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The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger

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How can a feminist lens of analysis be applied to The Catcher in the Rye?

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A feminist reading of The Catcher in the Rye might well conclude that J.D. Salinger objectifies the female characters in his novel. With the exception of Phoebe Caulfield, a child, and Jane Gallagher, who is only recalled as an idealized, subjective memory of Holden, women in the novel receive little development and are mostly judged on their sexual attractiveness or lack thereof by Holden, the narrator.

Jane Gallagher remains an idealized memory for Holden. He is quite upset at the prospect of his roomate, Stradlater, taking advantage of Jane Gallagher. It unnerves him to the point of physically attacking Stradlater; Holden is desperate to protect Jane's virtue, thus infantilizing her and believing she should remain chaste and childlike. He grills Stradlater about what he'd done with Jane on their date, asking "What'd you do? . . . Give her the time in Ed Banky's goddam car?"

Sally Hayes is a prime example of another type of objectification of women in the novel. Holden really only seems to value her for her obvious physical attributes and the prestige he enjoys in being seen in public with an attractive and socially prominent girl. Moreover, she allows him to "neck" with her, a fact that separates her from Jane as a woman he can sexually exploit with apparently no guilt or recognition of the double-standard he employs in his thinking about women. When Holden takes her skating, he notes that Sally "kept walking ahead of me, so that I'd see how cute her little ass looked. It did look pretty cute, too." Ultimately, the date ends badly, and Holden dismisses Sally someone who "wouldn't have been anybody to go with" if he made his escape from Manhattan.

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