The main theme of Catcher in the Rye is isolation, which is interesting coming from a guy who spills his guts out to the world for 200 pages. However, the contradiction perfectly characterizes Holden Caulfield; he can’t decide whether to gather all of his friends for a round of drinks and chat or run off into the woods for an Into-the-Wild escape.

This is just the tip of a whole 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 overgeneralizes all the time. Holden’s narrative presence so completely dominates the story that it’s hard to get an accurate reading of any situation, which means that everything that passes through Caulfield’s perception machine has to 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.

phoebe caulfield

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, prettiest and most 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, loads it up for the day, and meets him at the museum with his red hunting hat on and all the gear. they need except the getaway car. She compares that to the reception Holden gets when she asks Sally to run away with him. (She gets the running part, just 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 jerk, which we (and Phoebe) know couldn’t be further from the truth. TRUE.

Exhibit B: Phoebe gives Holden things. Which may not seem like a big deal, except she’s the only person in the novel to do it. Holden constantly lends/gives things to the people around him, who often don’t even offer 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 how she lovingly tucks the broken shards of the record into a drawer?), but also lends Holden her Christmas savings when she discovers he’s broke and runs out. returns them. the red hunting hat of him when he is feeling sad. It’s a sad day when a 10-year-old shows more generosity than the entitled teens of an entire high school.

Exhibit C: Phoebe wants to hear about Holden, even when she doesn’t. Holden hates it when people “never notice anything,” and while he’s busy making brilliant emotional and behavioral observations on 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 got here, what he’s doing, whether or not he’s coming to see her play, why he was a few days early, what classes she failed in, and why he didn’t try harder. Even though she is angry, Holden “could tell out of the back of his head that he was listening. He always listens when you say something to him.” Plus, she’s the only person who pays enough attention to realize he got kicked out of school. Not bad sleep for a 10 year old.

jane gallagher

Aside from Allie, Jane is the most tantalizingly elusive figure in the novel; although Holden’s thoughts wander to her often, 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 that she likes her. He maybe he 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 cannot respect. Remember the stupid but pretty ballerina whose fantastic butt “moved so nice and all”? Or what about Holden’s friend, lover of Luntz, with the “little blue dress that makes you nervous”? (Apparently, he has a type.) Conversely, the closest Holden gets to sexualizing Jane is revealing that he has a “fabulous figure”, but he only reveals this information because he suspects that 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.”

Exhibit B: Jane keeps all her kings on the back rank. 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 she always has her mouth open, that she’s great to hold hands with, that her stepdad is a lousy alcoholic bloodhound, and that her 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 to the wall.

Exhibit C: Holden doesn’t complain about Jane. Not even once. And Holden is literally complaining about EVERYTHING except Allie. Even Phoebe “can be very runny at times”, but when it comes to Jane’s faults, he is suspiciously silent. And coming from Holden, that’s saying something.

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