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The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger
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Compare and contrast the characters of Holden Caulfield and Jem Finch (of To Kill a Mockingbird). Which represents more growth?

Jem shows more growth because his character is shown to develop over several years, and perhaps because he is at a younger stage of development. Holden's narrative is restricted to the two days of the story. On the first day, Holden bemoans that he has been expelled from school for failing all his subjects. The next day, Holden suffers an emotional crisis caused by being unable to find a date to an upcoming dance with his friend Sally Hayes. He also fails to meet with his brother D.B., who has come into town for a visit with Holden's parents. Then, after spending much of the night wandering around Manhattan, Holden discovers that his sister Phoebe has let herself into his apartment and fell asleep in his bed.

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There are numerous similarities between Holden Caulfield and Jeremy (Jem) Finch. Both are white boys, but Holden is 16 during Catcher's two days of action, and Jem is about 13 when Mockingbird ends. Both come from upper-middle-class professional families in which the parents are a traditional heterosexual married couple, both...

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There are numerous similarities between Holden Caulfield and Jeremy (Jem) Finch. Both are white boys, but Holden is 16 during Catcher's two days of action, and Jem is about 13 when Mockingbird ends. Both come from upper-middle-class professional families in which the parents are a traditional heterosexual married couple, both also presumably white. Holden's family is wealthier than Jem's. Both of Holden's parents are alive, but Jem's mother passed when he was small. Both boys currently have one sister a few years younger of whom they are fond and toward whom they generally feel protective, although they sometimes treat their sisters unkindly. Holden's other sibling, a younger brother, died a couple of years earlier. Thus, one of the most striking features the boys have in common is that they have survived the loss of a close family member at a very young age.

Holden studies at a private boarding school, while Jem attends a local public school. Holden's father seems overly occupied in his work, possibly to distract him from grief. Jem's father is usually home but must often travel for work, and an African American housekeeper also provides childcare until the Jem's aunt moves in.

Both boys have difficulties with adolescence. Holden is grieving for his brother and underperforming at school, where he is bullied by an aggressive roommate. Both boys are intelligent, with Holden apparently more intellectual and Jem analytical in a lawyer-ish way. Both boys sometimes use violence to express their feelings. Holden seems more likely to harm himself.

While Holden intrudes on his sister's privacy, reads her private papers, and plans to take her savings and run away, he never physically harms her or verbally abuses her. He wishes to protect, or "catch," younger children. Jem is often mean to his sister, belittling her and excluding her from play, and several times is physically violent, pushing her into the road inside a tire, pulling her hair, and kicking her. Ultimately he does protect her from an attacker, suffering a broken arm in doing so.

Jem shows more growth because his character is shown to develop over several years, and perhaps because he is at a younger stage of development.

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Hi Aeaeae97,

Holden and Jem have several similarities.  First, they are both in the young adult stage of life, transitioning between childhood and adulthood.  Second, they both have a somewhat turbulent transition due to important events that are happening in their lives at the time.  Both are, at times, forced into roles that are well beyond their years, as when Holden is on his own and living at a hotel and when Jem must serve as protector of Scout at the end of To Kill a Mockingbird.

However, there are several notable differences between the two as well.  The most notable is that Jem has a father who is present in his life and who functions as a role model.  Many of Jem's actions, and the subsequent person that he becomes by the end of the story, are as a result of watching the positive example of his father.  Holden, on the other hand, has a largely absent father.  Both function differently in their roles as brothers as well.  While Jem positions himself as Scout's guide and protector, Holden is unable to protect Phoebe, and it is she who often comes to his rescue.  Finally, the reader gets the idea that Jem's life turns out well in the end and that the personality he has forged stays with him in adulthood.  On the flip side, the introduction that we get to Holden's institutionalization does not indicate that he has grown as a result of his prior experiences.

Hope this helps!

Teacher Holfie

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team