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An interpretation of Holden Caulfield on the cover of the 2012 book The Catcher in the Rye and Philosophy by Heather Salter and Keith Dromm.
|First appearance||"I'm Crazy"|
|Last appearance||The Catcher in the Rye|
|Created by||J. D. Salinger|
Holden Caulfield is a fictional character in author J. D. Salinger's 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye. Since the book's publication, Holden has become an icon for teenage rebellion and angst, and now stands among the most important characters of 20th-century American literature. The name Holden Caulfield was used in an unpublished short story written in 1942 and first appeared in print in 1945.
Although it has been conjectured that J. D. Salinger got the name for Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye when he saw a marquee for the 1947 film Dear Ruth, starring William Holden and Joan Caulfield, Salinger's first Holden Caulfield story, "I'm Crazy", appeared in Collier's on December 22, 1945, a year and a half before this movie was released.
Explanation of teenage narrative
Holden is naive and at the same time resentful of the adult world. One of Holden's most striking and quintessential qualities is his powerful revulsion for "phony" qualities, a catch-all term for the perceived hypocrisy that irritates Holden. It is this cynicism that causes him to distance himself from other people despite wanting connection as well. Holden is very much a character of contradiction; at seventeen years of age, he is six feet two-and-a-half inches (189 cm) tall, and already has some grey hair – though he himself admits that he sometimes acts more like a 13-year-old than an adult. He continually fails classes yet is thought of as a "hot shot" by his English teacher, with an obvious flair for writing.
In The Catcher in the Rye
Holden Caulfield is the narrator and main character of The Catcher in the Rye. The novel recounts Holden's week in New York City during Christmas break following his expulsion from Pencey Prep, a preparatory school in Pennsylvania based loosely on Salinger's alma mater Valley Forge Military Academy. Holden Caulfield tells his story with surprising honesty from a hospital in California in a cynical and jaded language.
In other works
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The character, as Holden Caulfield, appears in Salinger's "Slight Rebellion off Madison", published in the December 21, 1946, issue of The New Yorker. An earlier version of this story, titled "Are You Banging Your Head Against a Wall?" was accepted for publication by The New Yorker in October 1941, but was not published then because editors found the tone to be too desolate for its readership. An edited version of this short story later became the basis of several chapters in the middle-late section of The Catcher in the Rye dealing with Caulfield's date with Sally Hayes, during which he confesses his desire to run away with her, meets Carl Luce for drinks, and makes a drunken phone call to the Hayes' home. Unlike the similar sequence in the novel, Caulfield is on a Christmas break from school, and, in the story, the interlude with Sally is split into two occurrences. Also, the meeting with Carl Luce is considerably briefer in the story than in the novel.
Caulfield also figures as a character in the short story "I'm Crazy", published in Colliers (December 22, 1945), and other members of the Caulfield family are featured in "Last Day of the Last Furlough", published in The Saturday Evening Post (July 15, 1944) and the unpublished short stories "The Last and Best of the Peter Pans" (c. 1942) and "The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls" (c. 1945). "I'm Crazy" is closely related to the first chapter of The Catcher in the Rye. It begins with Caulfield standing on a hill at Pencey Prep watching a football game below, and develops as Holden visits with his history teacher, Mr. Spencer, for a talk about his expulsion from school and his future. Several other details match those found in the first chapter of Catcher, including a reference to the mother of one of Caulfield's schoolmates and to his own mother sending him a gift of ice skates, but the story ends with his returning home instead of running away from school. Once home, he is not shown confronting his parents, who, according to the maid, are playing bridge. Instead, he goes to speak to Phoebe. Their dialogue is similar to that which appears in the later chapters of The Catcher in the Rye. The other notable feature of the story is that his sister Viola gets her first, and only, mention in the Caulfield saga.
