Holden Caulfield Essay Egyptians

  • Show Spoilers
  • Night Vision
  • Sticky Header
  • Wide Load

Literature / The Catcher in the Rye

A rare illustrated cover, from the first UK edition.
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
The Catcher in the Rye is a 1951 novel by the late, reclusive author J. D. Salinger.The story concerns Holden Caulfield, a smart but troubled teenager who, after being expelled from his boarding school in December 1949, spends three days wandering around New York City, mourning for the loss of innocence in children, and failing to understand the people that surround him. Holden himself can come off as a Jerk with a Heart of Gold as he unkindly judges almost everyone, but as the book explores his underlying psychological issues and reaches its Bittersweet Ending, his true nature becomes apparent.The book is considered one of the best novels of all time, is practically the textbook for First-Person Narration, and is regularly found in critical lists of the greatest English-language works of fiction. However, it is also a frequent target of Moral Guardians for its offensive language and nihilistic attitude. It is the most popular novel never to have been adapted into a movie.

The Catcher in the Rye contains examples of:

  • Accidental Misnaming: Stradlater calls his date, who happens to be a childhood friend of Holden's, Jean Gallagher instead of Jane. Holden chews him out for it.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: It is heavily implied that Holden is suffering from an undiagnosed case of PTSD and/or depression. For instance, he is definitely very cynical, doesn't eat or sleep enough, is constantly mentioning how lonely and depressed he is, has frequent crying spells, gets impulsive urges to commit suicide, shows manic behavior whenever he tries to connect with someone (especially noticeable later on in the book), suffers from frequent body and headaches for no reason, is an avid smoker and drinker (possibly as a form of self-medication), and is obviously traumatized over the suddenness of Allie and Castle's deaths.
  • Ambiguous Situation: The scene where Mr Antolini strokes Holden's sleeping head. It could be (as Holden thinks) a sexual pass or simply a misguided attempt at paternal affection. Holden himself is not sure.
  • Anti-Hero: Holden is a Classical Anti Hero.
  • Author Avatar: Holden. J.D. Salinger stated that he would have allowed a stage adaptation of the work on the condition that he be allowed to play Holden, despite being significantly older than Holden by the time this was a possibility. Although this may have been simply because Salinger didn't want a stage play made at all, as he implied he would allow a film adaptation to happen only upon his death, partly to provide for his children, and partly so he wouldn't have to see it. In his later novella "Seymour: An Introduction," narrator Buddy Glass implies authorship of Catcher and emphatically denies Holden is based on Buddy's elder brother Seymour. Both Seymour and Buddy have been suggested as the more likely Author Avatar of Salinger himself.
  • Auto Erotica: it's heavily implied this happened between Stradlater and Jane.
  • Berserk Button: Holden seeing anyone engaging in "phony" behavior- mainly blatant hypocrisy- he complains about them at length in the narration.
  • Big Applesauce: The book mainly takes place in 1940s Manhattan.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Holden is a pessimistic boy but he cares for his little sister a lot and feels the need to protect her.
  • Big Man on Campus: Stradlater, who stradles the line between Jerk Jock and Lovable Jock. While he beats up Holden, he only does so after Holden already attacked him, and while he does seem to be a cocky flirt, he also seems to be a pretty good guy who genuinely likes spending time with Holden. On the other hand, he's implied to be highly promiscuous, having casual sex with women whose names he can't even bother to remember.
  • Bile Fascination: A movie Holden goes to see is an in-universe example.
    "It was so putrid I couldn't take my eyes off it."
  • Black Sheep: Holden remarks that he's the only stupid one among his siblings.
  • Book Ends: The first chapter reveals Holden's pathetic essay on the Ancient Egyptians. The last chapter show him teaching two little boys at a museum about the same subject.
  • Bookworm: One of the very few things Holden unambiguously enjoys is reading even if he does claim to be illiterate.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Holden.
  • Catch-Phrase:
    • Holden's favorite insult, "phony".
