Holden Caulfield is one of those characters that provokes strong emotions. All at once, he is a whiny phony talking about other whiny phonies and a youth seeing the world through the eyes of the young. No matter how you view him, one of the ultimately relatable things that keep Holden alive is the way he enraptured the sheer frustration of youth. So, while overall opinions on Salinger’s well-known creation will always vary, I will present one scene and three reasons for you to find Holden Caulfield at least a little bit more likeable.
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.”
1. We’ve all been here at one point.
“I’m a goddam minor.” The previous statement sums up so much of Holden’s story and at least a small part of our own. We all remember at least one moment in our life when we wanted to be older. Holden is at a point where he wants to be taken seriously and sees himself as someone who can pass as a mature man about town. However, the truth is (brace for the shock) he is just another teenager trying to order a drink. When we search our past these moments of false maturity, no matter how terrifyingly awful, exist. We were Holden once.
2. He does have a level of respect.
While Holden might hate people but he does know how to treat them properly on occasion. Basically, Holden might be a whiny entitled brat, but he still has a sense of respect for the working man. The bartender refuses to serve the underage Caulfield alcohol and Holden responds by asking again politely and then accepting it. He could have railed on about how rich his parents are or tried to bribe the man, but he doesn’t. Even for as entitled he is, Holden still has a sense of humility and some dignity. Sure Holden could be a better example of a human being, but he also could be a lot worse.
3. Holden is unaware.
There is none so blind as he who will not see. While Holden’s hypocrisy about his own superficiality and phoniness is admittedly hard to find likeable, the fact that it is filtered through a distorted sense of self perception make Holden more bearable. Yes Holden is a phony but his own words say it best; “How would you know you weren’t being a phony? The trouble is you wouldn’t.”
While Holden is tough to like, there are moments of his maturity, immaturity, phoniness, and genuineness that help to keep Catcher in the Rye on those best books and must read lists. Though you might have read and formed an opinion about Holden when you were assigned the book in high school, try running through the rye one more time and see if your opinion of our teenaged protagonist changed with time.