McEvoy was referring to the commentary, “Shut up, Holden, and take your
Prozac!” – that a teacher retrieved from one of her Long-Island students.
But as someone said, those who CHALLENGE Holden ARE being HOLDEN.
Shelley Keller-Gage notes that “the challengers are being just like Holden...
They are trying to be catchers in the rye.”
“The Catcher in the Rye” is what Umberto Eco would call an ‘opera aperta’ –
which is just as well, and it was perhaps a good Griceian strategy of Salinger
NOT to add to the exegeses. Apparently, according to the NYT, he felt
especially betrayed after he gave an interview thinking it would appear in a
school magazine, when it didn’t.
Befriended, Then Betrayed
In the fall of 1953 Salinger befriended some local teenagers in Cornish and
allowed one of them to interview him for what he assumed would be an article on
the high school page of a local paper, “The Claremont Daily Eagle.” The article
appeared instead as a feature on the editorial page, and Salinger felt so
betrayed that he broke off with the teenagers and built a six-and-a-half-foot
fence around his property.
Perhaps he was unhappy with the exegesis, too? Lit critic Bruce Brooks holds
that Holden Caulfield's attitude remains unchanged at story's end, implying no
maturation, thus differentiating the novel from young adult fiction.
In contrast, Louis Menand thought that teachers assign the novel because of the
optimistic ending, to teach adolescent readers that "alienation is just a
While Brooks maintains that Holden Caulfield acts his age, Menand claims that
Holden Caulfield thinks as an ADULT, given his ability to accurately perceive
people and their motives.
Others highlight the dilemma of Holden Caulfield's state, in between
adolescence and adulthood.
Holden Caulfield is quick to become emotional. "I felt sorry as hell for..." is
a phrase he often uses.
It is often said that Holden Caulfield does change at the end, when he watches
Phoebe on the carousel, and he talks about the golden ring and how it's good
for kids to try and grab it.
Peter Beidler, in his A Reader's Companion to J. D. Salinger's "The Catcher in
the Rye", identifies the film that the prostitute "Sunny" refers to.
In chapter 13 she says that in the film a boy falls off a boat. The movie is
Captains Courageous, starring Spencer Tracy.
Sunny says that Holden Caulfield looks like the boy who fell off the boat.
Beidler shows a still of the boy, played by child-actor Freddie Bartholomew.
This "catcher in the rye" is an analogy for Holden, who admires in children
attributes that he struggles to find in adults, like innocence, kindness,
spontaneity, and generosity.
Falling off the cliff could be a progression into the adult world that
surrounds him and that he strongly criticizes.
Later, Phoebe and Holden exchange roles as the "catcher" and the "fallen.”
He gives her his hunting hat, the catcher's symbol, and becomes the fallen as
Phoebe becomes the catcher.
However, in their biography of Salinger, David Shields and Shane Salerno argue
that "The Catcher in the Rye is best understood as a disguised war novel.
Salinger witnessed the horrors of World War II. Rather than writing a combat
novel, Salinger, took the trauma of war and embedded it within what looks to
the naked eye like a coming-of-age novel.
Or not, of course.
Finlo Rohrer wrote that “The Catcher in the Rye” is still regarded "as the
defining work on what it is like to be a teenager. Holden is at various times
disaffected, disgruntled, alienated, isolated, directionless, and sarcastic."
Jeff Pruchnic describes Holden as a “teenage protagonist frozen midcentury but
destined to be discovered by those of a similar age in every generation to
Rohrer says “The Catcher in the Rye” "captures existential teenage angst.”
While Stern reviewed “The Catcher in the Rye” in a voice imitating Holden’s (in
ps). And so on.
“Aw, the world's a crumby place. This girl Helga, she kills me. She reads just
about everything I bring into the house, and a lot of crumby stuff besides.
She's crazy about kids. I mean stories about kids. But Hel, she says there's
hardly a writer alive can write about children. Only these English guys Richard
Hughes and Walter de la Mare, she says. The rest is all corny. It depresses
her. That's another thing. She can sniff a corny guy or a phony book quick as a
dog smells a rat. This phoniness, it gives old Hel a pain if you want to know
the truth. That's why she came hollering to me one day, her hair falling over
her face and all, and said I had to read some damn story in The New Yorker.
Who's the author? I said. Salinger, She told me, J. D. Salinger. Who's he? I
asked. How should I know, she said, just you read it."For Esme--with Love and
Squalor" was this story's crumby title. But boy, was that a story. About a G.
I. or something and a couple of English kids in the last war. Hel, I said when
I was through, just you wait till this guy writes a novel. Novel, my elbow, she
said. This Salinger, he won't write no crumby novel. He's a short story
guy.--Girls, they kill me. They really do. But I was right, if you want to know
the truth. You should've seen old Hel hit the ceiling when I told her this
Salinger, he has not only written a novel, it's a Book-of-the-Month Club
selection, too. For crying out loud, she said, what's it about? About this
Holden Caulfield, I told her, about the time he ran away to New York from this
Pencey Prep School in Agerstown, Pa. Why'd he run away, asked old Hel. Because
it was a terrible school, I told her, no matter how you looked at it. And there
were no girls. What, said old Hel. Well, only this old Selma Thumer, I said,
the headmaster's daughter. But this Holden, he liked her because "she didn't
give you a lot of horse-manure about what a great guy her father was." Then Hel
asked what this Holden's father was like, so I told her if she wanted to know
the truth Holden didn't want to go into all that David Copperfield-kind of
business. It bored him and anyway his "parents would have [had] about two
hemorrhages apiece if [he] told anything personal about them." You see, this
Holden, I said, he just can't find anybody decent in the lousy world and he's
in some sort of crumby Californian home full of psychiatrists. That damn near
killed Hel. Psychiatrists, she howled. That's right, I said, this one
psychiatrist guy keeps asking Holden if he's going to apply himself when he
goes back to school. (He's already been kicked out of about six.) And Holden,
he says how the hell does he know. "I think I am," he says, "but how do I know.
I swear it's a stupid question."That's the way it sounds to me, Hel said, and
away she went with this crazy book. "The Catcher in the Rye." What did I tell
ya, she said next day. This Salinger, he's a short story guy. And he knows how
to write about kids. This book though, it's too long. Gets kind of monotonous.
And he should've cut out a lot about these jerks and all at that crumby school.
They depress me. They really do. Salinger, he's best with real children. I mean
young ones like old Phoebe, his kid sister. She's a personality. Holden and
little old Phoeb, Hel said, they kill me. This last part about her and Holden
and this Mr. Antolini, the only guy Holden ever thought he could trust, who
ever took any interest in him, and who turned out queer--that's terrific. I
swear it is. You needn't swear, He, I said. Know what? This Holden, he's just
like you. He finds the whole world's full of people say one thing and mean
another and he doesn't like it; and he hates movies and phony slobs and snobs
and crumby books and war. Boy, how he hates war. Just like you, Hel, I said.
But old Hel, she was already reading this crazy "Catcher" book all over again.
That's always a good sign with Hel.”