catcher in the rye

In Defense of Holden Caulfield

I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever understand why exactly people hate Holden Caulfield from “The Catcher in the Rye”.

I mean, sure, you could defend your dislike with a classic gem such as, “Oh, he’s just a whiny, pretentious f***boy! He’s so boring, all he does is complain!”

But at that I’m just like

okay, wow, I’m sorry the incredibly depressed mentally ill teenager who has no true friends and is constantly being ignored by the people he tries to reach out to and is constantly being told he’s useless and a bad influence by his peers and has alluded to being sexually molested by multiple people as a little kid and has to deal with the pain and hardship of growing up in a world he can’t help but see as superficial and hypocritical and WHOSE CLASSMATE FRICKIN’ COMMITTED SUICIDE IN FRONT OF HIM isn’t a conventionally cheerful or likeable protagonist????

I don’t understand why that’s so hard for people to grasp; it just straight up BAFFLES me. I mean, people eke out all sorts of ways to like downright villains like Alex (DeLarge) or Loki or Ramsay Snow/Bolton, or antiheros like Jaime/Cersei Lannister, Sherlock Holmes, etc.

Why is it so hard to dole out a little sympathy for Holden, who, ultimately, just wants to protect children from the evils of the world—arguably one of the noblest and most heartbreakingly tender aspirations of all?

Book Summaries
  • Picture of Dorian Gray: I'll be a good person...lol nah
  • House of Leaves: Haha have fun sleeping after this book and have fun trying to read it
  • Jurassic Park: lol let's have dinosaurs
  • Lotf: KILL THE PIG CUT ITS THROAT SPILL ITS BLOOD
  • Taming of the shrew: Lol who are we
  • Catcher in the rye: I'm a phony you're a phony we're all phonies
  • A Clockwork Orange: Droogs why
  • Count of Monte cristo: REVENGE
  • Les Mis: all this for a loaf of bread
THE CATCHER IN THE RYE / J.D. SALINGER
  • Holden Caulfield: I left the fencing equipment on the subway lol oopsies
  • Holden: Oh man I got kicked out of school lol oopsies
  • Holden: WHATEVSIES LET’S GO RUN AWAY TO NEW YORK *slaps on his red hunting cap of swag*
  • [in taxi] Holden: Hey.
  • Hey.
  • Hey.
  • Taxi driver: WHAT.
  • Holden: Where do the ducks go when the pond freezes over?
  • Taxi driver: How the hell should I know whatchu playin’ at
  • Holden: NOTHING LOL JUS’ WONDERING
  • [pause for metaphorical resonance]
  • Holden: *comes across a telephone booth*
  • Holden: OH BOY I WANT TO CALL UP MY OLD CHILDHOOD FRIEND JANE GALLAGHER
  • Holden: Wait never mind. Not gonna do it. You have to be in the right mood.
  • Holden: *comes across another telephone booth* *repeats the entire thought process 95889246502657 times until the reader wants to smack him*
  • Holden: *eventually checks into a hotel* Damn, is it good to be a rich teenage runaway. *goes out into town and orders a million drinks at a million bars*
  • Holden: PHONY PHONY PHONY YOU’RE A PHONY SHE’S A PHONY WE’RE ALLL PHONIES
  • Holden: *breaks down crying*
  • Holden: *eventually checks into his hotel again* *somehow accidentally orders a prostitute for the night*
  • Sunny: Yo.
  • Holden: Hey you wanna talk?
  • Sunny: Not…really? Whatchu playin’ at?
  • Holden: Nothing, nothing, hey, listen I’ll pay ya for the time and everything, I just want to talk-
  • Sunny: Srry pal. I g2g. [her pimp comes to Holden’s room. heartbreaking stuff happens.]
  • Holden: [clutches belly] OH GOD I’M DYING I SEE THE LIGHT
  • oh cool maybe jane gallagher will come save me
  • oh god do i want to jump her bones
  • just kiddinggggg jane is a total metaphor for innocence and i don’t want to jump anyone’s bonesss
  • [five mins later]
  • Man. She isn’t coming. OH WELL TIME TO PHONE UP SALLY BOY DO THE GIRLS LOVE ME.
  • Sally: I fucking hate you but I need a boyfriend.
  • Holden: K cool my heart is for Jane anyways.
  • I mean, she keeps all her kings in the back row, and all.
  • Sally: I feel like that’s another metaph-
  • Holden: TO BROADWAY! *drags her away*
  • [Because they do not see Les Mis or Gentleman’s Guide or any other fantastic Broadway musical, but some dry play with Alfred Lunt, their date falls to pieces.]
  • [later, at an ice rink]
  • Holden: We should totes run away.
  • Sally: What.
  • Holden: We could buy our own little cabin-
  • Sally: No.
  • Holden: I’m not kidding, we should do it right now-
  • Sally: Hold it right there, motherfucker. Stop it.
  • Holden: Well, you don’t have to be a pain in the ass about it-
  • Sally: ZOMG HOW DARE YOU CURSE AT ME
  • HOW DARE YOU CURSE AT ME, YOU LITTLE FUCKER *bursts into tears*
  • Holden: *runs away* Why is life so haaaaard…
  • [oh yeah at some point he buys a Little Shirley Beans record and then he drops it and we all know it’s another metaphor]
  • Holden: I know what will help!
  • A visit to my lil’ sis!
  • ALLONS-Y!
  • Phoebe: HEY WHOA
  • HEY
  • HOLDEN
  • LIKE, WHOA
  • Holden: like don’t tell mom and dad I swung by I just want to say hi to you-
  • Phoebe: You got kicked out of school again didn’t you.
  • Holden: No-
  • Phoebe: LIKE COME ON GET YOUR SORRY ASS TOGETHER HAVE YOU EVER EVEN THOUGHT OF THE FUTURE
  • Holden: Well, you know that song “if a body catch a body coming through the rye”?
  • Phoebe: It’s “if a body meet a body-”
  • Holden: Yeah whatever. That’s all I really want to do. I imagine all these kids playing in this field of rye, and they’re kids, so sometimes they get too close to the edge of this huge cliff, so I’ll be the one catching them. I’ll do it with Allie’s old mitt. I’ll be the catcher in the rye.
  • [FIVE MINUTE INTERMISSION SO READERS CAN SOB THEIR HEARTS OUT]
  • Holden: Oh shit parents are home CATCH YOU LATER PHOEBE [high-tails it to Mr. Antolini’s]
  • Mr. Antolini: Holden!
  • Holden: You know, you’re the only one I can really talk to besides my sister. You’re a really cool English teacher. You should know that.
  • Mr. Antolini: *pets Holden’s head while Holden’s sleeping*
  • Holden: *runs away crying*
  • Mr. Antolini: WAIT, CALM DOWN SON
  • Holden: Okay you know what I’m running away. For reals. I’m running away to the West.
  • DONE WITH THIS SHIT.
  • Phoebe: No you ain’t.
  • Holden: Yes I am.
  • Phoebe: You can’t leave me!
  • Holden: Yes I can.
  • Phoebe: AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FO’ DAT.
  • Holden: [changes mind] Okay, fine, how about we go to the zoo? Okay Phoebe? Sorry I hurt your feelings, Phoebe.
  • Phoebe: *gets on the merry-go-round of Symbolic Wonder at the zoo* Hey Holden you wanna come on?
  • Holden: No, I can’t, but I’ll watch you.
  • Yeah.
  • Sometimes the kids will reach for the gold ring, and sometimes they’ll fall off, but you can’t tell them not to.
  • Yeah.
  • [later later]
  • You start missing everybody after a while.

