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The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger
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What can you say about Holden's relations with his friends in The Catcher in the Rye? Is there any difference in his attitude to Ackley and Stradlater? Were they real friends?

Holden's relations with all his friends seem more fraught to the reader than they appear to those who are not privy to a constant stream of Holden's real opinions. While Holden does not much like either Ackley or Stradlater, the difference in his attitude towards them is that he is influenced by the school's hierarchy in treating the latter with more respect and less open sarcasm.

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As a traumatized, neurotic adolescent, Holden struggles to maintain friendships and engage in positive interactions with his peers, which is revealed in his attitude and perception of Ackley and Stradlater. One would be hard-pressed to consider Ackley and Stradlater real friends of Holden Caulfield. Stradlater takes advantage of Holden's kindness by bullying him to do his composition homework and borrow his houndstooth jacket. In addition to taking advantage of Holden, Stradlater also goes on a date with Holden's dream girl and refuses to give him the details of their time together when he returns to the dorm. Similarly, Ackley also disrespects Holden and refuses to lend a helping hand by not allowing Holden to sleep in his roommate's bed. Despite knowing that Holden has just fought Stradlater, Ackley excerises no sympathy and makes Holden feel like an unwanted outcast.

One could argue that Holden desperately desires to be acknowledged and accepted by his peers, which explains why he is willing to do Stradlater's homework and invites Ackley to the movies. Unfortunately, he is too immature and emotionally disturbed to develop genuine friendships with them. It is clear that Holden envies the more attractive, wealthy Stradlater, because of his social status at Pencey Prep, and that he finds Ackley to be repulsive and annoying.

Despite his negative feelings towards Stradlater and Ackley, Holden strives for their approval and inherently desires to cultivate meaningful friendships with both of them. However, Holden's irrational personality and numerous insecurities become obstacles preventing him from earning Stradlater and Ackley's trust and admiration. Overall, Stradlater and Ackley are not Holden's genuine friends, and Holden struggles to cultivate positive relationships with both of them.

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Holden is always an unreliable narrator, and his relationships with all the other characters—except, perhaps, his sister, Phoebe—are volatile. It is also clear that, much as he might loathe the "phony" nature of the school's unofficial hierarchy, Holden is influenced by it and even subscribes to it. He does not particularly like either Ackley or Stradlater, but he treats the former with open contempt and irritation. Ackley is poor and unpopular, an outcast from the social life at Pencey Prep. Stradlater is his polar opposite: wealthy, handsome, and well-liked. Holden himself appears to be somewhere in between, and his dislike of Stradlater is clearly colored by envy.

The question of teenage friendships and how genuine they are is always a difficult one to arbitrate. It is worth remembering that the reader sees every thought that flits through Holden's mind, and that the vast majority of these thoughts are not expressed out loud. While Holden does make some sarcastic remarks to Ackley, he is seldom so outspoken to Stradlater or the other people he encounters, generally preferring deceit, or at least discretion. This means that his relationships probably do not appear as fraught to those around him, who do not hear his real views, as they often seem to the reader.

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I would add that Holden wanted both Ackley and Stradlater to care about him; he wanted to be real friends with both of them. Holden willingly writes Stradlater's composition for him even though he is going out on a date with Jane Gallagher, Holden's dream girl. Now you could say, well Stradlater is his roommate so he just wants to keep the peace, but its more than that, he also lends him his hound's-tooth jacket.

Holden tries to get Stradlater to like him by lending him things and doing his homework, anything to be accepted.  Then when Stradlater won't share details about his date with Jane, Holden gets into a fist fight with him, after which time, he runs to Ackley for sympathy and comfort.

Holden longs to sleep in Ely's bed for the night, but Ackley won't give Holden permission to sleep in his roommate's empty bed.  Holden feels rejected and isolated by Ackley's rejection,

"You're a prince, Ackley kid, I said.  You know that. Your a gentleman and a scholar, kid." (Salinger)

Holden feels so awful that the can't get Ackley to care about him while he stands in front of him bleeding after his fight with Stradlater that he says:

"I felt so lonesome, all of a sudden, I wished I was dead." (Salinger)

Another good example of Holden reaching out for friendship in the novel is when he contacts Carl Luce, an older boy that he knows from the Whooten School.  Holden is desperate to talk to someone about flunking out of Pencey, so he arranged to meet Luce at the Wicker Bar.  But once he gets there, Luce doesn't want to hear about Holden's problems, he is bored with him even before they are together for five minutes.

"Listen, hey Luce, you're one of these intellectual guys.  I need your advice, I'm in a terrific, he let out this big groan on me.  "Listen Caulfield, if you want to sit here and have a quiet peaceful drink and a quiet peaceful conver."  (Salinger)

At the end of their brief get together, Luce recommends that Holden seek psychoanalysis.

Holden is desperate for a friend, but he seems to get rejected over and over again.

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I wouldn't say that they were all real friends. The charactersof Ackley and Stradlater are way too disjointed and contrasting, which is a writing technique that helps you analyze Holden's perception of himself as part of a society.

Ackley was the scruffy and disgusting "friend" whom Holden openly dislikes, yet, the fact that he still invited him to go out on a Saturday night sort of shows that he, as bad as it is, might be the only person who would tolerate Holden. Seems almost as if Ackley is all that is wrong with Holden.

Contrarily, Stradlater was the hip, hot, jock and Holden's ideal "self". Stradlater treated Holden with very little respect, as he even bullied Holden into doing his school work. Holden continuously followed Stradlater, and would be near-obsessed with his approach and personality. Unfortunately, they ended up in a bad row that ended their friendship.

So, in general I do not believe that they are true friends. I simply do not think that Holden is capable of sustaining any emotional balance with anyone because he continues to interpret that the world has to change for him, and not otherwise.

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