Study Guide

The Catcher in the Rye Youth

By J. D. Salinger

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Holden loves kids, but not in a creepy way. Really. He just thinks they’re cute little bundles of hilarious innocence: genuine, caring, and naturally kindhearted. In contrast, adults are “phony,” self-centered, and generally “bastards.” So, what’s he? Is teenaged Holden a phony bastard, or a kindhearted kid? And is “adolescence” just another word for “learning to be fake”? Catcher in the Rye doesn’t give us a clear answer—after all, it’s all told from Holden’s perspective—but it doesn’t look good.

All we have to say is—wait until Lord of the Flies is published in a few years, Holden. And then tell us how you feel about kids.

Questions About Youth

  1. What is it about children that Holden finds so much more appealing than adults?
  2. Is Holden more of a kid, or more of an adult? What defines these categories in The Catcher in the Rye?
  3. How is Holden like the teenagers around him—Ackley, Stradlater, Sally, etc.? Is he as different as he thinks he is?

Chew on This

Holden's unreliability makes it impossible for us to judge him as either a child or an adult.

What Holden thinks he likes about youth is just his idealized notion of what children are like. He's not in love with childhood; he's in love with a fantasy.

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