How does J. D. Salinger show that Holden is not a destructive narcissist?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A narcissist is defined as someone who has an inflated sense of self-importance. This may certainly seem the case because Holden generally criticizes everyone he meets. And destructive? Holden can and does tear down relationships, such as with Sally Hayes and his roommate Stradlater. But there are times when Holden shows character, kindness, and compassion at his own expense, too. For example, Holden never hurts an underdog; he's willing to share with those who have less; and he considers other people's feelings.

First, Holden has compassion for those who have less than he does. In chapter 15, Holden discusses Dick Slagle. Dick Slagle didn't have as nice of suitcases as Holden did at Elton Hills. Holden figures that Dick was embarrassed by his suitcases because he hid them under his bed. Holden explains his feelings about the situation as follows:

"It depressed holy hell out of me, and I kept wanting to throw mine out or something, or even trade with him" (108).

Holden may have been completely wrong about the situation, but in order to make Dick feel better, Holden puts his suitcases under his bed. This shows that he does think about other people and he does want to help when he can. Also in chapter 15, Holden meets a couple of nuns at breakfast, has a wonderful conversation with them, and even gives them money. That isn't destructive or narcissistic—it's very nice of Holden to do that when he didn't have to.

Another example of Holden showing compassion towards someone else, and not being selfish or acting like a narcissist, is in chapter 22. This is when Holden discusses James Castle, a boy who died jumping out of a window to avoid some bullies who blocked him in a dorm room. Holden says the following about how he treated James:

"I think the only time I ever even had a conversation with him was that time he asked me if he could borrow this turtleneck sweater I had. I damn near dropped dead when he asked me, I was so surprised and all. . . I didn't even know he knew I had a turtleneck sweater. . . I almost didn't lend him my sweater. Just because I didn't know him too well" (171).

Holden was kind enough to lend a virtual stranger a sweater because he is generous. He's also doesn't feel so self-important that he talks about himself when he's in a social situation. In fact, with Ernest Morrow's mother, Holden talks big about a kid he doesn't really like just to help a mom not worry about her son off at school. For example, Holden lies and tells Mrs. Morrow the following:

"Well, a bunch of us wanted old Ernie to be president of the class. I mean he was the unanimous choice. I mean he was the only boy that could really handle the job. . . Ernie wouldn't let us nominate him. Because he's so darn shy and modest and all. He refused. . . (56-57).

Mrs. Morrow feels wonderful about hearing great things about her son and Holden didn't make himself look important—he made her son look important. Holden really can be less self-involved. Even though he is highly judgmental and critical of others in his mind, he won't purposefully go out and hurt or destroy someone else for his own benefit. He generally does what's right even though he may think and feel differently.

Read the study guide:
The Catcher in the Rye

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