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Holden's best trait is that he is highly intelligent. Throughout the novel he is encountering all sorts of people and making fast but usually very accurate judgments of them. He often has very little to go on because many of these people are complete strangers, but we feel that he is usually correct. He sizes people up by their facial expressions, by their body language, by the clothes they wear, by the way they talk. Many children have the ability to see right through adults, and Holden is still partly a child. One of the best things about Salinger's novel is his depiction of a rich variety of humanity to be encountered in a big city like New York. It is, of course, J.D. Salinger who is judging people and not Holden Caulfield, who is only a character the author uses in the same way that Mark Twain used a smart young boy in The Adventures of Hudkleberry Finn.
Both Holden Caulfield and Huck Finn have the same kind of "smarts" when it comes to making snap judgments of people and dealing with them accordingly. Both boys are sensitive to the bad qualities in people just because these are the qualities that people in general always try to hide. Mark Twain had a bad opinion of people in general and often expressed it in hiswriting and in his lectures. He once said: “All that I care to know is that a man is a human being: that is enough for me; he can’t be any worse.” J. D. Salinger had such a bad opinion of people that he lived as a recluse for the last half of his life. He refused to give interviews and stopped publishing.
Holden is generous, kind-hearted, sensitive, and usually honest. The Catcher in the Rye has been selling half a million copies a year for over sixty years because new readers like Holden and identify with him. His negativity is understandable because it is based largely on disillusionment. Mr. Antolini understands him easily and tells him, “Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now.”
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