Study Guide

D.B. Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye

By J. D. Salinger

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D.B. Caulfield

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Only Holden could make becoming a successful Hollywood screenwriter into some sort of failure. D.B. is Holden's older brother is a screenwriter in Hollywood. He used to write great stories—so great, in fact, that Holden credits him (twice) with being his favorite writer. D.B. is the height of phoniness in Holden's mind because he's sacrificed his art (writing stories) for money (writing screenplays). In short, he's a sell-out.

(We pause here to note that Salinger has never let Catcher in the Rye be adapted into a movie. You can draw your own conclusions.)

But D.B.’s just one more phony in a world full of phonies. What really matters about D.B. is that he was in the war and was apparently quite traumatized by the whole thing. Let’s take a nice long look at what Holden says about D.B. and the war:

My brother D.B. was in the Army for four goddam years. He was in the war, too—he landed on D-Day and all—but I really think he hated the Army worse than the war. I was practically a child at the time, but I remember when he used to come home on furlough and all, all he did was lie on his bed, practically. He hardly ever even came in the living room. Later, when he went overseas and was in the war and all, he didn't get wounded or anything and he didn't have to shoot anybody. All he had to do was drive some cowboy general around all day in a command car. He once told Allie and I that if he'd had to shoot anybody, he wouldn't've known which direction to shoot in. He said the Army was practically as full of bastards as the Nazis were. I remember Allie once asked him wasn't it sort of good that he was in the war because he was a writer and it gave him a lot to write about and all. He made Allie go get his baseball mitt and then he asked him who was the best war poet, Rupert Brooke or Emily Dickinson. Allie said Emily Dickinson. (18.7)

Thought (1): D.B. reminds us a little of Holden here, with his “the Army was practically as full of bastards as the Nazis were.” Is Holden upset that D.B. has sold out not just by writing screenplays, but by all of a sudden deciding that the world isn’t full of bastards and phonies?

Thought (2): the image of D.B. lying on his bed and staring at the ceiling really reminds us that, for all that WWII was painted as such a noble war, it was still a way—with brutal effects on the people actually fighting it.

Thought (3): when Allie says that Emily Dickinson is a better war poet than Rupert Brooks, Salinger is making the point that you don’t have to live through war to understand war—Rupert Brooks actually fought in World War I, while Emily Dickinson basically lived in her father’s house her entire life.

We have to ask: between D.B., Allie, and Phoebe, is Holden’s entire family full of precociously wise children? And, if so, how can their parents possibly put up the dinner-table conversation?

D.B. Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye Study Group

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