Allie and Phoebe: Death and Love in J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye by David Burrows

MLA Citation:

Burrows, David J. “Allie and Phoebe: Death and Love in J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.”Private Dealings: Modern American Writers in Search of Integrity. Rockville, MD: New Perspectives, 1974. 106-14. Print.

First Paragraph:

“Literary passions were not easily formed among America’s youth in the 1950’s. But during those years many students in high schools and colleges discovered, through J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, that “literature” did not mean the, to them, dull poetry and fiction of their text books. After the novel’s appearance in 1951, its fame began to spread by word-of-mouth, until something of an underground “Catcher cult” existed throughout the country. The speech mannerisms of Holden Caulfield, the book’s protagonist and narrator, were carefully imitated, and a generation of young Americans perceived through Holden the extent to which the world was divided between the “phonies” and the “nice” people, the former comprising the vast majority of the population. Then, in the late 1950’s, young college and high school teachers, themselves having been deeply affected by the book six or eight years earlier, introduced it formally into the classroom, and thus within a decade of its publication it reached the stature of an American “classic”.”


Burrows notes that many attempts to explain Catcher’s popularity have been sociological. Burrows suggests that instead of fear of acquiescence to the adult world of the “phonies” Holden’s  clear psychological concern is actually with death. (Burrows almost move in the direction of reader response critique here, but narrowly avoids it, instead going in a psychoanalytic direction.) Burrows reinterprets the scene between Holden and Mr. Antolini, not as sexual perversion, but instead as an instance of Antolini mourning for his own childhood and lost innocence. Burrows discusses the scenes in Catcher in which Holden indicates that he is headed for a “fall” (one with Antolini, and one on his walk uptown where he felt that every step off a curb would send him into the abyss) as evocative of the notion of death and Holden’s spontaneous concern for Phoebe as a result of his own (as yet unrealized, or at least unacknowledged) feelings about Allie. Burrows also notes of Holden a tendency towards perfectionism (as when he was unable to throw the snowball out the window while Ackley is getting ready). Burrows further suggests that this is the driving force behind Holden’s fascination with the static environment of the Museum of Natural History. Burrows also notes that characters such as Maurice and Stradlater are threats not only to Holden’s innocence, but also his integrity.

Perhaps most importantly, Burrows writes, “Holden’s reaction to his awareness of the world’s imperfection and mutability is the formulation of  the dream to be the “catcher” of small children, saving them from the knowledge and the dangers of what he is slowly coming to realize is the “given” of life.” (112)

After a brief analysis of the scene where Holden drops Phoebe’s record, Burrows concludes that the “responsibility her assumes toward her [Phoebe], as well as the freedom he realizes she requires, provides a starting point from which he can learn to accept the world’s pervasive mutability.” (113)

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