In Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, how could the relationship between Holden and Ackley be described? What does each boy think of the other?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ackley is Holden's next-door neighbor in the dorm. Ackley is a senior and Holden is a junior, but Holden seems to look out for Ackley as if he were younger. For example, Holden's buddy, Brossard, invites him to the movies and Holden asks if Ackley can come as well. Of Ackley, Holden says the following:

"The reason I asked was because Ackley never did anything on Saturday night, except stay in his room and squeeze his pimples or something. Mal said he didn't mind but that he wasn't too crazy about the idea. He didn't like Ackley much" (36).

Ackley has bad hygiene and is socially awkward, so not many people do like him. Holden doesn't like the fact that Ackley doesn't brush his teeth and that he cuts his toenails without picking them up, but that doesn't mean Holden wishes for him to be alone on a Saturday night. Holden seems to look after Ackley because he feels sorry for him.

Ackley, on the other hand, hates Stradlater, Holden's roommate, but he doesn't hate Holden. He feels comfortable enough to go into Holden's room and just start talking to him about anything. In fact, he asks Holden for some scissors, and when Holden gets hit on the head with a racket while searching for them, Ackley can't stop laughing at Holden's misfortune. It would seem, then, that Ackley feels comfortable hanging out with Holden even if they wouldn't necessarily call each other friends. Since the story is written from Holden's perspective, we can't know for sure how Ackley feels about him. All we can do is infer that Ackley likes him based on the fact that he hangs out with Holden and clearly hates Stradlater.

kapokkid eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ackley and Holden have an interesting relationship, and we get more information of course on how Holden feels about Ackley than the other way around.  Holden finds him physically disgusting, always discussing his pimples or his smell and bad breath.  So while he makes this physical distaste very clear, it is also clear that Holden feels somehow connected to Ackley and would prefer being around him to being by himself.

At the same time, Ackley appears to really like Holden and enjoy being around him as he invites him to do various things with him.  But again, our picture of Ackley's feelings towards Holden is a little less clear.

Read the study guide:
The Catcher in the Rye

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