Green Day wrote a song titled "Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?" for their second studio album Kerplunk (1992) after lead singer and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong read The Catcher in the Rye. Initially, he gave up on reading it after dropping out from Pinole Valley High School when he was 18 years old.
Caulfield family in other works
"Last Day of the Last Furlough" relates the final day of Babe Gladwaller before he leaves to fight in World War II. Gladwaller spends part of the day with his little sister before Vincent Caulfield (later renamed D.B. in the novel) arrives. At that point Vincent is a fellow soldier about to leave for the war. Vincent announces that his brother, Holden, has been declared missing in action. Gladwaller's relationship with his younger sister can be seen as a parallel to Caulfield's relationship with Phoebe.
"The Last and Best of the Peter Pans" relates the story of Vincent's (D.B.) draft questionnaire being hidden by his mother. The events occur just after the death of Kenneth (later renamed Allie) and reveal the anxiety of Mary Moriarity, an actress and Caulfield's mother. The story is notable for the appearance of Phoebe and Vincent's statements about a child crawling off a cliff.
In "The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls", Vincent (D.B.) recalls the day his brother Kenneth (Allie) died. The story is set at the Caulfield summer home on Cape Cod. Several details make their way from this story into Catcher, including the characterization of Allie; Allie's poetry-inscribed left-handed baseball mitt; Vincent's girlfriend, Helen, who keeps her kings in the back row (like Jane Gallagher); and Caulfield's critical view of others. While the cause of death in Catcher is leukemia, here it is due to an unspecified heart condition. Toward the end of the story, Kenneth and Vincent are on the beach. Kenneth decides to go swimming and is knocked out by a wave. Holden, just home from camp, is waiting on the porch with his suitcases as Vincent comes back with Kenneth's unconscious body. Kenneth dies later the same night. The story was reportedly sold to a magazine, only to be taken back by Salinger before publication.
Another short story of note with relationship to Caulfield is "The Boy in the People Shooting Hat", which was submitted to The New Yorker sometime between 1948 and 1949 but was never published. It focuses on a fight between two characters named Bobby and Stradlater over Bobby's feelings about Jane Gallagher. This story appears to form the basis for several key scenes in the first several chapters of The Catcher in the Rye.
In Seymour: An Introduction a Curtis Caulfield is mentioned in passing as "an exceptionally intelligent and likable boy" who appeared on the same radio show as Seymour and the other Glass children. He is reportedly "killed during one of the landings in the Pacific".
In "The Stranger", published in Collier's December 1, 1945, Babe Gladwaller and his sister Mattie (a proto-type for Phoebe) visit Vincent Caulfield's former girlfriend, now married, to tell her about his death and deliver a poem he wrote about her.
Holden Caulfield is one of the most enduring characters in 20th-century American fiction. It has been suggested that Salinger himself related so closely to Holden that he was protective of the character. This was the reason he was unwilling to allow filming of the book or use of the character by other writers. The Catcher in the Rye is required reading in many high school English courses, although it has been banned from some school libraries by parent and teacher groups opposed to its use of profanity and perceived glorification of rebellion.
- Saturday Evening Post, July 15, 1944
- Cliffs Notes: The Catcher in the Rye - Character Analysis: Holden Caulfield. Accessed 15 February 2013 Archived 17 February 2013 at the Wayback Machine
- Salinger, J. D. (2001). Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters; and Seymour: an introduction (1st Back Bay paperback ed.). Boston: Back Bay books. p. 225. ISBN 0-316-76694-1.
- "Holden Caulfield, It's Time We Let Go", Atlantic Wire, October 16, 2012. Accessed 15 February 2013
Salinger's uncollected short stories
- Slight Rebellion off Madison.
- In Japan, most of the short stories are already translated into Japanese (compiled in two volumes) and still commercially available with the approval of Salinger's agents (ISBN 4-7521-0001-0 / ISBN 4-7521-0002-9). Even Hapworth 16, 1924 is available (ISBN 4-7521-0004-5).