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The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger

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Describe Holden's relationship with Jane Gallagher in The Catcher in the Rye.

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Holden's relationship with Jane Gallagher in The Catcher in the Rye can be described as highly unusual. On the one hand, Jane is just about the only person other than his sister for whom Holden has any respect. And yet Holden can't even bring himself to call her, as he's put her on a pedestal, creating an unbridgeable distance between them.

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Holden and Jane Gallagher were close friends, and they spent a significant amount of time over the summer in Maine hanging out and playing checkers. Although Holden is physically attracted to Jane, he sincerely values their friendship more and cares about her on a deeper level. Holden's strong feelings toward...

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Jane are revealed when he attacks his roommate Stradlater for taking her on a date. Holden views himself as a protector of innocence, and his worst fear is that Stradlater hooked up with Jane. He is clearly jealous of Stradlater for being with Jane but never takes the initiative to formally ask her on a date himself.

As a naïve, immature adolescent, Holden struggles to express his feelings for Jane and hesitates to call her throughout the story. Jane is one of the few people who actually understands Holden and can help him deal with his complicated emotions. Instead of waiting for Jane to pick up the phone, Holden continues to search for support and social interaction in the wrong places and with the wrong people.

Holden has difficulty understanding women in general and lacks the ability to form intimate bonds. His traumatic past has significantly impaired his social skills, which explains why he has so few friends. In Holden's eyes, Jane is the perfect girl, and he fears that speaking to her will somehow ruin their relationship. Holden purposely avoids Jane in an attempt to preserve their past.

The past is something Holden cherishes, and his memories of spending time with Jane mean more to him than developing their relationship or taking it to the next level. Holden would rather hold onto their memories and defend Jane from people like Stradlater than express his true feelings to her. If nothing else, Holden and Jane have a complex relationship that is impaired by Holden's lack of self-esteem and confidence.

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Holden Caulfield's relationships with others are invariably fraught. To a large extent, this is because Holden has approximately zero respect for anyone but his sister, Phoebe. All except Jane Gallagher, that is. Holden regards her as very smart, a compliment he's loath to pay anyone else.

He's also sexually attracted to her, which accounts for his insane jealousy toward any other boy that comes near her. Holden physically attacks Stradlater because he's convinced that Pencey Prep's resident Lothario has been having his wicked way with Jane. In fact, the very thought of their having been together is enough to get his dander up.

And yet, Holden is never able to act on his feelings in any meaningful way. Holding hands with Jane is about as close as he gets to forming a relationship with her. Despite being powerfully drawn to her, he's unable to develop a deeper connection. This is largely because he's put her on a pedestal, turned her into an idealized female figure who can only really be admired from a safe distance. One gets the impression that, on a subconscious level, Holden is afraid to get too close to Jane, as it might ruin the idealized image he's created of her.

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Holden’s relationship with Jane is rather curious. Jane never actually appears in the story, but Holden frequently thinks about her. She seems to be the one girl - indeed, the one person - of his own age whom he genuinely likes. He remembers her as a quiet and caring kind of person, who has also suffered from a ‘lousy childhood’(chapter 4). This is one of the things that probably makes him more protective of her – he physically attacks Stradlater after Stradlater has been on a date with her. He is appalled at the very thought of Stradlater being with her, but we cannot be entirely sure if Stradlater is really as unscrupulous as he fears or whether his overreaction is more indicative of his own desire for her, which he doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge too much.

Holden, then, regards Jane as a close friend and is probably deeply attracted to her. However, he can never bring himself to even phone her. This may be because she functions as an idealized female figure for him to some extent, and he can’t cope with actually meeting her.

Jane is not infallible in Holden’s view, however; he recalls her once dating Al Pike, ‘a terrible guy’, ‘a show-off bastard’ (chapter 18), and afterwards resolutely sticking up for him:

Jane said he wasn’t a show-off. She said he had an inferiority complex. She acted like she felt sorry for him or something, and she wasn’t just putting it on. She meant it. (chapter 18)

Holden appears amazed that ‘even smart girls’ like Jane fail in judgement when it comes to conceited guys like Al Pike (chapter 18).  Maybe this is his way of saying that Jane doesn’t appreciate him, Holden, quite as much as she ought to, and that is why he puts off meeting up with her.

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What does Holden like about Jane Gallagher in The Catcher in the Rye?

Holden admires Jane because she is the antithesis of his primary complaint about everyone else who surrounds him--which is to say, she is not a "phony." This manifests through Holden's attention to the small, strange qualities that Jane possesses that make her seem real, likable, and down-to-earth. They share a bond of emotional intimacy that never fully manifests into sexual action; in that way, Jane remains a safe and "pure" relic of Holden's childhood fixation. 

Holden in particular comments on such strange details as Jane's tendency to keep her kings in the back row while they play checkers and that she doesn't squirm around while holding hands during a movie. It is ultimately Jane's potential sexual relationship with Stradlater that disturbs Holden the most, as it implies that changes are occurring around him for which he is not prepared. 

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What does Holden like about Jane Gallagher in The Catcher in the Rye?

In The Catcher in the Rye, Jane's one trait that Holden continually talks about is her habit of keeping all of her kings in the back row while playing checkers. This is just symbolic of the larger reason why Holden likes Jane: he sees her as an individual, not just a sex object.

Contrast Holden's feelings about Jane with Stradlater's. When Holden keeps asking his roommate whether he asked Jane if she still keeps her "kings in the back row," Stradlater responds, "What the hell ya think we did all night—play checkers, for Chrissake?" Holden then begins to obsess with the date Jane goes on with Stradlater and worries he gave her the "time" in the back of Ed Banky's car.

There are many other characteristics Holden likes about Jane. He likes that she can hold hands during a movie "and wouldn't quit until the movie was over. And without changing position or making a big deal out of it." He even talks about how she, like him, seems to be a bit broken, as she suggests her stepfather might be abusive, sexually or otherwise. 

For Holden, Jane is genuine, while his other love interest, Sally Hayes, is phony and into all the things adults say you have to have in order to be successful. 

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