In Catcher in the Rye, what points could be used to explore Holden's ambivalence towards movies as part of his personal development?

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price7781 | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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"If there is one thing I hate it's the movies.  Don't even get me started."  --Holden

This quote by Holden shows the hatred Holden has for the movies even though J. D. Salinger uses movies as a recurring theme throughout the novel.  Scenes throughout the novel include, Holden going to the movies at the beginning of the novel, taking Phoebe to see The 39 Steps multiple times, meeting up with Sally at the movies, and even acting out pretend scenes as if he is an actor in his own life. 

Even though Holden Caulfield’s name comes from two movies stars of the time, William Holden and Joan Caulfield, J. D. Salinger’s take on the fame and phoniness of the cinema and movie stars comes through with Holden’s distaste for them as well. 

One important episode that shows this recurring theme of Holden’s movie going is when he takes Phoebe to see The 39 Steps.  It is a movie about war where a dead man’s body is planted with a map and orders and is used to trick the Nazis with false intelligence about an upcoming invasion.  In death, the man still finds purpose and saves countless lives.  This can relate to Holden’s depression over the death of his brother, Allie.  Holden is trying to find a reason for the tragedy and hopes that Allie, too, will have an impact after death.  This is also one reason why Holden writes Stradlater’s essay about Allie’s baseball glove.  He is hoping in some way to keep Allie alive and have Allie’s death show purpose.

This episode shows how Holden is stuck in the past and is unable to move forward after Allie’s death.  He wants to recapture a time that represents happiness to him, and it shows that he is static in his growth and maturity as a person because of his grief.

Holden also acts out scenes throughout the novel as if he is an actor on a stage.  For example, he pretends to be shot after the episode with the pimp in the hotel room and acts out a “death scene”.  Throughout the book, Holden puts on a phony façade pretending to be something that he is not.  He is, in essence, an actor in his own life taking on phony roles to please others.  This can be seen in the episode on the train when he lies to a classmate’s mother.

Holden is resisting growing up.  He doesn’t like change, and his immaturity shows in the episodes when he pretends to be someone he is not.

Overall, the movie scenes show Holden’s desire to keep things the same and to avoid phoniness in his life.  Unfortunately, Holden doesn’t realize that he, too, is a phony.  It is this inability to grow up that keeps Holden grounded in the past and hoping for a different “ending” to the events and experiences in his life. 

The message that Salinger wants his readers to take from these episodes is to not become too obsessed with the cinema and to focus on your own life.  Do not exist by emulating the life of fictional, fake characters.  Be who you are and not someone phony.  Perhaps one of the reasons why Salinger doesn’t sell the movie rights to Catcher in the Rye is that he doesn’t want it made into a phony, false depiction of his novel. 

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