Illustration of a man smoking a cigarette

The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger

Start Free Trial

In The Catcher in the Rye, what causes the fight between Holden and Stradlater?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Holden and Stradlater fight because Stradlater has had a date with Jane Gallagher. Holden knows Jane and feels sorry for her because her parents were divorced and her stepfather walked around her house naked. He knows and understands Jane as a person and he feels like Stradlater is only trying to take advantage of Jane and doesn't really appreciate her.

They also fight because Stradlater acts entitled and asks Holden to write his English composition while Stradlater is on the date with Jane. He tells Holden not to put the commas in the right places so it appears as though Stradlater has written the composition. Stradlater is the kind of athletic, handsome boy who has things easy and who plays by the rules to the degree that he can stay at school. Holden annoys Stradlater by writing the composition about a baseball glove rather than about a room or house, as Stradlater had asked him. Holden then tears up the composition in anger, and they get into a fight. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The fight concerns the fact that Stradlater has gone on a date with Jane Gallagher. Holden starts to question Stradlater about what occurred on the date and he talks himself into a fury, imagining that Stradlater made sexual advances toward Jane, and possibly Jane responded to him. Holden can't stand the fact that Stradlater actually went out with Jane, because he does not have the courage to ask her out himself. He longs for Jane silently, keeping his feelings to himself.

Stradlater is dismissive of Holden's questions and this only serves to anger him further, until Holden can't help but hit Stradlater. He tells him that Jane is not the kind of girl that he should go parking with. She "Keeps her kings in the back row" a metaphor for her sexual purity.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What was the fight between Stradlater and Holden really about in The Catcher in the Rye?

In chapter six, Stradlater returns from his date with Jane Gallagher, and Holden incessantly asks him rude questions regarding their date. After Holden asks his roommate if he "gave Jane the time" in Ed Banky's car, Stradlater refuses to answer his question and Holden suddenly attacks him. Holden's brash decision to attack Stradlater is a result of his pent-up anxiety and anger. Holden genuinely cares about Jane Gallagher and is disgusted by the idea that Stradlater would make sexual advances towards her. Holden feels the responsibility to protect Jane's honor from a "secret slob" like Stradlater, who he knows is much more sexually experienced than him.

Holden's assumed responsibility to protect Jane reflects his desire to prevent adolescents from entering the corrupt world of adults. Essentially, he fears that Jane would be taking a significant step towards adulthood by being intimate with Stradlater, which is something Holden desperately wishes to prevent. Holden's violent reaction is an outward reflection of his anxiety and anger towards Stradlater for making sexual advances toward Jane.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What was the fight between Stradlater and Holden really about in The Catcher in the Rye?

Holden has issues with sex and manhood, and both are issues when he learns that Stradlater and Jane are going on a date.  Since he can't communicate his disapproval of the match to them or himself, he lashes out in childish behavior, knowing full well that he will be punished the bully Stradlater.

First, Holden does not want the adult world to encroach on his childhood innocence.  He's in a state of maturation denial.  And he doesn't want others to reach adulthood either, especially a childhood girlfriend like Jane.  Stradlater clearly believes the opposite: he uses sex as a means to experience the adult world sooner than he should.  So, when Holden learns that Jane is about to cross the threshold from childhood to adulthood by losing her virginity to Stradlater, he expresses hostility.

Holden also is a masochist.  He likes to see himself be victimized by other males in an effort to protect children and girls.  He's playing the role of James Castle here: a chilvarous defender of innocence.  Later, Holden will get beat up by Maurice because he refused to pay Sunny.  In both cases, Holden likes to see himself bloody: it's a overture to suicide.  He's a character in his own sadistic gangster film in which the bullies of adulthood beat up the innocent victims.  Again, all of this is repressive behavior in an effort to remain in childhood.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What was the fight between Stradlater and Holden really about in The Catcher in the Rye?

In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden starts a fight with Stradlater after Stradlater returns from a date with Jane.  Holden really likes Jane, and he becomes enraged when Stradlater starts bad-mouthing her.  This is the outward reason for the fight between the two of them; however, it is likely that Holden has some deep-seated rage regarding Stradlater.  First, Holden knows--even though he does not admit--that Stradlater is much more attractive than he is, so he feels a bit jealous that Stradlater is able to use his good looks to attract girls.  Holden does not feel like he is a match for Stradlater, so he never even attempts to ask Jane out on a date.  Next, Holden has much respect for girls, but Stradlater does not, so Holden is angry that girls still choose to go out with Stradlater even though he carries a low regard for them.  So, Holden is generally angered by the fact that people are able to get by quite well on their appearance rather than on the merit of their character.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What causes the fight between Holden and Stradlater in J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye?

In Chapter 4, Stradlater asks Holden to write a composition for him because he hasn't done the reading required to write the paper. Then he discusses his upcoming with Jane, an old friend of Holden's. Holden begins giving information about what Jane was interested in: ballet, checkers, golf, etc. Holden is convinced that Stradlater is not interested in any of this. "Only the sexy stuff interested him." Holden becomes concerned that Stradlater is only going out with Jane to take advantage of her. Holden is being thoughtful but he's also being judgmental, thinking that Jane can't take care of herself. 

Stradlater returns and reads the composition Holden has written for him. Stradlater criticizes it and Holden tears it up. Since Stradlater left for his date with Jane, Holden had been building up his anxiety and distrust toward Stradlater. The fact that Stradlater was less than appreciative of Holden's work made Holden even more angry. Stradlater playfully punches Holden in the shoulder. Holden continues to press him about what happened on the date. Holden asks Stradlater if he "gave her the time" and Stradlater replies that this is a "professional secret." By this time, Holden, feeling like Jane's protector, generally unhappy with Stradlater's attitude, and frustrated in general at being kicked out of school, finally snaps: 

This next part I don't remember so hot. All I know is I got up from the bed, like I was going down to the can or something, and then I tried to sock him, with all my might, right smack in the toothbrush, so it would split his goddam throat open. Only, I missed. I didn't connect. All I did was sort of get him on the side of the head or something. 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on