    • The word "goddamn" which he uses 237 times in only 214 pages.
  • Children Are Innocent: And then they're not anymore.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Holden. He at one point breaks out into a tap dance while talking to Stradlater in the bathroom for no apparent reason. Stradlater is understandably confused.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: Though the non-standard narrative can make it hard to tell.
  • Consummate Liar: Holden often makes up stories with people he meets. Often, it will be his age.
  • Cultural Rebel: Holden, who despises most of the popular culture of his day (that is, The '40s), such as Hollywood films, radio programs, and short stories in magazines.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Holden has a habit of repeating what he just said using a different order of words frequently. That is, frequently, Holden will repeat himself but put the words in a different order. He really does.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: A group of children are playing on "some crazy cliff," and Holden's task is to catch them before they fall off the edge. Imagining this, he wishes it could be his purpose. Never mind the entire mental construct is based on a Mondegreen. Most Salinger characters are hothouse flowers; to survive, they need a rare element... one which the world could never provide.
  • Driven to Suicide: Holden mentions James Castle, a boy he knew at school committed suicide because of bullying. Castle called another boy, Phil Stable a "very conceited guy", so Stabile and six of his friends tried to force him to take it back.
    I won't even tell you what they did to him—it's too repulsive—but he still wouldn't take it back, old James Castle. And you should've seen him. He was a skinny little weak-looking guy, with wrists about as big as pencils. Finally, what he did, instead of taking back what he said, he jumped out the window.
  • The Eeyore: Phoebe challenges Holden to name one thing that he genuinely likes. Holden claims he can't concentrate enough to answer her question.
  • Embarrassing Middle Name: Phoebe's middle name is Josephine, which she doesn't like for some reason, so she's always making up new ones. When Holden visits her, he sees that she's using "Weatherfield" as a middle name.
  • Emo Teen: Holden, probable Trope Codifier.
  • First Gray Hair: Played with. Seventeen-year-old Holden acknowledges having a great deal of grey hair, but does not seem concerned by it, except as a means to disguise his age in order to buy alcohol. Nevertheless, it is listed as being one of his 'adult-qualities', which is significant considering the themes of the novel...
  • The '40s: Despite being published in the early fifties, it's obvious the novel is set in this decade. TV is never mentioned, newsreels are still a thing, and everyone knows who Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne are. More specifically, the Lunt-Fontanne play that Holden and Sally go to see (I Know My Love) places the story in December of 1949.
  • Freudian Excuse: He oh-so-subtly explains what his is, before deciding not to go into any detail on it as not to invoke it. Of course, by saying so he invokes it anyway, so it's not so much averted as glossed over.
  • Friend to All Children: Holden
  • Gaydar: Carl Luce, who can easily identify gay men and knows the names of every gay man in the country.
  • The Ghost: Several. Jane, D.B., Holden's parents, and Allie seem to be the most significant, though.
  • Glurge: In-universe. Holden Caulfield has this reaction to a movie he watches and then describes for us readers. In the movie, a wealthy duke loses his memory and then meets a nice lady with a brother whose nerves are shot who helps him publish a book and becomes a love interest for him. When his old blind mother and fiancee find him, they try to confirm his own identity for him, but the duke doesn't believe them. By the end, the duke regains his memory, is happily married to the nice lady, the brother has gotten his nerves back and has cured the duke's mother of her blindness. To top it all off, a dog they previously thought was male had puppies!
  • Growing Up Sucks: Holden has this belief and this is part of his motivation for wanting to be a "catcher in the rye" so that he can protect children from awful phony stuff.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Holden frequently describes Stradlater as "sexy", and he remarks on his good looks more than once. In the 1940s, though, the term could still be taken to mean "obsessed with sex" (its original definition) rather than "sexually attractive". A more modern equivalent would be "horny".
