In J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, what does Holden mean when he says, "When something perverty like that...that kind of stuff's happened to me about twenty times since I was a kid." Was he...
In J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, what does Holden mean when he says, "When something perverty like that...that kind of stuff's happened to me about twenty times since I was a kid." Was he molested before?
This was found on page 193 and follows Holden waking up to Mr. Antolini patting his head while he slept.
Holden Caulfield is obviously something of a loner, and a handsome adolescent boy who spends much time alone in public places such as libraries and movie theaters is bound to be approached by cruising homosexuals from time to time. But it is doubtful that he was actually physically molested. Mr. Antolini had a golden opportunity to do just that because he had Holden alone in his apartment with hardly any clothes on. And, of course, Mr. Antolini had been drinking pretty heavily throughout the evening. If Holden had ever been physically molested in the past, he doesn't give any clues to it in his story. He has a certain amount of "street smarts" from having grown up in New York City, but he wasn't smart enough to suspect that Mr. Antolini might be an old queen even after Mr. Antolini drops a lot of clues.
What seems especially revealing about Holden as a character is that he sees some things and misses others. He sees a lot of things because he is exceptionally intelligent, while he misses a lot of things that an older and more experienced reader would catch. In Chapter 22 of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden writes:
I wanted to phone up this guy that was my English teacher at Elkton Hills, Mr. Antolini. He lived in New York now. He quit Elkton Hills. He took this job teaching English at N.Y.U.
When Holden writes, "He lived in New York now," this indicates that his former teacher was living on the campus at Elkton Hills. Antolini is married to a woman who is much older than he is. According to Holden, Mrs. Antolini is rich. What Holden apparently doesn't see is that Antolini probably didn't quit his job as an English teacher at Elkton Hills but was asked to leave because he was showing the same interest in the students at a boys' school that he shows in Holden when he wakes him up by stroking his hair. Antolini could hardly jump from teaching at a prep school to teaching full-time at New York University. What has probably happened is that he got a part-time job teaching one class per semester in remedial English just to have a calling. He doesn't need the money, since his wife is rich. Holden probably doesn't see that Antolini stays up late and does a lot of drinking because he doesn't want to go to bed while his wife is still awake. The reader doesn't need to wait until Holden wakes up with Antolini's hand on his head to realize that Holden's host is gay; the sophisticated reader will realize this when his former teacher asks, "How're all your women?" and tries to get his guest to talk about his sex life, and later when he says, "Good night, handsome."
But Holden has a lot to learn.
J.D. Salinger's main character, Holden, is not the most reliable source for reality even though it is through his eyes that the story is told. Remember that Holden is writing the story from a mental hospital for a reason--he snapped! On the other hand, allegations of all things "perverty" should be considered to have some value because why would he have a name for it? In the case of Holden with Mr. Antolini, it was pretty weird that he should wake up with his former teacher touching him like that. It could have been worse, though; at least Mr. Antolini was just stroking the hair on his head, like maybe a father would, rather than touching him somewhere else. Holden may have overreacted by jumping up and running out of the apartment, but his nature seems also to be one to do that.