In The Catcher in The Rye by Salinger, how does Holden's ambivalence towards movies relate to his personal development?

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mdelmuro eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The entire novel The Catcher in the Rye is about Holden's search for something genuine. The movies, while entertaining to him, confuse him and anger him because they present the world in a way that is not real at all.

Holden, while saying he hates the movies, finds himself imitating them a lot. In one early chapter, Holden tap-dances like "one of those guys in the movies. In one of those musicals." Later on in the novel, after his violent confrontation with Maurice, Sunny's pimp, Holden pretends he took "a bullet in my guts. Old 'Maurice had plugged me." Finally, when Holden sat in the Wicker Bar waiting for Carl Luce, he "thought about war and all. Those war movies always do that to me." Then he goes on to explain his brother D.B.'s experience in the war.

Despite Holden's seeming familiarity with the movies, as exemplified above, he's always bothered with the idea of movies because of their phoniness. He calls his brother D.B. "a prostitute" when his brother seemingly gave up writing short stories to write movies. When Stradlater punches Holden in the face, he comments that it's "pretty hard to knock a guy out, except in the goddam movies." Later on, after faking that Maurice "plugged" him, Holden says, "The goddam movies. They can ruin you. I'm not kidding."

The thing about movies for Holden is this: they create a confused worldview. They clearly entertain him (the tap-dancing and the "plugged" scenes), but this entertainment is not a reflection of genuine life. This is why he calls his brother D.B. "a prostitute." Holden sees literature as a much more accurate portrayal of the world and calls D.B. his favorite writer and considers his seeming abandonment of the written word as a selling out of his values. However, the scene in which Holden pretends to be "plugged" also ties into his worldview that this is somehow romantic. Immediately following his imaginings of his bloody walk to his room, he thinks about calling up Jane "and have her come over and bandage up my guts. I pictured her holding a cigarette for me to smoke while I was bleeding and all." 

Movies confuse Holden because they present people who are good, romantic and heroic, while these ideas rarely play out in real life.

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The Catcher in the Rye

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