Study Guide

The Catcher in the Rye Youth

By J. D. Salinger

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Chapter 2
Holden Caulfield

"Boy!" I said. I also say "Boy!" quite a lot. Partly because I have a lousy vocabulary and partly because I act quite young for my age sometimes. I was sixteen then, and I'm seventeen now, and sometimes I act like I'm about thirteen. It's really ironical, because I'm six foot two and a half and I have gray hair. I really do. The one side of my head – the right side – is full of millions of gray hairs. I've had them ever since I was a kid. And yet I still act sometimes like I was only about twelve. Everybody says that, especially my father. It's partly true, too, but it isn't all true. People always think something's all true. I don't give a damn, except that I get bored sometimes when people tell me to act my age. Sometimes I act a lot older than I am – I really do – but people never notice it. People never notice anything. (2.22)

Is it just us, or does “I act quite young for my age sometimes” sound a lot like Holden’s just repeating something adults have said to him? Notice that one side of his head is all gray—as thought part of him is still a kid, and part of him is all adult. Sounds about right to us.

Chapter 10
Holden Caulfield

I ordered a Scotch and soda, and told him not to mix it—I said it fast as hell, because if you hem and haw, they think you're under twenty-one and won't sell you any intoxicating liquor. I had trouble with him anyway, though. "I'm sorry, sir," he said, "but do you have some verification of your age? Your driver's license, perhaps?" I gave him this very cold stare, like he'd insulted the hell out of me, and asked him, "Do I look like I'm under twenty-one?"

"I'm sorry, sir, but we have our—"

"Okay, okay," I say. I figured the hell with it. "Bring me a Coke." He started to go away, but I called him back. "Can'tcha stick a little rum in it or something?" I asked him. I asked him very nicely and all. "I can't sit in a corny place like this cold sober. Can'tcha stick a little rum in it or something?"

"I'm very sorry, sir…" he said, and beat it on me. I didn't hold it against him, though. They lose their jobs if they get caught selling to a minor. I'm a goddam minor. (10.6-10)

Holden doesn’t mind being young—right up until it prevents him from getting a drink. That’s the thing about growing up: you lose something things (like innocence) but you gain others—like the privilege of hangover. Hm. Doesn’t sound so appealing, when you put it like that.

It's immaterial to me," she said. "Hey—how old are you, anyhow?"

That annoyed me, for some reason. "Oh, Christ. Don't spoil it," I said. "I'm twelve, for Chrissake. I'm big for my age." (10.39-40)

Here’s a good reason to want to grow up: adults don’t take kids seriously. But do adults take each other seriously, either? Do we ever see two adults interacting—or is Holden’s perspective of adulthood skewed because he can only ever see it as something different and apart?

Chapter 16
Holden Caulfield

"She's prob'ly in the museum, then. We went last Saturday," the kid said.

"Which museum?" I asked her.

She shrugged her shoulders, sort of. "I don't know," she said. "The museum."

"I know, but the one where the pictures are, or the one where the Indians are?"

"The one where the Indians."

"Thanks a lot." (16.16-21)

Holden might have difficulty communicating with almost everyone, but he sure knows how to talk to a kid. He understands immediately that “Indians” are what she’ll remember.

She was having a helluva time tightening her skate. She didn't have any gloves on or anything and her hands were all red and cold. I gave her a hand with it. Boy, I hadn't had a skate key in my hand for years. It didn't feel funny, though. You could put a skate key in my hand fifty years from now and I'd still know what it is. She thanked me and all when I had tightened it for her. She was a very nice, polite little kid. God, I love it when a kid's nice and polite when you tighten their skate for them or something. Most kids are. They really are. I asked her if she'd care to have a hot chocolate or something with me, but she said no, thank you. She said she had to meet her friend. Kids always have to meet their friend. That kills me. (16.23)

Haha. Holden might know what a skate key is, but, uh, we had to ask our parents. (It’s a little key you’d use to tighten or loosen adjustable skates that you could put over your shoes.) In any case, this is like a kid from the ‘90s saying that she’d always recognize a pog—it’s just a part of childhood.

Chapter 18

The part that got me was, there was a lady sitting next to me that cried all through the goddam picture. The phonier it got, the more she cried. You'd have thought she did it because she was kindhearted as hell, but I was sitting right next to her, and she wasn't. She had this little kid with her that was bored as hell and had to go to the bathroom, but she wouldn't take him. She kept telling him to sit still and behave himself. She was about as kindhearted as a goddam wolf. (18.6)

You know how Holden thinks his brother is such a phony? This is why. Screenwriters make people care about the kids on screen and ignore the kids right next to them.

Chapter 21
Holden Caulfield

Old Phoebe didn't even wake up. When the light was on and all, I sort of looked at her for a while. She was laying there asleep, with her face sort of on the side of the pillow. You take adults, they look lousy when they're asleep, but kids don't. Kids look all right. They can even spit all over the pillow and they still look all right. (21.10)

Well, we actually have to agree with Holden about this. There’s just something so peaceful and innocent about kids sleeping—right up until they wake up and turn into little monsters, right? Right??

Phoebe Caulfield

She has about five thousand notebooks. […] I opened the one on top and looked at the first page. […]

Why has south eastern Alaska so many caning factories?
Because there's so much salmon
Why has it valuable forests?
because it has the right climate.
What has our government done to make
life easier for the Alaskan Eskimos?
look it up for tomorrow!!!
Phoebe Weatherfield Caulfield
Phoebe Weatherfield Caulfield
Phoebe Weatherfield Caulfield
Phoebe W. Caulfield
Phoebe Weatherfield Caulfield, Esq.
Please pass to Shirley!!!!
Shirley you said you were sagitarius
but your only Taurus bring your skates
when you come over to my house

[…] I can read that kind of stuff, some kid's notebook […] all day and all night long. Kid's notebooks kill me. (21.15-19)

Here we go: this is the least phony expression of thought we've seen so far in the novel. Phoebe just writes exactly what she’s thinking, no pretense about it.

Chapter 25

While I was waiting around for Phoebe in the museum, right outside the doors and all, these two little kids came up to me and asked if I knew where the mummies were. The one little kid, the one that asked me, had his pants open. I told him about it. So he buttoned them right up where he was standing talking to me – he didn't even bother to go behind a post or anything. He killed me. (25.21)

Another thing about hid: they never worry about being embarrassed. (That’s why your mom has all those pictures of you running around naked as a toddler.) Unlike all the "phonies" Holden runs into, these kids aren’t worried about appearances.

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