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Holden’s Sexual Confusion in The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger Essay

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The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger is a coming-of-age novel set in New York during the 1940’s. Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of the story, is a detached seventeen-year old boy harboring feelings of isolation and disillusionment. He emphasizes a general dislike for society, referring to people as “phonies.” His lack of will to socialize prompts him to find nearly everything depressing. He’s alone most of the time and it’s apparent that he is very reclusive. This often leads him to pondering about his own death and other personal issues that plague him without immediate resolution. Holden possesses a strong deficit of affection – platonic and sexual – that hinders and cripples his views toward people, his attitude, and his ability to progressively solve his problems without inflicting pain on himself. The absence of significant figures in his life revert him to a childlike dependency and initiate his morbid fascination with sexuality. In this novel, Salinger uses Sunny, Sally Hayes, and Carl Luce to incorporate the hardships of discovering sexual identity and how these events affect adolescents as they try to understand their own sexuality.
Sunny embodies what Holden desperately wants and fears – physical affection. Prior to meeting Maurice, Holden is feeling “depressed and all” (Salinger 116) and “sort of lousy” (116). His negative feelings beforehand initiate him to make a decision he otherwise would not have made –agreeing to hire a prostitute - but acknowledges that “it was too late now” (119) to invalidate what, arguably, he commits to purely on impulse. He feels “a little nervous” (120) because sex is a novelty for him – he’s had “quite a few opportunities” (120) to engage in intercourse, yet hasn’t gotten around t...


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...ually nonexistent. Luce symbolizes how Holden wishes he could be – active sexually, and the absence of that in his life causes him great distress.
Holden’s sexual struggles are visible through his interactions with Sunny, Sally Hayes, and Carl Luce. Holden’s fascination with sex interferes with his elevated morals; as much as he wants to engage in intercourse, he voices his need to establish an emotional connection with his partner first, which prevents him from having casual sex. As much as physical intimacy is important to him, Holden needs to be taken care of and understood emotionally, as well, displaying that he holds sex in high regards and does not view it as something to be done carelessly. Holden just needs to be loved; but, unfortunately, his romantic life is sub-par at best, and until that changes, he’ll always feel confused – and very, very lonely.



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