  • Holding Hands: Holden describes in detail how good it was to hold hands with Jane.
  • Hypocrisy Nod:
    • Someone who hates movies as much as Holden claims to sure seems to watch a lot of them. How does one learn not to like something to experience it?
  • Hypocrite: Holden. He despises phonies, yet lies about who he is a lot.
  • Iconic Outfit: Holden's signature red hunting hat (pictured above). If you were to look up the hat online, you are bound to find at least one picture of Holden wearing it.
  • I Just Want to Have Friends: Virtually everything Holden does in the novel stems from how desperately lonely he is.
  • Irony: A meta example - The novel has been banned/challenged many, many times over the years, with most objectors citing profanity and/or sexual content. The inherent irony of this (Holden thinks kids should be shielded from "FUCK YOU"'s and sexy stuff, after all) always seems to evade them.
  • Jade-Colored Glasses: Holden sports a nice shade of them.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Holden, according to some. It's only too easy to get irritated by Holden's constant negativity.
  • Lack of Empathy: Holden doesn't like how a woman watching the Duke movie cares more for its characters than her own child.
  • Loving a Shadow: Despite how much Holden wants to reconnect with Jane, he can't ever bring himself to call her; he's too afraid she won't be the same person anymore.
  • Minimalist Cast: While several characters are mentioned, only a handful besides Holden himself actually appear, and when they do their screentime is limited.
  • Minimalistic Cover Art: Many paperback editions of the book feature a cover with only the title and author's name on a blank field. The Italian version is white, while the English version is red.
  • Misaimed Fandom: Invoked. Holden does this with the song "Comin' Thru the Rye". It's actually about two lovers meeting in a field. Holden adopts it as an image of himself protecting children from their own inevitable maturity (especially sex) and phoniness (like, say, lying about where you're going and screwing some guy in a field instead). He mishears it, after all. Interestingly, the word ‘rye’ might actually refer to Rye Water in Scotland. The poem then discusses a girl named Jenny who lets her petticoat down and get wet instead of holding it up while crossing it, so she can push away the boys who would run by to kiss the girls who would hold their petticoats on one hand and whatever they were carrying on the other instead, leaving no free hand to ward off the boys. Holden decided to interpret the word ‘rye’ as actual rye, which is the more ‘adult’ version, but misinterprets the meaning of the poem as talking about kids playing in a rye field.
  • Moral Guardians: What Holden himself wants to be—that is, the Catcher In The Rye, a person who guards the innocence of children.
  • Morality Pet: Phoebe is the only character who Holden is nice to, since she symbolizes the child-like innocence he wants to protect.
  • The Movie Buff: Phoebe loves them as much as Holden claims to hate them. Holden himself seems to be awfully knowledgeable for someone who hates movies.
  • Never My Fault: Holden certainly isn't one for blaming himself for his troubles.
  • New Media Are Evil: Holden hates movies and, throughout his life, Salinger blocked all attempts to make The Film of the Book. Which is ironic, as Salinger himself was a cinemaphile. The reason for that is because Salinger hated how the 1949 film My Foolish Heart (based on his short story "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut") came out. To date that film is the only authorized film adaptation of his work.
  • Newsreel: Holden sees one at a movie theater whilst holding hands with Jane.
  • Nice Hat: Holden's iconic red hunting cap.
  • Platonic Prostitution: Holden hires a prostitute when he's at a hotel, but changes his mind when she arrives, and says that he just wants to talk. This doesn't work out; she becomes annoyed, demands more money than was originally agreed upon, and when Holden refuses to pay, she comes back with her pimp, who beats up Holden and takes the money.
  • Precision F-Strike: Despite a large amount of other profanities, there is only one appearance of an actual F-bomb in the last chapter, where Holden sees it in clearly visible graffiti and tries to cover it up, because he doesn't want kids to see it. A very good example of how the word can be appropriately shocking when used correctly.
