Prove that Holden is a normal average teenager.

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Holden Caulfield has some of the characteristics of "a normal average teenager," although in some respects he is quite different from normal average teenage boys. He is very normal in the way he expresses himself. He uses some profanity in order to show he is tough and rebellious. He displays a dislike of authority figures. He distrusts anyone over the age of thirty. He wants very much to be free and independent, but he lacks the necessary self-confidence to go off on his own, as he repeatedly thinks of doing. Even his escapade in Manhattan is an attempt to go off  on his own, but he learns that he is not mature enough to handle independence. This is one of the reasons he sneaks back into his family apartment much earlier than he had originally planned to do. Another reason is that he has already run out of money and he has to borrow eight dollars and a little change from his sister Phoebe. He has quickly learned that it is a cold, cruel world out there. Most people don't care anything about him, while others such as Sunny and Maurice are actually dangerous. Like most teenagers, Holden wants to be independent, but he seems totally lost in New York. He keeps trying to think of people he can call on the telephone, but some are total strangers while others are people he doesn't really like. He is so lonely and so desperate for company that he invites a cab driver to have a drink with him and tries to start relationships with other indifferent strangers. In one pathetic scene he actually goes into Central Park at night in the freezing cold in order to try to find the ducks he has been so worried about. He can't even find ducks for company. Like many American teenageres, Holden is in a limbo between childhood and adulthood. He really doesn't have any sense of direction in life, and the plot of Salinger's story reflects the condition of the hero. The plot is very episodic and lacking in continuity (i.e., one event following naturally from another and leading to a logical conclusion).

Holden differs from average teenagers in that he comes from a wealthy family and is, as Maurice the bellhop tells him, "a high-class kid." He buys his clothes at Brooks Brothers and goes to elite private schools. Holden is also exceptionally intelligent--although he does not yet realize it. He has a genius IQ, like the characters Salinger will later write about who are all members of the Glass family--notably Seymour, Franny, and Zooey. A couple of members of the Glass famly appear in Salinger's  Nine Stories, and  Franny and Zooey  concerns these two members with many references to Seymour, the oldest of the siblings.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In some ways, Holden Caulfield displays traits that are typical of teenagers.

In recent times, empirical research has demonstrated that certain pubertal developmental stages exhibit a "rise in the rate of psychiatric symptoms and syndromes." In fact, interest in the developmental stages of adolescence has increased among researchers in the fields of psychotic disorders. Research has shown that because of the increase in hormonal activity (gonadal and adrenal hormones) and other growth factors, 

Adolescence is the modal period for the emergence of “prodromal” manifestations, or precursors of psychotic symptoms

In this respect, Holden's commitment to a mental hospital or sanatorium is not as strange as it may seem, especially considering the emotional toll that the loss of his beloved brother Allie has had upon him.

Holden's mistrust of adults and his opinion of people as being "phony" is also fairly typical of teenagers. Holden is extremely critical of people, but because he is intelligent and has been sent to a boarding school, he is probably more sensitive to people's words and actions. His remarks about teachers at Elkton Hills—how they act one way in class and another when they meet parents—displays his cynical nature. This cynicism in Holden is not atypical of observant and pensive teens.

Also, there is nothing abnormal about Holden's use of vulgar language and his preoccupation with sex. For instance, he enjoys watching one couple in their hotel room across the way from him, but he says that "you ought to be careful about doing crumby stuff." He criticizes Stradlater for his sexual exploits, but he is interested in sex, an interest that is very typical for a male teenager. 

Even though Holden is very intelligent, he seems quite perspicacious for a teenager. For example, he observes,

If somebody knows quite a lot about [the theater and plays and literature], it takes you quite a while to find out whether they’re really stupid or not (Ch.15).

Holden Caulfield is not an average teen, but he is fairly typical for a person of his intelligence and social class who has spent some years at boarding schools. 

siacovelli | Student

In many ways Holden Caulfield is a typical teenager, and this is what has made the character so relatable for adolescent audiences for decades. He has more wealth and privilege than many teenagers, though he doesn’t quite realize this, and he is more intelligent and self-aware than many teenagers, though he doesn’t quite realize this yet, either. Still, he is fundamentally caught up in many of the feelings and fears that plague the average teenager: he is insecure, struggling with growing older and leaving childhood behind, and searching for a sense of belonging.

Holden also has a characteristically teenage obsession with sex and determination to experience it, but believes that it should be special and struggles with the associated loss of innocence. This is evidenced by his jealous and protective reaction to Stradlater’s date with Jane, as well as his awkward interaction with Sunny. Many teenagers have complex feelings around sex, and feel compelled to try to lose their virginity even if they aren’t ready. In this sense, Holden’s thoughts and experiences are not uncommon (although in most teenagers’ cases probably do not play out with a prostitute).

Holden is caught between wanting to be independent and mature like an adult, and wanting to hold tight to childhood innocence and familiarity. He takes to the city on his own and engages in adult behaviors—dancing in night clubs and meeting with a prostitute—but what comforts him most is spending time with his little sister and remembering the places he visited as a kid.

Read the study guide:
The Catcher in the Rye

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