As the school year comes to an end, we have just finished reading our final book, “The Catcher in the Rye.”  Holden is an extremely unusual character and through his actions an important question is posed, “Do people mean what they say and say what they mean?”

© 2014 by Georgie Pauwels

Throughout the novel, Holden constantly rambles on and on about anything and everything that comes to his mind.  Like a small child with a low attention span, Holden jumps from topic to topic and bombards the reader with his opinions.  Because of his sporadic storytelling, Holden becomes an unreliable narrator and we can only see what is occuring through his eyes and through what he is thinking.  Many of the scenes are controversial and the reader is uncertain of what is really happening or if Holden is telling the truth.  Holden describes himself as a “compulsive liar” and it’s clear through his calling of everyone a phony that he views himself as better than everyone else.  This bias and lying makes the reader question his narration.  For example, in chapter 8 while riding the train, Holden tells a long series of lies to one of his classmate’s mother.  In his mind he thinks, “Her son was the biggest bastard that ever went to Pencey.”  But then he makes up a story about how the kid is adored by the student body and was the unanimous choice for class president.  Holden’s loneliness and lying cause him to often not mean what he says.

© 2009 by meddygarnet

I think that the main reason Holden fails in school and keeps gettting kicked out is because he feels that he doesn’t belong with the rest of the students.  He tries very hard to preserve his youth and reject change, signified by his precious red hunting hat which he wears to set him apart from everyone else and protect him from adulthood.  The only people he ever is genuinely happy around are kids.  When asked what he would like to be by Pheobe, Holden says that he would like to be a catcher in the rye.  In the poem by Robert Burns, thousands of kids are playing games in a big field of rye next to the edge of a cliff.  Holden says that his job would be to catch the kids that fall off the cliff.  The field represents the innocence of youth and the cliff represents the death of youthfullness and the transition to adulthood.  Through this symbol and the museum, Holden makes it clear that he wants to preserve youthfulness at all costs.

Because Holden feels he doesn’t belong in society, he often lies and says things he doesn’t mean to strike up conversations.  It doesn’t really seem like he has many friends.  His roommate Stradlater and the kid next door Ackley both seem disgusted by Holden yet he talks to them and seeks their company although appearing to hate them.  When Holden first gets back to his room in Chapter 3, Ackley begins bothering Holden tremendously.  Holden expresses his annoyance but ironically does something extremely kind to keep Ackley in his company for a while longer.  Ackley asks Holden for some scissors and Holden climbs all the way up into his closet, nearly “getting killed” doing so.  Holden then hands him the scissors and says, “You have a damn good sense of humor, Ackley kid.”  But Holden really doesn’t mean this.  Shortly after, Holden talks about his roomate, calling him a nice guy and handsome and Holden even lets him borrow his jacket and writes a composition homework assignment for him.  But then when Stradlater returns from his date, Holden’s view of him changes tremendously and he begins yelling at him and even attempts to punch him.

© 2009 by Gryphes

Later in the story, Holden calls Sally to taker her on a date even though he doesn’t really want to.  Throughout the date he expresses his distaste in his mind but doesn’t really let Sally know that he doesn’t like her.  Finally their conversation reaches a boiling point when Holden asks Sally if she wants to run away with him.  When she declines Holden slips and says he hates her and that she’s a pain in his ass.  Sally begins to cry and Holden says he apologizes “like a madman,” but his apology means nothing to him.  Holden feels “sort of sorry” but then thinks about it and says it’s funny and begins to laugh.  This is probably the most inconsiderate thing to do at this point and just shows how immature he is.

But during this moment, Holden for the first time says that he “meant it when he asked her.”  Although he didn’t say what he meant and destroyed the entire situation, he meant it when he had asked.  Immediately though, Holden says it was a terrible mistake and calls himself a madman.  This shows his reluctance to throw around words without any meaning and his rejection of showing his true feelings.

This rejection of his feelings is also shown through Jane.  It is pretty clear that Holden has feelings for Jane when he blows up on Stradlater but he never actually expresses his feelings to Jane and says what he means.  Several times he thinks of calling her and he even does call her but then suddenly hangs up because he doesn’t have the courage to say something he actually means.  This kind of fear further shows his refusance to change himself.  For so long he’s distanced himself and its hard for him to move on and open up.  So in conclusion, Holden often doesn’t mean what he says and is aso unable to say what he means.

© 2007 by Mara 1

In my experience, the answer to this question all depends on the situation.  Sometimes it’s hard to find the words and the courage to say what you mean.  For example, I often lose my words and am unable to communicate what I mean when I get nervous.  This occurs during presentations, or really any situation when there’s a chance at failure.  Fear is really a terrible thing because of its limitations.  Just like Holden cannot express his feelings to Jane.

In addition, sometimes I say things that I don’t really mean.  For example, there are some phrases people use that really have no meaning.  For example, a lot of people ask questions like “how are you” and say “nice to meet you.”  But a lot of times they don’t really mean it and they’re just saying it to be polite.  Also, it’s pretty sad but some terms have lost their meaning in the modern age from the media and tv/entertainment, etc.  For example, people throw around the term “I love you” like it means nothing even though it should be reserved for when you actually mean it.  In addition, people insult and say hurtful things to be funny, even though they may not mean it.  But it still hurts people.  For these reasons, I can see why Holden wants to stay young and ignorant with time never changing.

© 2009 by tourist_on_earth

Like I said previously, a lot of the media today is causing things to mean nothing and ruining our youth culture.  For example, the popular show “The Bachelor.”  On the bachelor, a bunch of girls are competing to marry this one guy.  Throughout the show, the hope is that the guy will find one girl to fall in love with.  But this is practically destroying what true love should be like.  This guy is seeing several girls at once, telling each one he loves them and telling them things he doesn’t actually mean just for tv effect and to create drama, but ultimately just to make the television network money.  These kinds of shows are hugely popular and people are even fanatic, choosing sides and who they like the best.  Most of the marraiges end up failing miserably and many times they break up the engagement before even getting married.  These kinds of values are portrayed through lots of other media and divorce rates across the United States are sky rocketing.  It’s really sad that networks will degrade the values of our society just to make money.

The same is with advertisements.  Most of the time they don’t care one bit about you.  Advertisements and images in tabloids are all fake and also just trying to make some money.  The best word to describe them is phony.  Magazine headlines, company slogans, advertisements; none of them mean what they express in their commercials.  For example, State Farm’s catch phrase, “Like a good neighbor State Farm is there.”  Watching these commerciails honestly makes me want to buy their insurance because its funny and makes you feel good.  But this is exaclty what they want you to think.  The words “like a good neighbor” are supposed to stir good feelings and make you want to buy it.  I’m sure the company has great intentions and tries to be helpful and nice, but they just don’t mean what they say.  State Farm doesn’t just magically appear and help you.  Now that I think of it, it’s pretty sad how many things are said that aren’t meant.  In our society it just kind of flies by and nobody really pays attention to what is happening.  It’s funny, after all of this I actually appreciate Holden and understand him more.

© 2011 by Chris Smith

– Jesse


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