Catcher in the Rye: Holden’s Side vs. Other Perspectives
Holden tells us his story in Catcher in the Rye. He also flat out tells us he’s the biggest liar in the world, the “most terrific liar.” How do you suppose others in the narrative view him?
YOUR TASK: Your job is to write a 1st person narrative from the perspective of ONE of the characters listed below. Use the prose dialogue format (not play writing), include descriptions of action and setting, and “inner thoughts” of your character, just as Holden gives us his. Your 1st person narrative should include the thoughts of your character as they interact with Holden. Include the core elements of the exchange between Holden and the character. Use the novel as the loose truth.
Select one of the following dialogues to re-write from the other’s perspective…. Reread the scene and imagine what she or he might be thinking. Be sure to describe Holden’s appearance and behavior.
Mr. Spencer (7-10)
Ackley (19 ff)
Mrs. Morrow (54-58)
Bernice Krebs (70-75)
Cab driver Horwitz (81-83)
Lillian Simmons (86)
Sally Hayes (124-133) & (150-151)
Carl Luce (142-149)
In your narrative, keep the essence of what Holden says, but remember that people remember and perceive things differently. We also tend to go into self-preservation mode (i.e., “I am right.”), so it is likely, for example, that Carl and Sally will feel “right” or justified in his/her actions, interpretation, and reaction.
Sample: from Mr. Spencer’s POV (pages 7-10)
Like a play, prose dialogue alternates characters: what they say and do. Every new paragraph is indented.
“Holden,” I exclaimed, “get off my foot!” This dialogue is one sentence interrupted by action, so you can see that ‘get’ is lowercase. If it were a new sentence, it would be capitalized.
Holden said, “Ouchie.” See how the period is WITHIN the quotation marks?
“Holden?” I asked.
“Holden?” she asked.
“Holden?” She looked around carefully.
“Holden!” I yelled.
Actual words verbatim from text / dialogue
When Holden walked in, I could tell he was not feeling too happy to be here. It isn’t very often that a student came to visit me, but Holden was an unusual student. Great aptitude, but terrible attitude. I’d learned earlier from my wife since I was home sick that he’d been kicked out of Pencey – his third expulsion. Now, here he was, in my room. He looked green.
“Have a seat there, boy,” I said. My papers were stacked everywhere, so I gestured towards the foot of my bed. “M’boy, if I felt any better I’d have to send for the doctor,” I said. I chuckled at my own joke.
He didn’t laugh at my joke. He sat uncomfortably, awkward. I noticed that his hands trembled and he smelled of cigarettes. Something red and wooly was half-hanging out of his pocket.
“Why aren’t you down at the game? I thought this was the day of the big game.” I fumbled for small talk with this silent rock.
“It is,” Holden replied sullenly. “I was.” He looked befuddled. “Only, I just got back from New York with the fencing team.” His eyes looked off into some distance.
“So, you’re leaving us, eh?” I tried to be gentle, but I was very disappointed with Holden. He could have been a star student, but instead, he slacked. He slacked on everything, and without shame.
“Yes, sir. I guess I am,” he said, looking at his hands, then his shoes.
I imagined he wondered where he was going next. I nodded my head. I wanted to be supportive. “What did Mr. Thurmer say to you, boy? I understand you had quite a little chat.” I bet Thurmer read him the riot act. That guy was no nonsense. Nothing warm and fuzzy about him. He only cared about this grad rates and ivy league counts. There was no place at Pencey for a slacker like Holden, no matter how rich or smart.
“Yes, we did. We really did. I was in his office for around two hours, I guess,” he said. He seemed to wince as he recalled.
I hoped old Thurmer hadn’t beaten the poor kid. “What he say to you?” I asked, with some trepidation.
“Oh...,” Holden looked to the ceiling. “Well, about Life being a game and all. And how you should play it according to the rules. He was pretty nice about it. I mean he didn’t hit the ceiling or anything. He just kept talking about Life being a game and all. You know.”
I was relieved to hear it. “Life is a game, boy!” I said enthusiastically. “Life is a game that one plays according to the rules!” I was so excited. I wanted to get through to him.
Holden did not appear enthused by pep talk. He said, “Yes, sir. I know it is. I know it.” He did not sound convinced. If I knew anything about this kid, he was a non-conformist all the way. He would never play the game. He looked bitter, as if he’s swallowed a handful of lemon rinds.
“Has Dr. Thurmer written to your parents yet?”
Holden’s bitter expression did not vanish. He spat, “He said he was going to write them Monday.”
This kid needed real guidance. Why weren’t his parents more involved with him? “Have you yourself communicated with them?” I asked. I already knew he hadn’t.
“No, sir, I haven’t communicated with them, because I’ll probably see them Wednesday night when I get home.” He looked sad, really sad.
But he deserved it. I got angry. He did this to himself, even with all the opportunities I had given him. Hell, even the opportunities his parents had given him, sending him to superior prep school after superior prep school.
He seemed to sense my ire. He said, rationally, “Well … they’ll be pretty irritated about it. They really will. This is about the fourth school I’ve gone to.” He shook his head like a lost puppy.
I tried to counteract this shaking with some nodding. Keep it positive, I thought to myself. Make this a teachable moment. “I had the privilege of meeting your mother and dad when they had their little chat Dr. Thurmer some weeks ago. They’re grand people.” I sat up in bed. Teachable moment, I thought again. “What is wrong with you boy? How many subjects did you carry this term?”
Holden told me he failed four of his five core subjects, barely passing English.
“I flunked you in history because you knew absolutely nothing.” I was getting angrier now. Who did he think he was, wasting my time?
“I know that, sir. Boy, I know it. You couldn’t help it.” He was truly pathetic.
I was flabbergasted. “Absolutely nothing.” There were few moments in my career when I had seen a kid produce so little and seem to have so little remorse.