What is the purpose of Holden’s narration of his life and his opinions? Please answer from Holden's perspective and the author's perspective. Thanks

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mstultz72's profile pic

mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Below is an outline regarding Holden's narrative voice and Holden/Salinger's major themes:

I. Narration

A. Bildungsroman: novel of maturation

B. Coming-of-Age (apprenticeship novel)

C. Bookend structure: framed in California; story proper is Penn., NYC

D. Holden’s voice is implicitly male voice

E. American voice

F. Folksy voice

G. Youthful, teenage voice with adult voice behind it

1. conversational style

2. simple language

3. colloquial (slang)

4. lots of repetition

5. cussing

6. many digressions

H. Holden is unreliable narrator

I. Confession (“If you really want to hear about it…)

1. to a psychiatrist/psychologist?

2. to a priest, monk?

3. to Allie?

4. to Phoebe?

J. Narrating from a “rest home”

1. psychiatrist’s office?

2. mental facility?

3. D.B.’s pad?

K. Only rants and complains (no morals)

L. Holden is marginalized (exists on the fringes of society)

II.  Holden's framing

1. non-autobiographical

2. anti-Freudian (don’t psycho-analyze Holden’s lousy childhood)

3. episodic plot (like The Odyssey, Huck Finn)

B. Anti-European: “…and all that David Copperfield kind of crap” (Dickens)

1. most European characters define themselves in context of family

2. Holden is saying that he doesn’t define himself with others or the past (birth of the American rebel)

a. Not defined by family

b. Not defined by society

c. Not defined by old world values

d. Not defined by old literature

e. Not defined by old movies

III. Antinomianism (Rebellion)

1. definition: “through faith or experience of God’s grace, you live outside the law”

2. Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence: a list of complaints

3. Melville’s (Moby Dick) “No in Thunder”

4. Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Civil Disobedience: chose to live outside pro-war (Mexican War) society

5. Hester Prynne (Scarlet Letter) as adulteress, forced to live outside Puritanical society

6. Huckleberry Finn: chose to live outside pro-slavery society

a. Huck says, “I’m so lonesome I could die”

b. Holden says, “I’m so lonely I could die”

c. Salinger refuses to give a moral to his story (unresolved ending); not much plot; Holden’s motives questionable

7. Holden chooses to live outside materialistic, conformist society

8. “Shoot the Moon”: in the card game of “Hearts,” a maneuver in which a player tries to lose in order to win; Holden: intentionally tries to become the biggest loser (rebel)

9. All these books, like Catcher, are designed to outrage their audiences

10. Holden is withdrawing from one society to another (which?)

11. Influence of existentialism

a. Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground

b. Melville’s ‘Bartelby”: “I prefer not to”


akannan's profile pic

Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I would say that one particular purpose of Holden's narration would be to reflect the perception of society during the time period.  Holden's voice and his authentic expression of how society operates helps to bring a certain light of skepticism and wonderment to the established "way of doing things."  In the oddest of ways, Holden's narration helps to bring about a sense of the 1960s in the 1950s.  One of the powerful elements about his life and his opinions is how they help to bring a sense of questioning to established parts of American life in that a new conception can arise and helps to show what American adolescence is like.  I think that the irreverence, the humor, the sadness, pain, and hurt are all a part of this process and shown through Holden's voice.

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kiwi | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted on

Holden is, of course, an unreliable narrator. We know that he is recounting events which led up to his mental breakdown, and we are aware as readers of the ambiguity of many of his sentiments. He rails about the 'phoniness' of the boys he is at school with, yet wishes them to acknowledge his departure. He criticises the education system he is part of, yet visits both Mr Spencer his History teacher and Mr Antolini 'the best teacher I ever had' once he has left Pencey. Holden is trying to make sense of himself and the world around him. He is unable to do so as no-one (except perhaps Phoebe) is clear and true.

This said, I feel that Salinger is further emphasising the point that the world is phony - even those who try, like Holden, to acknowledge this.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Personally, I do not see a great deal of difference between Holden's reasons for giving his life story and opinions and Salinger's reasons for having Holden do so.  I think that both of them are trying to get the same point across.

For both, the main point is to try to point out how "phony" and shallow the world is.  Holden is doing this to explain (I think) why he has such a hard time getting along with others and such a hard time succeeding.  He rejects the world in part because he does not do well in it.  Salinger, I think, is trying to point out the inherent "fakeness" of the society that he lived in and its values.  This is not much different from what Holden is doing.

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