Caulfield Is a Victim of Major Misunderstanding

By Faith Gonia

While reading J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, I encountered more swearing than I ever had in a book required for English class. 

The vehement culprit? Fiery, all-too-teenage Holden Caulfield.

Apathetic at his expulsion from boarding school, Caulfield books a hotel in New York City in an effort to draw out facing his parents. In his short-lived trek, he has various experiences with strangers, former friends, and his beloved little sister Phoebe, all while repeatedly expressing a contempt for the adult world. 

A mistakenly simplistic (and rather broad) audience loathes Caulfield for his supposed selfishness and immaturity. Appalled by the boy’s champion for insulting profanity, they argue Caulfield’s frequent use of brash language illustrates his sweeping flaw: coarse judgment of others while he himself is incredibly superficial. Truly, Caulfield views life through a cynical lens. To describe those around him, he uses the word “phony” a comical total of thirty-five times throughout the novel. However, characterizing the teen as rude and egotistical misrepresents his—though hidden—virtuous motivations. 

Critics concentrate on Caulfield’s fixation with “phoniness.” But perhaps Caulfield’s hatred of adult-pretension is truly a fear of his own. Innocence attracts Caulfield; he dreams of saving children from falling off of a cliff in his fantasy as a “catcher in the rye.” Troubled with two deaths of children around him, he idolizes eternal youth, thus creating an unease regarding adulthood. His outward comments expose a gnawing anxiety. 

I find it pitifully ironic that Caulfield fights misconceptions throughout the narrative, only to be chronically misunderstood by Salinger’s audience. Now I’m not saying that Holden Caulfield exemplifies the gold standard of behavior. But let’s face it, we’re all a bit apprehensive about the future no matter the stage of life, so why judge a teenager for it?