Holden Caulfield

Holden Caulfield

Holden Caulfield

Holden Caulfield

Excerpt

As a literary character, Holden Caulfield has now demonstrated his durability and likely permanence. Forty years of readership have not dimmed his poignance, his ability to represent the idealism and the refusal to be deceived that have marked the American tradition of representing adolescence. He holds his place in the sequence that goes from Huck Finn through Huck's descendants in Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, and Faulkner, on to the outraged protagonists of Philip Roth's moral fictions. What Toqueville called our "habits of the heart," the American balances between individualism and social concern, continue to find a crucial representative in Holden, whose appeal has survived the enormous changes in American sensibility over these last forty years.

Holden's literary strength has little to do with his author's overt religious concerns, whether Buddhist or Christian. Haunted always by a brother's death, Holden evades the adolescent obsession with the sexual drive only to yield himself to the shadows of the Death Drive. His pathos is that of the survivor who can find no guidance in the art of survival. Teachers, parents, sages are unavailable to him, primarily because of his borderline sense that maturity and deathliness are the same state, an illusion of identity that in itself is deathly. The innocent and the beautiful, Yeats wrote, have no enemy except time, but poor Holden is too belated to make so confident a High Romantic assertion.

Holden essentially is a narrative voice, stemming directly from Fitzgerald's Nick Carraway, with Huck Finn hovering farther back. The largest difference is that Holden is desperate; even his humor balances on the verge of madness. Still, his desperation is vivacious; he is on the verge, but always with verve. All readers receive him into their affection, which may be the largest clue to his book's enduring charm. As a representation of a sixteen-year-old youth, the portrait of Holden achieves a timeless quality that is at variance with the novel's true status as a period piece, a vision of America in the aftermath of World War II. The timelessness of Salinger's hero has less to do with his refusal to mature than with his religious refusal of time. The American Religion, almost from its origins, has been closer to Gnos-

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