The Catcher in the Rye can be read as a coming-of-age story. How does Holden’s Character change or mature during the course of the novel? To what extent are there TWO Holden Caulfields in the book, and what is the difference between them?
The novel ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D Salinger is a coming-of-age story. It follows the short tale of Holden Caulfield, a sixteen year old boy, who throughout his experiences in the novel, changes and becomes more mature and independent.
The story essentially has two Holden Caulfields, the one telling the story, and the one that the story is being told about. This essay will look at the differences and similarities between the two Holden’s’.
It is obvious that the Holden Caulfield who is in the story, is a much different version than the one telling you the story. At first, Holden comes off as a bit of an arrogant tool, and most of the people in his life are getting fed up with him.
They find it difficult to spend any elongated period of time with him. There are several instances in the book where Holden is feeling lonely, and he tries to reach out to people, and strike up conversations with strangers, yet time and time again, he is being shut down or shutting people down. “The first thing I did when I got off at Penn station, I went into this phone booth. I felt like giving someone a buzz.” (Salinger, 1945-6, p.53)
He then goes through a list of people who he could call, but each time comes up with an excuse or reason not to call them “So I ended up not calling anyone.” (Salinger, 1945-6, p.53) Holden is searching for a companion. He is sad and lonely, and looking for someone to reach out to as he is in desperate need of human interaction. Sadly enough, Holden is unable to make this connection with anyone. However, had we as the reader, not known Holden’s inner most thoughts, the way he talks about others and himself, and what matters to him, we would more than likely not empathise with Holden. It is Holden’s vulnerability and loneliness that make him a relatable character.
The Holden Caulfield that is narrating the story is a much more matured version of the one in the story. The self-narration of Holden’s life is what gives the reader an insight into the way he thinks and feels. It helps you understand why Holden is the way he is. Without this explanation from him, you wouldn’t empathise with him, or like him very much at all. It’s the little stories he tells, like the story about Allies baseball mitt, “…Allie had this left-handed fielders mitt… he had poems written all over the fingers and the pocket and everywhere. In green ink.” (Salinger, 1945-6, p.33) or about how he knows Jane Gallagher, “You were never even worried, with Jane, whether your hand was sweaty or not.
All you knew was, you were happy. You really were” (Salinger, 1945-6, p.72) that make you see the softer side to him. Holden’s connection with his little brother Allie was very special to him. This is evident in the way he talks about Allie. He holds Allie up to these great expectations, saying “You’d have liked him” (Salinger, 1945-6, p.33) and convincing you how great he was and how intelligent and special he was. You are now able to connect and sympathise for Holden, because he has told you all about the things that mean most to him, and you can’t help but feel a little sorry for him.
Although there are essentially two Holdens, there are still traits that remain the same. Throughout the story, Holden feels the need to explain and justify himself, as though people don’t believe him. Holden tells the story from his childhood, from when he was friends with Jane Gallagher. He begins to explain that when he was with Jane, they could hold hands and “All you knew was, you happy. You really were.” (Salinger, 1945-6, p.72) Holden has this habit of repeating himself for emphasis and because he feels as though without it, people do not believe what he is telling them. This only leads the reader to believe what he is saying is false. Holden does this throughout the book, which only makes you question his reliability as a narrator, but also makes you realise that he has so many characteristics that remain the same in the Holden telling the story and the Holden in the story.
‘The Catcher in the Rye’ is a story about a teenage boy trying to find himself whilst travelling through New York, lonely and looking for companionship. Holden is a likeable character because he is a character you can relate to, understand and empathise with. ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ is essentially a story about a boy growing up.