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The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger

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How does Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye compare to other teenagers?

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Holden Caulfield in Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye seems like a regular high school kid. Except in the beginning of the book, we find him all alone rather than down with the other students cheering on their team during a Saturday night home football game. Holden claims that he's not down with the others for a couple of reasons. First, he says the following:

The reason I was standing way up on Thomsen Hill instead of down at the game, was because I'd just got back from New Your with the fencing team... We'd gone in to New York that morning for this fencing meet with McBurney School. Only, we didn't have the meet. I left all the foils and the equipment and stuff on the goddam subway... The whole team ostracized me the whole way back on the train. (3)

The second reason Holden wasn't at the game is because he had to go say goodbye to a professor, because he was being kicked out of his third private school in just a few years. Not many kids wind up missing football games or get kicked out of so many schools in so little time, but Holden suffers an unknown mental illness. Based on these two reasons for his isolation from the other teens, it seems as though Holden is a misfit or at least he perceives himself as such.

Another way to compare Holden to other kids his age is to look at his relationship with two roommates: Robert Ackley and Ward Stradlater. Holden seems to view himself in the middle of these two boys. For example, Holden seems to be jealous but respectful of Ward and disgusted in Robert; therefore, he is like the middle class in a hierarchical class structure. Holden says of Robert the following:

He was probably the only guy in the whole dorm, besides me, that wasn't down at the game. He hardly went anywhere. He was a very peculiar guy... The whole time he roomed next to me, I never even once saw him brush his teeth... Besides that, he had a lot of pimples... And not only that, he had a terrible personality. (19)

Above, Holden is very critical of Ackley and doesn't hold back judging every flaw that the tall boy has. Of course, he never says exactly what he thinks to Ackley's face, per se, but just like any teenager and many, if not all, humans, he picks others apart when he feels superior.

On the other hand, when Ackley starts criticizing Stradlater for having a "superior attitude" (24), Holden jumps to Stradlater's defense by saying the following:

He's conceited, but he's very generous in some things. He really is... Look. Suppose, for instance, Stradlater was wearing a tie or something that you liked... You know what he'd do? He'd probably take it off and give it to you. He really would. (25)

Holden shows with the above quote that he respects Stradlater; however, once he finds out that Stradlater is going out with Jane Gallagher, a girl he knows well and likes a lot, he becomes jealous and winds up getting in a bloody fist fight with his roommate. Even before the fight, Holden tries to get Stradlater's attention and probably approval, because he hangs around while Stradlater gets ready for his date and even pounces on his roommate "like a goddam panther" (30).

Holden's approval turns on a dime after the fight, but he still tries to write the essay that Stradlater asked him to write for him. Quite fickle these teenagers be! One minute they are acting like they are totally in control and mature and the next minute they are horsing around or getting into fist fights! As much as Holden likes to isolate himself and separate himself from other teenagers, he winds up acting just like many others.

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