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The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger

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What are examples of ambivalence in Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye?

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Ambivalence can refer to having positive and negative feelings about people or situations at the same time. As a result, someone with conflicting feelings about someone or something might have trouble making choices. Additionally, an ambivalent individual might also say or do contradictory things, thereby sending mixed signals about how he or she feels. Holden certainly demonstrates ambivalence in different situations throughout Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. Specifically, just to name a few examples, Holden has conflicting emotions about his brother, the prostitute he invites to his hotel room, and his friend Sally Hayes

First, Holden loves and respects his older brother D.B. because he is a good writer. At the same time, Holden despises his brother for ditching a career as an author and going to work as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Holden's ambivalence can be seen in the following passage:

[D.B.] used to be just a regular writer, when he was home. He wrote this terrific book of short stories, The Secret Goldfish, in case you never heard of him. . . It killed me. Now he's out in Hollywood, D.B., being a prostitute. If there's one thing I hate, it's the movies. Don't even mention them to me (1-2).

Holden demonstrates his conflicted feelings about his brother's career by first saying that he is a good writer but is practically selling himself off like a prostitute now that he lives in Hollywood. 

In chapter 13, Holden hires a prostitute. When he's waiting for the girl to show up, he seems excited to follow through with the plan. He hopes she looks good and just wants "to get it over with" (93). When she finally shows up, Holden's feelings about the situation change, as shown in the following passage:

I know you're supposed to feel pretty sexy when somebody gets up and pulls their dress over their head, but I didn't. Sexy was about the last thing I was feeling. I felt much more depressed than sexy (95).

As a result of these conflicting emotions, Holden does not go through with the evening with the prostitute as planned. Because of Holden's ambivalent nature, he cannot commit to making a choice if he is burdened by conflicting feelings.

Another example of ambivalence is found in chapter 17 when Holden goes on a date with Sally Hayes. One minute he absolutely loves her and thinks she is the best girl in the world; the next, he hates her in his mind and thinks less of her when she speaks to another boy. Holden says the following about Sally:

I sort of hated old Sally by the time we got in the cab, after listening to that phony Andover bastard for about ten hours. I was all set to take her home and all—I really was (128).

Holden doesn't take Sally home, though. Instead, she convinces him to take her ice skating, and he loves her again. He loves her so much by the end of ice skating that he asks her to run away with him. He says they will eventually get married, too. Fortunately, Sally doesn't fall for Holden's craziness and says no. Then, of course, Holden ruins his relationship with Sally by saying, "You give me a royal pain in the ass, if you want to know the truth" (133). Based on how he behaves and talks, Holden is ambivalent about Sally as well as many other things in his life. 

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