C: Phoebe wants to hear about Holden, even when she doesn’t want to. Holden hates that people “never notice anything,” and while he’s busy making brilliant behavioral and emotional observations about everyone he meets, they’re so busy trying to be impressive that they can’t think of anyone but themselves. . Phoebe, however, wants to know what time Holden arrived, what he’s doing, whether or not he’s coming to see her play, why he skipped a few days, what classes she flunked, and why he didn’t try harder. Even though she’s angry, Holden “could tell off the back of her neck that he was listening. He always listens when you say something to him.” Plus, she’s the only person who pays enough attention to notice that he got kicked out of school. Not bad sleep for a 10 year old.
Aside from Allie, Jane is the novel’s most tantalizingly elusive figure; although Holden’s thoughts often wander to her, she never makes a physical appearance in The Catcher in the Rye. Holden is careful not to reveal too much about Jane, but it’s obvious he likes her. He maybe even loves her. Let’s review the evidence.
Exhibit A: Holden can’t get too sexy with her. According to his philosophy on sex (ie, sex is inherently demeaning), the only women in the novel that he sexualizes are the ones he can’t respect. Remember the stupid but pretty ballerina whose fantastic butt “moved so well and everything”? Or what about Holden’s friend, Luntz’s lover, in the “little blue dress that makes you nervous”? (Apparently, he has a type.) In contrast, the closest Holden comes to sexualizing Jane is revealing that he has a “fabulous figure,” but he only reveals this information because he suspects her stepfather is sexually abusing her. It’s true that Holden makes sure to avoid Jane in all this “crazy stuff,” but he remembers that the key word in “respectful distance” is “respectful.”
Test B: Jane keeps all her kings in the back row. Why is that important? It’s not, but the fact that Holden thinks that way says a lot about his dynamic. The things Holden thinks are important enough to tell us are that she plays checkers and golf, that her mouth is always open, that it’s great to hold hands with her, that her stepdad is a lousy alcoholic hound and that his red sweater “knocked him out.” Knowing that Stradlater doesn’t care about any of this (or if her name is Jane or Jean, for that matter) drives Holden up the wall.
Test C: Holden doesn’t complain about Jane. Not even once. And Holden complains about literally EVERYTHING except Allie. Even Phoebe “can be very snotty sometimes,” but when it comes to Jane’s faults, he’s suspiciously quiet. And coming from Holden, that’s saying something.