Holden's conflicts in J.D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye"

Essay, 2000

7 Pages, Grade: 2,0 (B)


There aren’t many heroes in contemporary literature who have aroused so much devotion, imitation or controversy as J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye, which was banned in America after its first publication, has influenced teenagers and adolescents until today.

The very first lines of Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye apparently indicate that something has happened to Holden that perhaps most readers would not want to know about: "If you really want to hear about it...". So, what is The Catcher in the Rye actually about? It is the story of Holden Caulfield, a teenager growing up in New York, who has been expelled from school. In an attempt to deal with this situation, he decides to take a trip to New York, but this trip becomes a complete horror trip, during which he frequently suffers from unexplained depression, feelings of isolation and thoughts of suicide. Finally, his trip ends in a nervous breakdown.

Told as a monologue, the book describes Holden's thoughts and activities of this three- day odyssey. Therefore the reader is forced to see social problems from Holden's point of view. Holden is confused about much of the world around him and he is disillusioned with life. One of the most significant features of Holden Caulfield’s character and personality is his relationship to other people. The way he feels and thinks about others as well as the way he treats them, reflects his difficulties with the world he lives in. Undoubtedly, there is a close link between Holden’s attitude towards social conventions and requirements since the people Holden is involved with represent a part of society. On the other hand, relationships always imply feelings, which enables the reader to get an insight into Holden’s emotional frame of mind. Therefore taking a closer look at Holden’s conflicts concerning relationships may clarify the diversity of Holden’s character.

What disturbs Holden about the society he lives in are adults and adult values. From his perspective, the adults seem to have filled the whole world with phoniness, insidiousness, superficiality and pretence. A misfit in this world, Holden comes into conflict with it throughout the whole story. As the novel opens, Holden is rejecting the phonies around him at Pencey Prep School. This school, which is a good example of a world in which values and perspectives become so distorted that there seems little if any room for a sensitive individual like Holden, is the main reason for his escape.

Regarding the development of Salinger's hero-narrator throughout the whole novel, one can say that he is confronted with different conflicts. One may distinguish between inner and outer conflicts. Holden's outer conflict could be found in his relationship to other people. A good example is his relationship to his roommates of Pencey Prep. His relation to Ackley, who lives next door, is in a way contradictory. Despite Ackley's talent for always appearing in Holden’s room when Holden would prefer to be alone or needs to get something done, he invites him to take part in activities or at least, keeps him company. Although Holden hardly ever says something positive about Ackley, he takes care of him all the time. It seems as if Holden, being an outsider himself, would always suppress his own interests in order to be there for him.

In contrast to his considerate behaviour concerning Ackley, Holden hates his handsome roommate Stradlater who embodies everything that Holden hates about life at Pencey. He is portrayed as the model for society’s idea of what a well-balanced young man of his age should be like. In addition, Stradlater seems to be able to do the things that Holden wants to do but cannot. Therefore their relation is mainly characterized by mutual dislike and culminates in the brawl which causes Holden to leave school. What disturbs Holden most is the fact that Stradlater has "made time" with Jane Gallagher. As Holden suspects Stradlater, who is popular with girls and is already sexual experienced, of having seduced girls in the past, he wants to protect Jane. Even though Holden is enraged at this thought, he himself later attempts to "make time” with a hotel call-girl. This desire for sexual exploration plunges him into another conflict. The bellboy Maurice, who has offered him the girl, beats him in order to get his payment for her.

The only person, except for Phoebe, who urges him to search for a cause worth living for is his former English teacher Mr. Antolini whom Holden greatly admires. Holden is able to talk freely with him and also have one of the longest conversations in the whole novel. Mr Antolini understands that "this fall Holden is riding for is a special kind of fall, a horrible kind". Therefore he fears that Holden is going to fail in life unless he starts to think about what he really wants to be. It seems as if Mr. Antolini is the only person who comes close to understanding Holden's predicament. Nevertheless, even this last moral support in his desperate life is destroyed when Holden later awakens to find Mr. Antolini petting him. Holden has to realize that even the last person he turns to for advice is also just a shabby adult like all the others. In other words, the advice that Mr. Antolini has given him has been rendered useless because "the idol who gave it has fallen".

Regarding his relations to other characters, it is important to mention that Holden throughout the novel attempts to engage people in conversation. Nevertheless, in most of the conversations he is lying or pretending to be someone he is not. The only meaningful conversations are with the two nuns and his sister Phoebe. The conversation with the nuns makes clear that he considers religion to be something individual, something that can be neither commercialized nor used to strenghten one’s affiliation to society. In addition, nuns have to give up material things and money. From his perspective they seem to be the only people he meets who genuinely care about others.


Excerpt out of 7 pages


Holden's conflicts in J.D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye"
University of Münster  (English Seminar Münster)
American Teenage Culture of the 50s
2,0 (B)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
491 KB
Essay without secondary literature
Holden, Salinger, Catcher, American, Teenage, Culture
Quote paper
Dirk Lepping (Author), 2000, Holden's conflicts in J.D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/15999


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