Comparison and contrast between The Catcher in the Rye and Hamlet.

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hamlet has probably had an influence on many literary works. James Joyce is constantly referring to the play in his novel Ulysses. I have always thought that the excellent movie The Graduate, starring Dustin Hoffman, was inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet. And there are strong similarities between Hamlet and The Catcher in the Rye. Both heroes are just out of school and have a lot of time on their hands. Both are obviously intellectuals as well as introverts. Both belong to a high social class, although Hamlet’s social status is much higher than Holden Caulfield’s. Both of them seem lonely and isolated. Holden keeps trying to make friends, but Hamlet does not seem comparably motivated. Holden is lonely, but Hamlet seems to like being alone and to dislike having to deal with people like Polonius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Claudius, Osric, and others. Hamlet has a strong motivation: he is obliged to murder Claudius. Holden’s motivation is hard to define. This is one of the problems with The Catcher in the Rye. There is not a strong “continuity”—a sense of events following each other in a natural sequence of cause and effect. Holden has one impulse after another; he doesn’t have any sense of direction. Hamlet has a sense of direction but he doesn’t follow it. He keeps procrastinating—and critics have been trying for centuries to explain why he is so indecisive, since he is intelligent, resourceful, courageous, and has a very strong reason for acting. Holden seems to be wasting his time and wasting his life, but he doesn’t have a definite objective. This may be because he is much younger than Hamlet and still has to grow up before he can have much freedom or opportunity to act on his own initiative. Both men are dependents. Neither has any way of getting money except as an allowance. Holden doesn’t like school, but Hamlet seems to love school and would gladly go back to Wittenberg and bury himself in books if Claudius would let him. Both men seem pretty disgusted with humanity in general. Hamlet seems to have given up on humanity, whereas Holden still keeps hoping to find compatible people of both sexes. Holden and Hamlet are mainly similar in their superior intelligence which isolates them from ordinary people. Interesting question.

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