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”
- J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

signs as catcher in the rye quotes
  • Aries: “All morons hate it when you call them a moron.”
  • Taurus: “Certain things, they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone.”
  • Gemini: “Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody."
  • Cancer: "Mothers are all slightly insane."
  • Leo: "I like it when somebody gets excited about something. It's nice."
  • Virgo: "People never notice anything."
  • Libra: “I don't exactly know what I mean by that, but I mean it."
  • Scorpio: "I can be quite sarcastic when I'm in the mood."
  • Sagittarius: "People always clap for the wrong reasons."
  • Capricorn: "What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it."
  • Aquarius: "I can't explain what I mean. And even if I could, I'm not sure I'd feel like it."
  • Pisces: “I don't even know what I was running for - I guess I just felt like it."

“I thought it was ‘If a body catch a body,’” I said. “Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around–nobody big, I mean–except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff–I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.”

- catcher in the rye

“I felt so damn happy all of a sudden, the way old Phoebe kept going around and around. I was damn near bawling, I felt so damn happy, if you want to know the truth. I don’t know why. It was just that she looked so damn nice, the way she kept going around and around, in her blue coat and all. God, I wish you could’ve been there.” 

- Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

It was so weird being neurodivergent in my English class in high school and the best example I can think of is when we read Catcher in the Rye and everyone was like “wow! He’s so relatable and funny and a go lucky dude! He’s a bit strange though.”

And I was just sitting there like ?????? He’s so obviously depressed??? His thought process is disjointed??? His decision making skills aren’t really working?? He covers up his feeling of emptiness with humor, and he doesn’t seem to have any direction or sense of self? I just found myself relating to Holden on an uncomfortably personal level. And the whole time we discussed and read the book the word depression was never once brought up.

I’m kind of wondering whether or not I vastly interpreted his character wrong or if it was just the writing style but those are my thoughts.