Sex and Judgement in 'Catcher in the Rye'

Modified: 20th Aug 2021
Wordcount: 1086 words

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In The Catcher in the Rye J.D. Salinger makes a point of showing multiple motifs of sex and judgment. Through the main character Holden, Salinger says that sex is a sacred thing, but also something of the adult world. It is ‘corrupted’ according to Holden. Salinger shows that sex hurts innocent people, mostly children. We also see that Holden judges a persons’ character immediately, he “reads a book by its cover”. The author shows that this is a horrible thing to do, as with Holden’s encounter with Mr. Antolini, because he shoves away people who try to help him. Salinger shows through Holden that sex is sacred and something not to be taken lightly and that people should not judge others because those you judge may be trying to help you.

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One idea Holden does not try to shove away is sex. Holden says that he is “the biggest sex maniac you ever saw” (Salinger 62). However, he does believe that “sex is a physical and spiritual experience,” not a casual occurrence (146). Salinger shows this when Holden says “I keep stopping” (92). Holden never rapes women because he respects them fully, like in the case of the prostitute. He could have easily had sex with Sunny, but did not because he felt sorry for and respected her and her body, partly because she was so young. Holden has never had sex because he is too scared of the thought. When Holden says”Sex is just something I don’t understand,” the author is saying that sex is something sacred and reserved for the adult world (63).

Holden hates it when sex is treated as an everyday happening, as with Sunny. Holden does not “have a go” with her because he thinks of her “going into a store and buying [her] green dress, and nobody in the store knowing she was a prostitute” (96). Holden did not think he would get a prostitute who was “young as hell,” and it makes him sad that such a young girl would have to be involved with prostitution thus losing the rest of her life to mindless sex (99). Holden strongly believes that “A girl isn’t a prostitute or anything” (92). Therefore, when he says that talented people who showboat their gifts are ‘prostitutes’, he thinks they are doing something that just isn’t right and consequently doing something that should not be done. For example, Holden’s’ brother D.B. used to be a great writer according to Holden, but then “he went out to Hollywood and prostituted himself” (82). Ernie, the famous pianist, is “prostituting” his talents and “being very phony” when he plays, and “he sounds like the kind of guy that won’t talk to you unless you’re a big a big shot” (80, 82). Holden thinks talent should be considered a sacred thing, much like sex; “If I was a piano player, I’d play in the closet” (84).

In the book, Holden also sees how sex hurts innocent people. Maurice, a pimp, hurts Holden when “he snapped his fingers very hard on [Holden’s] pajamas it hurt like hell” (102). Maurice sexually violates Holden, much in the same way the bullies violate James Castle. Phil Stabile, one of the bullies, rapes James Castle because he won’t take back a derogatory statement; “I won’t even tell you what they did to him-it’s too repulsive- but he still wouldn’t take it back” (170). Stradlater is one person who Holden hates because he rapes women; “He’d start snowing his date in this quiet, sincere voice. His date would keep saying ‘No, please. Please don’t.’ And then there’d be this terrific silence” (49). Holden and Stradlater even get into a fight because Holden thinks Stradlater raped Jane, the woman (other than Phoebe) that Holden loves and respects the most.

Holden cares about little kids just as much as he cares about Jane, and their innocence is something Holden tries desperately to save. When he goes to Phoebe’s school, he sees ‘Fuck You’ written on the wall. He thinks about how “all the little kids would see it wonder what it meant and some dirty kid would tell them” (201). Holden does not want the kids to know about sex this early in their lives, so he wipes it off in order to protect their innocence. However, this all adds to the fact that Holden is already an adult who has lost his innocence because he knows about sex, and he’s even tried and craved for it.

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Mr. Antolini thinks differently, that Holden is on the track for “some kind of a terrible, terrible fall,” but Holden has not fallen yet (186). Mr. Antolini loves Holden as a student, a human, as a friend needing saving, and so he gives him a lot of advice on how to sidestep what seems like a un-avoidable fate to Holden. J.D. Salinger shows how much Mr. Antolini loves and cares for Holden when he is petting Holden’s hair. However, Holden mistakes this for Mr. Antolini being a homosexual pervert and leaves quickly. This scene adds to the fact that Holden judges people almost immediately by their outward appearance. He leaves the house of the man who is one of the few in his life that cares for him, just because of the way the man expresses his care is a little creepy to Holden. Holden judges Mrs. Antolini because when she walks in she “didn’t look too gorgeous… pretty old and all,” without her makeup on (185). He judges people because they may look or act like flits. Holden thinks that “half the married guys in the world are flits,” and he even starts pointing out flits to Luce, none of whom he has even talked to or found out if they are actually gay or not (143). Holden labels almost everyone he meets as a phony usually with almost no reasoning to go on.

J.D. Salinger argues in his book that sex and judgment, though a vital part of life, should be used with respect and caution. Don’t judge people before getting to know them. If you do, then you may run away from those who are trying to help you. Salinger also says that sexuality hurts innocent children. It can ruin a great deal of their life, such as Sunny’s life of prostitution, and sex can ruin someone’s life entirely as shown through the suicide of James Castle. Even though sex hurts people, Salinger argues that it can become something more, such as the Asian woman Luce loves when regarding sex as a spiritual experience. The author shows this Holden because he respects women and stops when they tell him to, but also when he doesn’t ‘have a go’ with Sunny because he does not want to take part in destroying part of the life of someone so young. Sex hurts innocence, and in the adult world it is something evil unless fully respected by all parties involved.


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