In Defense of Holden Caulfield

The Catcher in the RyeThe Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am one of those people who was in love with J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye from the first page. Shortly after reading it, however, I noticed that the novel and its protagonist are synonymous with ungrateful teenagers and their angst. Maybe I only liked it because I was in high school; I was mad at the world and every crummy thing in it. In many ways, though, I admire and pity Holden Caulfield to this day.Caulfield’s thankless attitude is the major bone of contention with most of his haters; to the adult mind, he’s a hypocritical brat. After being expelled from Pencey Prep, he never questions the financial blow to his family, or acknowledges the waste of an above-average educational opportunity. He berates the rich as “phonies” without conceding that he is among the bourgeoisie. Is he blind to his privilege, or so self-aware that it disgusts him?

Salinger’s protagonist is wildly hypocritical. He obliviously displays every flaw he finds with others. In high school, I overlooked this particular aspect of Caulfield’s personality. As an adult, however, I learned that all people—including myself—are at least a little hypocritical in certain areas of their lives. None of us wants to scrutinize his or her own shortcomings in the mirror, so we all pile scorn on those who openly exhibit the qualities we privately hate about ourselves. This is why adults vilify Catcher as a whiny novel, and Caulfield as a brat; it is easier to hate him than to admit how much he resembles you.

Everyone has, or has had, an inner Holden Caulfield. In five years, it will not matter that a careless parker dinged your car door, that your spouse bought the wrong brand of ketchup, or that some jerk stood you up. None of these insignificant things will have any lasting impact on your life unless you let them, but they will all probably make you feel crummy in the moment. You might even let these incidents marinate until they fester into a deep-seated—but temporary—resentment for your fellow human beings. Eventually you come to realize that there is no reason to be angry anymore; you learn and you grow. In Catcher, Salinger is simply showing us a young man’s learning period. I say stop hating and let him grow.


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