Holden Caulfield and White Mike. Two icons that are comparable?

Seminar Paper, 2009

13 Pages, Grade: 2,6


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Theoretical Background: Bildungsromane

3. Comparison of Holden Caulfield and White Mike:
Common Traits and Differences
3.1. Initial Situation
3.2. Attitude towardReligion
3.3. Loneliness
3.4. Relationships to Women

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Sarah Rachel Egelman says in her review of Twelve that

White Mike's intelligence and cynicism will undoubtedly lead to comparisons with Holden Caulfield, a parallel that is both inaccurate and unnecessary. McDonell's central figure is both less original and less developed, and McDonell's story is vastly different from Salinger's.

(Egelman, Sarah Rachel. "Review: Twelve." bookreporter.com. 1996-2009. 8 May 2009. <http.//www.bookreporter.com/reviews/D802140122.asp>.)

Many critics share this opinion. But why do they all actually try to compare Mike and Holden to one another? "Both [novels] feature a disillusioned 'protagonist,' fed up with their respective lives of privilege in New York City. [. . .] [T]heir [Holden's and Mike's] intentions and desires [are] never fully revealed" (Liz. "Nick McDonell's Twelve."Literary Kicks. 21. October 2002. 8 May 2009.<http://www.litkicks.com/Twelve/>.). Furthermore both adolescents share some of their characteristic features and behavior. So then why is the discussion about this comparison? This is what I will focus on in this research paper. Are they comparable, or are they not?

I will first give basic background knowledge about the genre out of which both novels emerge: the Bildungsroman or the novel of education. Then I will compare J.D. Salinger's Holden Caulfield and Nick McDonell's White Mike to each other. Here I want to focus on some major points like their initial situation, religion, loneliness and women. In the end I want to come to a conclusion on how easily they can be compared.

2. Theoretical Background: Bildungsromane

Both novels are from the same literary genre, the Bildungsroman and are therefore stories of initiation. A story of initiation usually "consists of the three phases of exit, transition, and (re-) entrance and leads the protagonist from innocence to experience" (Freese, Peter. The American Short Story I: Initiation.

Teacher's Book. Paderborn: Schoningh, 1986. 52). This journey, which does not need to be a physical one, can to some extent, be seen in both novels. Holden Caulfield journeys is from Pencey Prep School through various places in New York to his home. He takes an exit from society when he chooses to leave his old school. The time he spends in New York can be seen as a transition. When he decides to go back home, he reenters into society. During this journey he comes to accept his position in society as an adolescent, a status between childhood (which represents innocence) and adulthood (which represents experience). This is best seen in the scene in the end, when Phoebe is riding the carrousel and it starts to rain. Neither does Holden join the parents to shield himself from the rain, nor does he ride the carrousel with the other kids (cf. Salinger, J.D.. The Catcher in the Rye. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1991. 212). As he does not fully mature into an adult during the course of the novel, this is the story ofan uncompleted initiation.

The initiation of White Mike on the other side is completed. In the end in Paris, he can fully reflect his past and makes decisions for himself. This is the first time ever for him to do drugs, despite his occupation as a drug dealer (cf. McDonell, Nick. Twelve. London: Atlantic Books, 2003. 3). Although he has matured by the end of the novel, the general division in exit, transition and (re-) entrance is not clearly visible. So Twelve is not the regular story of initiation. But one could say that the exit takes place when Mike goes to the party to revenge Charlie's death (cf. McDonell 230 f.). Therefore the reader would not be able to watch the phase of transition. The smoking of the joint in the end (cf. McDonell 244) then is the reentrance to society. As the division is not clear, this can be considered as a modern story of initiation.