  • Punch a Wall: Holden mentions that after his brother died, he smashed every window in the garage with his bare hands. He also tried to knock out the family station wagon windows, but by then, his hands were too broken.
  • Rape as Backstory: Perhaps not rape, but something similar that isn't explored. This is strange considering the narrator.
    "When something perverty like that happens, I start sweating like a bastard. That kind of stuff's happened to me about twenty times since I was a kid."
  • Rule of Symbolism:
    • Holden's little sister, who to him is the epitome of what he's trying to protect, is named Phoebe. This is an epithet of Artemis, who is occasionally associated with the moon; in its male form, "Phoebus", it is also an epithet her twin brother Apollo, who is associated with the sun. The prostitute Holden hires, who is one of the apexes of the things Holden hates, is named Sunny. Artemis is also the goddess of maidenhood and innocence. On the other hand, Apollo, god of the sun, was known for having many affairs with women, like most Greek gods.
    • That's far from the only example; the novel contains symbolism in spades, as Salinger was a master of the technique (as shown in his expertly-crafted short stories, e.g., A Perfect Day For Bananafish.) It's most apparent in the penultimate chapter; the scene with Phoebe on the carousel is a cornucopia of symbolism. The Gold Ring that Phoebe tries to catch is widely interpreted as a metaphor for adulthood, with Holden's comment that "it's bad if you say anything to them" when children fall off the horse while attempting to reach it, is seen as an indicator he's ready to accept the inevitability of growing up.
    • Similarly, there is the museum. Holden points out how the museum's displays are in an infinite frozen state: while he changes with time, the displays stay the same. This symbolizes Holden's wish of having the world be forever frozen in the same state in order for him to avoid conflict and growing up.
  • Sanity Slippage: Holden slowly begins to show more and more erratic behavior as the book goes on.
  • Security Blanket: His hunting cap can be seen as this, in that he's constantly putting it on and taking it off only when he's in a situation where he knows he will be mocked for wearing it.
  • Sex Is Evil and I Am Horny: Holden doesn't really like the idea of casual sex without emotional attachment, but it is clear that he is still a hormonal teenage boy who checks out just about every female character that shows up and he even tries to hook up with a prostitute at one point. Likewise, when he sees a cross dressing man and a drunk couple playfully spitting liquid on each other in another building, he mentions how gross it all is but can't help but watch and feel aroused anyway.
  • Silly Rabbit, Cynicism Is for Losers!: Both Mr. Antolini and Phoebe try to get across to Holden that much of his unhappiness is self-inflicted, and just as narcissistic as all the "phonies" he rails against.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Holden loves to swear. In this 214-page story, Holden uses the word "goddamn" 237 times.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Played with in a rather complex manner. Holden is a rebellious teenager with a cynical and jaded exterior; at the same time, he's obsessed with the concept of childhood innocence, and thinks innocence is a notion to be revered. This leads to strange instances where he'll fantasize about sex one minute, and reminisce about playing golf with Allie the next. The ambiguity of the text itself, however, makes it difficult to make a judgement one way or another.
  • Sliding Scale of Plot Versus Characters: Way on the character side.
  • The Snark Knight: Holden, possibly.
  • Soap Punishment: Holden tries asking Stradlater if he gave Jane Gallagher the time. That, by the way, is old slang for having sex with someone. Stradlater responds: "What a thing to say. Want me to wash your mouth out with soap?"
  • Stylistic Suck: Very accurately done with Holden's one-paragraph essay on the ancient Egyptians.
    The Egyptians were an ancient race of Caucasians residing in one of the northern sections of Africa. The latter as we all know is the largest continent in the Eastern Hemisphere. The Egyptians are extremely interesting to us today for various reasons. Modern science would still like to know what the secret ingredients were that the Egyptians used when they wrapped up dead people so that their faces would not rot for innumerable centuries. This interesting riddle is still quite a challenge to modern science in the twentieth century.
