Illustration of a man smoking a cigarette

The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger

Start Free Trial

In The Catcher in the Rye, what does Mr. Antolini's quotation, from a psychoanalyst named Wilhelm Stekel, mean?

Quick answer:

In The Catcher in the Rye, Mr. Antolini's quotation from Wilhelm Steckel means that Holden should not contemplate suicide, but should rather attempt to live for a cause, as living for something rather than dying for something is what can make a difference. Any encouragement or wisdom Holden may have gained from this is quickly overshadowed, however, by the fact that Holden wakes up to Mr. Antolini petting his head.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In chapter 24, Holden visits his favorite teacher at Elkton Hills, Mr. Antolini, who welcomes him into his apartment and proceeds to lecture Holden about his lack of enthusiasm regarding his education. Mr. Antolini proceeds to tell Holden that he believes he is riding for some kind of "terrible fall." Mr. Antolini continues to elaborate on Holden's unique, awful fall, which he says Holden will not fully comprehend until he hits rock bottom and gives up on life before actually getting started. Mr. Antolini feels that Holden is searching for something that his environment cannot provide and fears he will eventually commit suicide. He then quotes a psychoanalyst named Wilhelm Stekel by telling Holden,

The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one. (Salinger, 101)

It is important to note that Mr. Antolini recognizes that Holden is in a particularly vulnerable, dangerous place and may be contemplating suicide. The essence of his message is to dissuade Holden from entertaining the idea of dying nobly for something he believes in. If Holden were to end his life, he could not make a difference in the world or experience the change he desires to see. Mr. Antolini is telling Holden that a mature man recognizes that dying nobly will not make a difference in society and hopes to encourage Holden to live for a cause. Essentially, Wilhelm Stekel's quote is meant to dissuade Holden from entertaining the thought of suicide and to encourage him to live for a worthy cause. Sadly, Holden does not comprehend the significance of the message and is more concerned about Mr. Antolini's intentions when he wakes up to his teacher petting his head.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Mr. Antolini quotes Wilhelm Stekel as follows:

"The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one."

Antolini evidently considers himself a mature man and believes that his present way of life is a make of mature wisdom. He is trying to impart a conclusion he has come to about life, but it is not appropriate for a young man like Holden Caulfield who never seems to be thinking of dying nobly for a cause but might indeed like to have a cause that seemed important enough to want to die for. (One might be reminded here of the thought-provoking movie Rebel Without a Cause, starring the young James Dean. A good epiithet for the character of Holden Caulfield might be "a rebel without a cause.") What Stekel says may be true enough, but the quote is important mainly because it characterizes Mr. Antolini, and a lot of other people like him.

Antolini has given up. He just wants to "live humbly." He is not really living humbly for any cause but himself. He is teaching a bonehead English class part-time at N.Y.U. in order to be able to call himself a teacher and not have it too terribly conspicuous to his and his wife's wide circle of friends that he is really a gigolo and a parasite. His idea of living humbly for a cause is staying drunk and living on his wife's money.

Holden is too young to understand this--but he does understand what is going on when he wakes up with his former teacher's hand on his head! This is a traumatic experience for the young man--not so much because he was in any danger--but because it made him realize that Antolini's interest in him may have had nothing to do with his brains or his potential, but because he begins to suspect that the older man's personal interest was mostly carnal. The interest that Antolini appeared to be taking in Holden's mind and his writing talent may have been a subtle form of attempted seduction. Therefore, any encouragement or validation Holden may have gotten from his relationship with a well-educated older teacher was negated by that older man's self-revelation and covert advance.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The following quote is spoken by Mr. Antolini, to Holden, in chapter 24 of J. D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye.

The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.

The meaning behind Mr. Antolini saying this to Holden is very important. First, Mr. Antolini may think that Holden is contemplating suicide. If Holden is, in fact, contemplating suicide, Mr. Antolini may think that by giving this advice to Holden then Holden may reconsider taking his own life.

Outside of that, the quote itself refers to the fact that once a person is dead they can no longer fight for anything. If Holden does have a cause to fight nobly for, it would be immature of him to die for that one cause. Instead, Mr. Antolini is hoping that Holden wants to live for his cause. When one lives for a cause they are more likely to make things happen which would support their cause.

In essence, Mr. Antolini is hoping that Holden see the difference between dying for something and living for something. It is only through living that a person can make a difference. Once a person is gone, the changes they have tried to make can revert (given they are no longer around to fight).


See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial