The Catcher in the Rye Passage Analysis
On my right, the conversation was even worse, though. On my right there was this very Joe Yale-looking guy, in a gray flannel suit and one of those flitty-looking Tattersal vests. All those Ivy League bastards look alike. My father wants me to go to Yale, or maybe Princeton, but I swear I wouldn’t go to one of those Ivy League colleges if I was dying, for God’s sake. Anyway, this Joe Yale-looking guy had a terrific-looking girl with him. Boy, she was good-looking.
But you should’ve heard the conversation they were having. In the first place, they were both slightly crooked. What he was doing, he was giving her a feel under the table, and at the same time telling her all about some guy in his dorm that had eaten a whole bottle of aspirin and nearly committed suicide. His date kept saying to him, “How horrible… Don’t, darling. Please, don’t. Not here. ” Imagine giving somebody a feel and telling them about a guy committing suicide at the same time! They killed me. ” pg. 112
This passage of the Catcher in the Rye connects very clearly with the theme of sexuality and also serves to characterize Holden. The first part of the passage is more of characterization. Holden says that “[his] father wants [him] to go to Yale, or maybe Princeton, but [he] swear[s] [he] wouldn’t go to one of those Ivy League colleges if [he] was dying. ” Here, besides the characterization of Holden, it is easy to identify that his father is also characterized. He misunderstands Holden wishes, or perhaps disregards them entirely.
The father wants Holden to become exactly what Holden hates, which is an “Ivy League bastard” that will be just like all of the other upper class young men that Holden criticizes as phony or crumby, like Stradlater. In this case, Holden wouldn’t go “if [he] was dying,” which is a slight hint that he wouldn’t go to the school even if it could save him. He means that he doesn’t believe those types of schools could help him at all, so he would rather die. Here Salinger characterizes Holden’s suicidal manner, or becoming of it, even if written in a seemingly joking way.
This is another characteristic of Salinger’s writing and characterization of Holden. A grave matter, such as Allies death from leukemia, is always treated lightly because Holden himself does not realize the deep impact such events had on him. Holden is always characterized indirectly, which is what is happening in the beginning of the passage with his repulse towards Ivy League schools and members. The second part of the passage is focused on how Holden views sexuality. While he is alone at his table isolating himself, this couple slightly older than him sits beside him.
Although he criticizes the guy as an “Ivy League bastard” who looks like all others, he describes the girl as “terrific-looking. ” Here we can assume that Holden is more affected by the men’s sexuality than with women’s behaviors. In this case, it is the guy who is “giving her a feel under the table. ” In other areas of the book, he criticizes Stradlater’s actions, how Carl Luce used to be, and even Mr. Antolini’s possible harassment towards him. However, Jane Gallagher who goes out with Stradlater, does not receive any sort of criticism from Holden.
She is, of course, a type of muse to him from his childhood before he became traumatized by Allie’s death. Jane could be a reason why he does not criticise women so much. Another possible explanation might be that Holden himself is a man, which would make him more defensive and scared of he himself becoming dirty and impure like some guys he knows. This defensiveness could be portrayed by the constant deceive of attention into sexual actions of other men.
Besides the physical appearance of the couple, Holden also mentions their mentality by describing “the conversation they were having. Once again, the guy is the one who leads the corrupted actions. He talks to the girl about “some guy in his dorm that had eaten a whole bottle of aspirin and nearly committed suicide. ” Holden is amazed and shocked about the subject the couple could be talking about while trying to be sexually pleased. Here Holden is criticizing sexuality’s lack of sensibility, since such a topic like death should not be discussed at such a time. Again, just like with Allie’s trauma, the motif of death is treated lightly by being mentioned during a date.
The idea that this boy “nearly committed suicide” can also lead the leader to tie this passage back to the James Castle incident. In Holden’s views, J. C died for a noble cause (standing up for a belief) and is also idealized by Holden. Ivy League guys, such as the ones who led Castle to his death and the one from the passage on a date, treat the subject ordinarily and don’t give as much meaning to the action of suicide as Holden does. This ties back to Holden’s condemnation of phoniness because he stereotypes these rich men as insensible and corrupt.
They have religiously sinned and been through the Fall of Men while Holden himself identifies better with James Castle’s (Jesus’s) actions and thinks he can save himself and others (children) from becoming corrupt or falling over the cliff. In other terms, he portrays sexuality as something impure because he himself cannot understand it like these other corrupted men. Overall, this passage is a characterization of Holden’s beliefs through themes, the main one being sexuality. This passage of Holden’s description about a couple at a bar actually serves as a characterization of himself and a way to convey themes in the novel.
Holden is characterized in the beginning when he states he wouldn’t want to go to an Ivy League school. He is described indirectly by Salinger as a teenager who will not mature to become like the older men he sees because he has reason to believe they have all conformed to being corrupt. This also ties to the theme of Holden’s alienation as a form of protection, because Holden is alone and is actually a virgin. In the second part of the passage, Holden continues to be characterized but this time through the theme of sexuality. He criticizes men who are very sexual because he thinks sexuality is also something corrupt.
Salinger manages to show this through the conversation the couple is having — one about suicide and death — and still manage to be sexual while discussing such topic. This passage of Holden’s description about a couple at a bar actually serves as a characterization of himself and a way to convey themes such as sexuality in the novel.