Would The Catcher in the Rye be considered a picaresque novel with Holden being considered a picaro?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There can be an argument made that Catcher in the Rye is a picaresque novel, and Holden Caulfield somewhat of the picaro.

1. Catcher in the Rye is like the picaresque as it, too, is an autobiographical account told by the first-person narrator; however, unlike the picaro, Holden is not a character of a lower social class.
2. As in the picaresque, there is no real plot. The narrative of J.D. Salinger's novel takes place over three days and is simply a recounting of his adventures. The most serious study is psychological, the examination of the teen angst of Holden.
3. There is also, as in the picaresque, little character development of Holden. Although he does end in a mental hospital, he has not resolved his problems with "phonies" or his terrible agonies over the death of his brother Allie and his worries about the loss of innocence Phoebe which she will soon experience.
4. The Catcher in the Rye is, indeed, realistic with the thoughts of the teen-aged Holden Caulfied as he fears the sexual intentions of his former teacher, Mr. Antolini, and his abhorrence for phoniness, a frequent complaint of teens who awaken to the real world as they mature. Also, the language is very realistic, so realistic that the novel was censored in many places for years.
5. Holden's behavior follows that of the picaro as it is circumspect. Holden writes essays for his roommate, he hires a prostitute while he stays at a hotel, he drinks alcohol although he is underage, and he tries to pick up girls for ulterior reasons that he does not disclose to them. Certainly, he exhibits psychological instability as he has random and disjointed thoughts such as asking the cab driver about the ducks in the frozen lake, then reverts to memories and other ideas. However, unlike the picaro, Holden is not like a criminal.
6. Like the picaro, Holden is at time outside morality, but is, indeed, a sympathetic character because he is apparently friendless, and has lost his beloved brother. With all his mention of phonies and his devotion to Phoebe as well as his desire to be a "catcher in the rye" who preserves children from the corruption of the adult world with its false rules, Holden is the sympathetic outsider like the picaro. Certainly, he places himself outside the false rules of his society as he rebels strongly against conformity. In the last chapter, Holden remarks,

The one psychologist guy...keeps asking me if I'm going to apply myself when I go back to school next September. It's such a stupid question, in my opinion. I mean how do you know what you're goint to do till you do it?

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The Catcher in the Rye

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