But besides being stories of initiation both novels are also Bildungsromane, novels of formation. A Bildungsroman "describes the processes by which maturity is achieved through the various ups and downs of life" (Cuddon, J.A.. Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. London: Penguin, 1999. 82). The authors of both books let the reader know something about the past of both main characters. Whether this is the death of a beloved person or some other happy childhood memories does not matter. Both represent the "ups and downs of life". Although

The Catcher in the Rye is not a novel of a completed initiation, and the process of maturity is not completed, it is still a Bildungsroman. Many critics view The Catcher in the Rye as the prototype of an American Bildungsroman besides Huckleberry Finn (cf. Anon. "Bildungsroman: Movement Variations."Enotes.com. January 2006. 14 May 2009. <http://www.enotes.com/bildungsroman/movement-variations>.).

3. Comparison of Holden Caulfield and White Mike: Common Traits and Differences

3.1. Initial Situation

The Catcher in the Rye starts in a sanitarium and ends in the same (cf. Salinger 213). Therefore the frame of the story is set. This also hints at where the journey is going to end. Nick McDonell in Twelve on the other hand, starts right into the plot. But neither Salinger nor McDonell, leave the reader totally clueless about what the main character is like. Both give a quick overview (in appearance, history etc.) of the protagonist. One does not know until much later, that these two characters actually have quite a lot in common. Both have had a loved one die a few years before. Mike's mother had died of breast cancer (cf. McDonell 58) and Holden's younger brother Allie had died of leukemia (cf. Salinger 38), both being very similar diseases. This had caused both of them to think about life and death. These incidents somewhat initiated the growing up process of both characters. But both dealt different with it. Mike pushed himself more into independence as he is making his own money through drug dealing. But Holden separated himself from the adult world.

At the starting point of the novel, Holden has again been expelled from school as he was failing four out of five classes, everything but English class (cf. Salinger 10). Pencey Prep was "about the fourth school [he has] gone to" (Salinger 9). From all the other schools he was either expelled for the same reason as from Pencey or he himself had decided to leave (cf. Salinger 13).

The initial situation of Mike on the other hand is not that clear. He has decided to take a year after graduating from high school (cf. McDonell 3) although he was a very good student during his school time (cf. McDonell 37 f.). Instead of going to college he has become a drug dealer like his cousin Charlie (cf. McDonell 3). Dealing is very important to him and therefore "it will be done precisely, and with nothing else in mind" (McDonell 37).

3.2. Attitude toward Religion

Another topic, on which both characters can be compared to each other, is their view on religion. Both have a very strong opinion on Jesus and church. In a discussion during ethics class White Mike says:

The problem is that religion is just a cop-out. So is community. It's just out of loneliness, you know, something to hold on to when you can't do it yourself. It's for weak people. Strength in adhering to values? No, it's not. [.. .] Because really, when you get down on your knees on the pew, you're just giving God a blowjob. (McDonell 170 f.)

Nevertheless Mike decides to go to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine after his father told him about Charlie's death (cf. McDonell 216). He "liked [...] the sense of ritual and order that came with sitting and half listening to the service" (McDonell 144). In the cathedral he sits down and starts to think about what it must have been like for Charlie to be shot (cf. McDonell 216). When his thoughts digress he "decides that the cathedral is dumb and it is time to leave" (McDonell 218). Although he knows how he should behave in a church, he does not do so properly. When entering the cathedral, he thinks about lighting a candle, "but doesn't because he doesn't know how to do it, really" (McDonell 216). Yet when he is sitting in the benches, "[h]e suddenly thinks that his posture might be uncouth, disrespectful, in this place, and he [. . .] bows his head" (McDonell 217). This can be seen as a position of praying, while earlier he considered a similar position as "giving God a blow job" (McDonell 171). When confronted with the death of his mother at her funeral, he also refers to God:


Excerpt out of 13 pages


Holden Caulfield and White Mike. Two icons that are comparable?
University of Würzburg  (Neuphilologisches Institut)
The Literature of "Becoming"
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Becoming Anglistik Amerikanistik Literaturwissenschaft Litwi Englisch
Quote paper
Jasmin Arnold (Author), 2009, Holden Caulfield and White Mike. Two icons that are comparable?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/470556


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