Catcher in the Rye2

Holden Caulfied: Saint, Snob, or Somewhere In-between?

Although J.D. Salinger has only one novel to his credit, that novel, The Catcher in the Rye, is recognized as an exceptional literary work. The key to the success of The Catcher in the Rye is the main character, Holden Caulfield. There are many different critics that view Holden in many different ways. Some believe Holden to be a conceited snob, while others see Holden as a Christ-like figure. It is my opinion, however, that Holden is somewhere in the middle. Holden Caulfield is a character who has a definite code of honor that he attempts to live up to and expects to as abide by as well.
Since the death of his brother Allie, Holden has experienced almost a complete sense of alienation from the world around him. This alienation is evident in every part of his life. Holden is unable to relate to anyone at the three prep schools he has attended. While standing on Thomsen Hill, Holden cannot help but feel isolated when he observes the football game, “you were supposed to commit suicide or something if Old Pencey didn’t win” (Salinger 2). Not only does Holden feel isolated at the schools he has attended; he has this feeling when it comes to his family as well. Upon his return to New York City, Holden does not go home. Instead, he chooses to hide out from his family. According to Ernest Jones, “with his alienation go assorted hatreds – of movies, of night clubs, of social and intellectual pretension, and so on. And physical disgust: pimples, sex, an old man picking his nose are all equal cause for nausea” (Jones 7). Holden feels
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as though all of these people have failed him in some way or that they are all “phonies” or “corny” in some way or another. It is Holden’s perception of those around him as “phonies” and again according to Jones; “Holden’s belief that he has a superior moral standard that few people, only his dead brother, his 10-year-old sister, and a fleeting friend [Jane] can live up to” that make him a snob (7).
Presenting Holden as “snobbish” hardly does him justice. Critics such Frederick L. Gwynn, Joseph L. Blotner, and Frederic I. Carpenter view Holden as a character who is “Christ-like in his ambition to protect children before they enter the world of destruction and phoniness” (Carpenter 24). Holden’s experiences throughout the course of his life have created a desire in him to preserve the innocence of those he considers to be innocent. He attempts to physically overpower Stradlater when he realizes that Stradlater may have “screwed around” with Jane Gallagher, whom Holden considers to be innocent simply because she “plays checkers with more regard for the symmetry of the pieces on the board than for the outcome of the game”(Gwynn 13). Along with Jane Gallagher, Holden wishes to protect his sister Phoebe, who is very much like Allie in that she has a mix of youthful innocence and generosity that overwhelms Holden. The best example of this generosity is when Holden is moved to tears because Phoebe gave him all of her Christmas money. Simple acts like this motivated Holden to want to be Christ-like. Holden’s desire to be Christ-like is best evidenced in the following quotation:
“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field
of rye and all. Thousand of little kids, and nobody’s around- nobody big, I mean, except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff…”

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Not only is Holden Christ-like in his desire to protect those who are “innocent” but he, like Jesus, truly “loves his neighbors, especially the poor in goods, appearance, and spirit” (Gwynn 14). Not only does Holden give ten dollars to the nuns in the station, but he is also depressed by their meagre breakfast and the fact that they will never be “going anywhere swanky for lunch” (Salinger 110). He also worries about the ducks freezing in Central Park, sympathizes with the ugly daughter of Pencey’s headmaster and even Sunny the prostitute (Carpenter 24). Perhaps the