  • Title Drop: The page quote above.
  • Troubled, but Cute: Quite arguably Holden, given that several female characters find him attractive, like Sunny, the prostitute, who calls him cute.
  • Tsundere: Holden is incredibly critical of nearly every single character in the book, but it is made clear that this is more of him being frustrated and self conscious than anything else as he later admits to missing them.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: Implied with Jane Gallagher, as she goes on a date with Stradlater in a car, most likely to have casual sex with him.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Holden, again. He's an admitted liar, so how much of his story is the truth remains up in the air. It's worth noticing that while his narration is hilarious, his spoken dialogue is an apex of The Comically Serious and morbidity.
  • Unusual Euphemism: When Stradlater has sex with a girl, Holden refers to it as "giving her the time". It was much dirtier in the time period this book is set in.
  • Verbal Tic:
    • Holden has one. He really does.
    • Holden has a rather annoying habit of calling people "Old" before their name (Old Phoebe, Old Stradlater, etc).
    • He also has a tendency to say "and all" at the end of his sentences.
    • "That killed me." Given the situation it's actually a little thought-provoking.
    • His frequent use of 'goddamn' and asserting that various people are 'phonies' verge on Catch-Phrase territory.
    • "I'm not kidding"
    • "If you want to know the truth..."
    • "Boy..."
    • "Sort of" is said 109 times.
  • Vinyl Shatters: Holden accidentally shatters a record he was going to give to his sister Phoebe. Justified here - it was almost definitely a shellac 78, which are known to shatter.
  • Wham Line:
    • The first time Holden speaks at length about his brother Allie, he talks tenderly about how his little brother loved baseball and had a favorite catcher's mitt that he always used when playing. Then he finishes the paragraph with this:
    • Incase Holden's growing psychosis wasn't apparent already then the reader would have definitely noticed it after he begins to show delusional behavior towards Sally during one of their later dates:
    "Stop screaming at me, please," [Sally] said. Which was crap, because I wasn't even screaming at her.
    (A few paragraphs later) "What?" she said. "I can't hear you. One minute you scream at me, and the next you-"
  • White and Grey Morality: It goes back and forth between this and Grey and Grey Morality.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Holden claims that his younger siblings, Allie and Phoebe, are pretty intelligent for their age.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: In-universe. Phoebe writes about a girl detective named Hazle Weatherfield whose father is described as a "tall attractive gentleman about 20 years of age."
  • Younger Than They Look: 17-year-old Holden Caulfield is 6'2" and has gray hairs. As such, he claims he can easily pass as an adult. But he's more often called out on being a minor than he is successfully able to pass. Sunny, for example, not only wouldn't believe he was 22, but may have also compared him to 13-year-old Freddie Bartholomew from the 1937 movie Captains Courageous.

Holden claims he doesn’t know much about Egyptians in the failing essay he writes for Mr. Spencer’s class, but he knows enough to enthusiastically explain the process of mummification to two younger boys:

It’s very interesting. They wrapped their faces up in these cloths that were treated with some secret chemical. That way they could be buried in their tombs for thousands of years and their faces wouldn’t rot or anything. Nobody knows how to do it except the Egyptians. Even modern science. (25.34)

Notice that Holden doesn’t talk about how they pulled out the organs, or stuck hooks up their noses, or wrapped up their legs or arms; it’s all about the faces, and how the faces wouldn’t rot. To us, it sounds like Holden is a little worried about his own face rotting—metaphorically speaking. He’s afraid of disappearing, of not being noticed: of being just another “faceless” corporate employee, or of being buried and ignored underground like his little brother. But nobody knows how to do that, except the Egyptians. Right?

Right. Or, maybe, writing this book is a way of preserving his individuality and immortality. We’re just saying, 65 million copies sold sounds a lot better than lying shriveled up in some museum tomb.

One thought on “Holden Caulfield Essay Egyptians

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *