Do you Identify with Holden Caulfield? (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation. We look forward to seeing your responses!

Do you identify at all with Holden Caulfield?

catcher in the rye

It’s been a while since I’ve read J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.  I’ve read it twice, however: once in high school and once a few years later.  The difference in enjoyment was stark for me.  I don’t think I was an angsty teen at all, even in retrospect, and no one I knew as a teen ever characterized me as such; nonetheless, I did relate to the book and Holden’ frustrations far more as a teen than I did even a few years later.  I think this is a book most people would most appreciate while they are in high school.

So what was so appealing? Holden may have been a bit angrier than I was as a teen, but I identified with his general frustration that a lot of people are “phoney.”  Maybe that sounds cynical.  But high school is filled with people trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be.  There are people who do things they’re uncomfortable with just to be cool.  There are people who pretend to join clubs they don’t care about just to put it on their college applications.  And then there are adults–people who keep telling you things like “Your teachers next year won’t stand for this” and “Next time I’m not accepting any late work,” and none of it ever actually comes to pass.  There are your parents who say one thing to you and another to other adults.  Basically, there are a lot of reasons to think the world might be “phoney.”

I don’t know how I would feel about the book today, and perhaps a second re-read is in order.  Maybe I’ve just accepted what seems to be the ever-present adult mantra that “life isn’t fair,” but I would hope I could continue to sympathize a bit with a character who’s frustrated that it seems so unfair and sometimes fake.  That doesn’t mean that all of Holden’s gripes are necessarily valid, but I think critics who dismiss him as a whiny crybaby and nothing more might be missing something.

What do you think? Comment with a link to your post if you participated this week or just comment with your opinion of Holden!




9 thoughts on “Do you Identify with Holden Caulfield? (Classic Remarks)

  1. The Hermit Librarian says:

    It’s been a long time since I’ve read this book and I don’t remember much about it beyond his saying goodbye to the one teacher, but I do remember the frustration you mentioned. I certainly feel like I can sympathize with him in regards to that feeling with regards to phoney people. While his story takes place in high school and I haven’t been there in quite awhile, I feel like I’m constantly surrounded by fakers and it sucks so much. I’ve been trying to learn to let go of worrying about the people that aren’t friends and whether or not they’re full of fluff-and-stuff, but it’s still frustrating.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana says:

      Yes! Holden gets criticism for basically being overly dramatic, but I think fakeness is something everyone can relate to on some level. Even as an adult, some things (like job interviews?) can seem to be more about playing a part than being who you are.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The Hermit Librarian says:

        Oh god, especially job interviews! One of the worst questions, which I know serves a purpose but still: why do you want to work here? Well, the economy​ is horrible, I have bills, and I like being able to eat. You’re hiring, so there’s that. 😑


        • Briana says:

          Yes! Especially for jobs where most people don’t really want to work there long time and the employer knows it. “Uh, I want to make money?” But even for more desirable jobs, I think half the time the real answer would be along the lines of, “Well, I do like your competitor better actually, but you’re the only company in this industry who agreed to interview me so….” I know in theory they want people who want to work there, but money is a strong motivator for keeping people as much as “I like your company.”

          Liked by 1 person

  2. lfpbe says:

    I definitely empathized with Holden when I read this book as a kid. As an English teacher, I’ve read and taught this book half a dozen times or so, and I remember the exact moment when I realized that I had switched over from admiring Holden to pitying him. It was the scene right after he falls in the lake. He’s walking down the street, shivering and crying with ice in his hair, and I’m sitting there with my paperback thinking “Why isn’t anyone helping this boy? All you people walking to work, don’t any of you notice him? What if he were your kid?” etc. Realizing that I felt maternal toward Holden Caulfield was a powerful marker for me that I had reached midlife.


    • Briana says:

      That’s such a great point! I’m definitely not a teen, but I haven’t quite yet reached the point where I read about teens and think “Poor kid.” Today’s YA especially is often about teens being heroes (and I’m not saying they can’t be), but, yeah, I can imagine reading some books and thinking “This person is young. Why isn’t an adult stepping in?” I do think that about middle grade books often. Like, yeah, just let the ten-year-old go on a dangerous adventure to save the world. Good plan.


  3. theorangutanlibrarian says:

    Yeah I don’t think I was much of an angsty teen (though I did write the occasional angsty teenage poem 😉 ) so there was a lot I didn’t relate to- especially as I read this when I was already at uni. Funnily enough though, I also found that I related to the exact same thing (maybe that makes me cynical too 😉 ) That said, I still really liked the book, because even if I didn’t relate, Holden’s struggles are still realistic. Plus I quite enjoy disliking characters from time to time, if they’re well written. Great post!!


    • Briana says:

      I also found myself slightly worried that I’m overly cynical if “everyone’s fake!” is what I got out of the book. :p But I think that’s a view a lot of people subscribe to once in a while. Just because it hits home very hard occasionally doesn’t mean one’s entire worldview is cynical. I hope. :p

      Liked by 1 person

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