In J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, the first person
narration is critical in helping the reader to know and understand
the main character, Holden Caulfield. Holden, in his narration,
relates a flashback of a significant period of his life, three days
and nights on his own in New York City. Through his narration,
Holden discloses to the reader his innermost thoughts and feelings.
He thus provides the reader not only with information of what
occurred, but also how he felt about what happened.
Holden's thoughts and ideas reveal many of his character
traits. One late Saturday night, four days before the beginning of
school vacation, Holden is alone, bored and restless, wondering
what to do. He decides to leave Pencey, his school, at once and
travels to New York by train. He decides that, once in New York,
he will stay in a cheap motel until Wednesday, when he is to return
home. His plan shows the reader how very impetuous he is and how
he acts on a whim. He is unrealistic, thinking that he has a
foolproof plan, even though the extent of his plans are to "take a
room in a hotel.., and just take it easy till Wednesday."
Holden's excessive thoughts on death are not typical of most
adolescents. His near obsession with death might come from having
experienced two deaths in his early life. He constantly dwells on
Allie, his brother's, death. From Holden's thoughts, it is obvious
that he loves and misses Allie. In order to hold on to his brother
and to minimize the pain of his loss, Holden brings Allie's
baseball mitt along with him where ever he goes. The mitt has
additional meaning and significance for Holden because Allie had
written poetry, which Holden reads, on the baseball mitt. Holden's
preoccupation with death can be seen in his contemplation of a dead
classmate, James Castle. It tells the reader something about
Holden that he lends his turtleneck sweater to this classmate, with
whom he is not at all close.
Holden's feelings about people reveal more of his positive
traits. He constantly calls people phonies, even his brother,
D.B., who " has sold out to Hollywood." Although insulting, his
seemingly negative feelings show that Holden is a thinking and
analyzing, outspoken individual who values honesty and sincerity.
He is unimpressed with people who try to look good in other's eyes.
Therefore, since it is obvious that Holden is bright, the reason
for his flunking out of school would seem to be from a lack of
Holden has strong feelings of love towards children as
evidenced through his caring for Phoebe, his little sister. He is
protective of her, erasing bad words from the walls in her school
and in a museum, in order that she not learn from the graffiti.
His fondness for children can be inferred when he tells her that,
at some time in the future, he wants to be the only grown-up with
"all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye
and all." He'll stand on the edge of a cliff and catch anybody who
starts to fall off the edge of the cliff. He got this image from
his misinterpretation of a line from the Robert Burns poem, " if a
body catch a body comin' through the rye."
When situations are described, in person or in a book, they
are influenced by the one who describes them, and by his or her
perceptions and experiences. Through Holden's expressions of his
thoughts and feelings, the reader sees a youth, sensitive to his
surroundings, who chooses to deal with life in unique ways. Holden
is candid, spontaneous, analytical, thoughtful, and sensitive, as
evidenced by his narration. Like most adolescents, feelings about
people and relationships are often on his mind. Unfortunately, in
Holden's case, he seems to expect the worst, believing that the
result of getting close to people is pain. Pain when others reject
you or pain when they leave you, such as when a friend walks off or
a beloved brother dies. It would not have been possible to feel
Holden's feelings or understand his thoughts nearly as well had the
book been written in third person.
The Catcher in the Rye
January 11, 1997