The Catcher in the Rye Questions and Answers
by J. D. Salinger

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In J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, what is the role of female characters (young and old)?

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Holden combines a teenager's natural interest in sex with an almost pathological prudishness. Girls of around his own age whom he finds attractive, such as Sally Hayes, are fascinating to him but also represent a threat, and he spends a lot of time wondering about why his own attitude to them is so ambivalent.

The female figures with whom Holden feels most comfortable, therefore, are those who do not pose any sexual threat. He is able to appreciate Phoebe's wit, intelligence, and humanity in an uncomplicated way because she is a child, and his sister. He is also able to talk sincerely and thoughtfully to older women, like Mrs. Morrow, because they are equally unthreatening. This is particularly evident with the nuns he encounters, though it is telling that he is rather shocked to find a nun capable of appreciating Romeo and Juliet, which suggests that his own attitude to love and sex is rather more restrictive than the nun's.

Holden's dislike and fear of female sexuality are particularly...

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