The Catcher in the Rye
by J. D. Salinger
In Chapter Nineteen, Holden admits that the main reason he called his childhood friend Carl Luce, besides wanting some company, is that old Luce was always good for a sex talk. Apparently, all he did at the Whooton school as a student adviser was "give these sex talks … late at night when there was a bunch of guys in his room" (19.3).
Nice. Bet the boys' parents would be glad to hear that.
Unfortunately for Holden, Carl isn't so much into the open sex talks anymore. Instead, he's all "I'm SO sophisticated and worldly I can't even talk to you right now." Ugh. Except that The funny part is that Carl obviously wants Holden to know about his sex life. Carl lets it drop that he's dating a much older woman, that she's Chinese, "if you must know" (19.28). You see, he "simply happen[s] to find Eastern philosophy more satisfactory than Western. Since you ask" (19.47).
We say again: ugh. To us, it sounds a lot like Carl used sex as a way to make friends and get attention, and now he's using sex … to get attention. If Holden is looking to Carl for advice about how to be sexually mature, we think he'd better keep looking.
Carl doesn't exactly bring out the best in Holden, and we see Holden for the first time as a badgering kid rather than a pensive, compassionate guy. Look at the line, "Wuddaya mean 'Philosophy'? Ya mean sex and all? You mean it's better in China?" (19.48). This is not exactly the sensitive, compassionate Holden who refused to sleep with a prostitute because he couldn't help seeing her as an individual. (Oh, you missed that part? Check out Sunny's "Character Analysis" to catch up.)
But Carl's worldliness somehow convinces Holden to open up to him—maybe because Holden thinks he's so silly. As annoying as Carl is, Holden begs him to stay for another drink ("Please. I'm lonesome as hell" [19.79]).
Is He or Isn't He?
Truth: is Carl gay? (Or "flitty," which was apparently the slang back then.) Holden seems to suspect he is, or at least to have suspected at some point in the past. Luce, he says, was always talking about other people being gay. He also engaged in what Holden called "flitty" activities around the dorm, like talking to boys while they were brushing their teeth. (Um, okay.)
Sure, it could be that Luce is gay and faking being super into sex to cover it up. Then again, maybe, Luce isn't gay, in which case (1) Holden needs to stop suspecting this of men he knows, and (2) we're starting to suspect Holden a little bit.Carl Luce Timeline