In J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, how does Holden Caulfield's lack of self-discipline cause him to be an outcast?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One example of Holden feeling like a social outcast is at the beginning of The Catcher in the Rye. Holden is standing on a hill alone watching the school's Friday night game. He says that he's there because he forgot the fencing team's foils on the train that day while he was looking for their exit on a map. He claims that the team ostracized him the whole way back to the school because they missed their tournament. Consequently, he doesn't feel like joining them or the rest of the student body down at the game. What seems like an innocent accident could also be considered a lack of organization or self-discipline on Holden's part. 

Another example of Holden's lack of self-discipline is when he is on a date with Sally Hayes in Chapter 17. The couple has a great time enjoying each other's company until Holden starts thinking negative thoughts about Sally and a boy she talks to for a minute. He doesn't lose control until the end of the date when he asks Sally to run away with him. When she declines, based on logical reasoning, he feels rejected and says the following:

"C'mon, let's get outa here. . . You give me a royal pain in the ass, if you want to know the truth" (133).

Holden's impatience seals the fate of another friendship. Sally leaves in a huff and probably won't date him again.

One final example of Holden messing things up because he lacks self-control is when he meets Carl Luce, a former schoolmate from Whooton, at the Wicker Bar. This is a bar that serves a higher class of people. Holden goes to see if he will fit in with the very intelligent former student adviser. He hasn't see Luce in years and doesn't account for the fact that Luce has probably matured since being in high school. As a result, Holden bases his conversation on what Luce always talked about years ago--girls. Luce isn't impressed and Holden ends up saying the following about him: "Old Luce. He was strictly a pain in the ass, but he certainly had a good vocabulary" (149). 

Ultimately, Holden is still immature and seeking out ways to feel accepted among different types of people. His main problem is that he gets impatient, acts irrationally, and destroys the relationship before it has a chance to really take off. 

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The Catcher in the Rye

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