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Why does Holden decide he will pretend to be a deaf-mute in The Catcher in the Rye?

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marenco22 | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 10, 2009 at 10:47 AM via web

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Why does Holden decide he will pretend to be a deaf-mute in The Catcher in the Rye?

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

Posted December 10, 2009 at 4:26 PM (Answer #1)

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Holden Caulfield imagines moving out West and pretending he's a deaf-mute:

I thought what I'd do was, I'd pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes...That way I wouldn't have to have any goddamn stupid useless conversations with anybody. If anybody wanted to tell me something they'd have to write it on a piece of paper and shove it over to me. They'd get bored as hell doing that after a while, and then I'd be through with having conversations for the rest of my life.

Is this fiction imitating real life?  Holden, like Salinger, is anti-social.  They see mainstream America as "phony," materialistic and hypocritical.  Soon after publishing the novel, Salinger dropped out of society, like his character threatens to.  Though Salinger didn't move out West, he moved from New York and gave up his role as America's most talented writer to hole up in Connecticut, living in seclusion for the rest of his life.

The novel begins and ends with Holden out West in a "rest home" confessing the "madman stuff" that happened last year.  At the end of the novel, Holden wants to take it all back: "Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody."  His confession implicates himself as caring for others, namely Allie, whom he misses terribly since he died.  In fact, Allie may be Holden's primary audience and not, as some think, a psychiatrist.

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coachingcorner | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted December 10, 2009 at 7:58 PM (Answer #2)

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Taking a decision "not to do somethingd" we are, in fact, capable of is often a psychological tool. It can take the form of "witholding." In this case in the novel The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger we see Holden Caulfield looking for a way out of human interaction - the thing he is witholding is himself. Why might people want to do that? It can be a form of punishment and stem from anger over perceived mistreatment or stress such as the trauma of Holden's bereavement. Other common forms of 'witholding' are common to teens like Holden (anorexia,bulimia,agarophobia,self-harming) - some are deliberate and some are involuntary and related to deep psychological or mental illness. Young people are particularly prone and vulnerable because, like Holden, they are still too young to have any real independence, control or autonomy so when they are angry or sad they use the only weapon they have against their parents or society - themselves. Maybe the difference between whether they/Holden/Salinger become a full-blown sociopath or not is the understanding/treatment they get?

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