Illustration of a man smoking a cigarette

The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger

Start Free Trial

What is Holden's attitude towards money in The Catcher in the Rye? Were all his expenses justified?

Expert Answers

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

Holden Caulfield comes from a wealthy family and is the son of a corporate lawyer. Holden freely spends his money while experiencing New York before heading home, after he gets kicked out of Pencey Prep. Holden mentions that he has spent a "king's ransom" in two weeks and refers to himself as a "spendthrift at heart." Similar to many things in Holden's life, he holds hypocritical views towards money. While Holden claims that money only causes him anguish and grief, he fully enjoys the benefits of having money and even judges individuals who are less wealthy.

In chapter 15, Holden eats breakfast with two nuns and immediately comments on their suitcases. Holden criticizes the fact that they have cheap suitcases and says,

It sounds terrible to say it, but I can even get to hate somebody, just looking at them, if they have cheap suitcases with them." (Salinger, 58)

He then tells a story about his former roommate, Dick Slagle, who did not come from a wealthy family like him. Holden recalls how Dick Slagle wanted people to believe Holden's Mark Cross suitcases were his, which is why he continually put out Holden's suitcases on the stand in their room. Holden then proceeds to give ten dollars to the nuns and they make a big deal about Holden's generous contribution. At the end of the chapter, Holden says,

Goddam money. It always ends up making you blue as hell." (Salinger, 61)

Despite Holden's comment, he reaps the benefits of having money and freely spends it. Holden criticizes and views poor individuals with contempt, yet feels bad for them and gives them money. Overall, Holden holds contradictory views on money, and it is difficult to grasp his genuine opinion of money.

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

Holden's attitude towards money reeks of hypocrisy, for example, he resents the adults that he characterizes as phonies who spend their time pursuing financial success.  One such adult is a patron of Pencey Prep Mr. Ossenburger.  Holden lived in the Ossenburger Memorial Wing of the dorms at Pencey.  Mr. Ossenburger is a Funeral Director.

"He made a pot of dough in the undertaking business after he got out of Pencey.  What he did, he started these undertaking parlors all over the country.  You should see old Ossenburger.  He probably shoves them in a sack and dumps them in the river.  He gave Pencey a pile o dough and they named our wing after him.  He came up to the school in this bitg goddam Cadillac and we had to stand up in the grandstand and give him a locomotive, that's a cheer." (Salinger)

Holden mocks Mr. Ossenburger and disrespects the fact that he has made a successful living in the funeral business.  He also disrespects his own grandmother, when he says that she sends him money four times a year, for his birthday.

"I have a grandmother that's quite lavish with her dough.  She doesn't have all her marbles any more, she's old as hell and she keeps sending me money for my birthday about four times a year.  Anyway, even though I was pretty loaded, I figured I could always use a few extra bucks." (Salinger)

Holden comes from a financially wealthy family, therefore he does not have to think about money, because his family provides it for him.  He has no respect for the money his parents have paid for his prep school tuition, he keeps getting kicked out of one school after another, giving no particular attention to his academic pursuits, not caring that his parents are wasting money.

Holden seems to resent the process of earning money, yet he has a pocketful of money that his grandmother has given him, without which, he would not have been able to travel to NYC by himself, escaping the confines of Pencey after he learned that he was expelled.

As a post-WWII novel, Salinger could be expressing his resentment of the explosion of prosperity that American experienced in the years following the war.  There was an economic boom, and Holden equates money with phoniness, and adults have jobs and make money.

This ties in with Holden's real problem his desire to remain in childhood and avoid becoming an adult.  He prefers the safe comforts of childhood, free of responsibility, unencumbered by obligation, being taken care of by others, including phony adults, who need to make money to meet their obligations. Holden takes his childhood obsession a step too far, he also rejects his responsibility to be academically successful, even children are expected to succeed in school.

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
Approved by eNotes Editorial