Why did Holden decide to write Stradlater's composition for him in The Catcher in the Rye?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When Holden's roommate Stradlater asks him to ghost-write a descriptive composition for him, Holden's answer shows a lot about his character as well as why he is flunking out.

"If I get the time, I will. If I don't I won't," I said.

Holden has to be in the mood to do anything. Then if he does it, he does it his way. He is a nonconformist. When he finally gets around to writing Stradlater's composition, he only does it because he is thinking about his dead brother and sees how he could write that "descriptive composition" about Allie.

Anyway, that's what I wrote Stradlater's composition about. Old Allie's baseball mitt. I happened to have it with me, in my suitcase, so I got it out and copied down the poems that were written on it. . . I wasn't too crazy about doing it, but I couldn't think of anything else descriptive. Besides, I sort of liked writing about it.

One of Holden's problems is that he lacks self-discipline. He attends classes when he feels like it and plays hookie when he doesn't. He reads the assigned books if they interest him; otherwise, he ignores them. This pretty much explains why he has flunked out of three prestigious prep schools. Holden always does well in his English classes because he has a natural talent for writing. J. D. Salinger needed to emphasize that Holden is a good writer, as well as a habitual reader of the books that appeal to him, in order to make it plausible that this sixteen-year-old boy could have been the putative author of The Catcher in the Rye. This rambling, episodic, irreverent, and enormously popular novel sounds like the work of a talented adolescent nonconformist. 

When Stradlater returns from his date and reads the composition he was hoping to turn in as his own work, he explodes.

"You always do everything backasswards." He looked at me. "No wonder you're flunking the hell out of here," he said. "You don't do one damn thing the way you're supposed to. I mean it. Not one damn thing."

Holden must realize that Stradlater is telling him the plain truth. Otherwise, he would not be quoting him when he comes to write The Catcher in the Rye.

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The Catcher in the Rye

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