The Catcher in the Rye The Catcher in the Rye question


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Missing Christmas in CITR?
Monty J Heying Monty J (last edited Dec 13, 2012 01:56PM ) Dec 08, 2012 07:09PM
Why would a story with an urban setting that takes place during the Christmas holidays fail to mention Christmas until amost the very end of the book:

"While I was walking, I passed these two guys that were unloading this big Christmas tree off a truck. One guy kept saying to the other guy, 'Hold the sonuvabitch up! Hold it up, for Chrissake!' It certainly was a gorgeous way to talk about a Christmas tree. It was sort of funny, though, in an awful way, and I started to sort of laugh. It was about the worst thing I could've done, because the minute I started to laugh I thought I was going to vomit. I really did. I even started to, but it went away. ...It was Monday and all, and pretty near Christmas and all the stores were open. So it wasn't too bad walking on Fifth Avenue. It was fairly Christmasy. All those scraggy-looking Santa Clauses were standing on corners ringing those bells, and the Salvation army girls, the ones that don't wear any lipstick or anything, were ringing bells too. ... Anyway, it was pretty Christmasy all of a sudden. A million little kids were downtown with their mothers, getting on and off buses and coming in and out of stores."

The key phrase above is: "Anyway, it was pretty Christmasy all of a sudden." All of a sudden means what, that Holden's just become aware it's Christmas, that he's briefly coming out of his funk?

Or did Salinger the author suddenly remember that his setting had a hole in it and he needed to throw in a scene recognizing Christmas? It's a throwaway scene that adds nothing to plot or character, except for the phrase, "...a million little kids." So the Christmas scene is for atmosphere, setting. Nine-tenths of the way into the book Salinger remembers it's Christmas and he ought to put something in about it.

A little earlier, he mentions Phoebe's Christmas money and Sally Hayes wants him to come over and trim the Christmas tree with her, but these are oblique references at best.

For ninety percent of the book Salinger barely mentions Christmas. The setting seems unrealistic because of it. There would be decorations all over. Trees lights blinking. Santas ringing bells next to donation pots. Christmas music. The whole shebang.

And Phoebe, a ten year-old, doesn't even mention Christmas except in relation to her money.

Why did Salinger leave it out? Because he was Jewish? An oversight? Did he regard it as a distraction?

Was omitting Christmas a characterization technique designed to make Holden appear so emotionally strung out that he couldn't notice Christmas?

Christmas aside, Salinger seems to de-emphasize setting in general in the book. He gave Christmas a few nods deep in the book. Maybe that was enough as far as Salinger was concerned.

Life happens in a setting and what we notice or don't notice about our surroundings says something about how alive or dead or distracted or obsessed we are.

The three essential elements of a story are character, plot and setting. When one is wobbly it stands out.

Perhaps the answer lies in the first-person point point of view. We're trapped inside the head of a kid who's in a crisis. The beauty of first-person is that readers get to experience the inner world of the main character. The public personna gets obliterated and the narrator's left standing naked.

The weakness of first-person is that readers are trapped, confined to the narrator's perceptions. Holden's so uptight that he can't even notice the omnipresence of Christmas.



This seems like a case of a christian trying to find out if someone else is a christian or not. I read that happens a lot with christians.


Because it's not a Christmas story.

I barely notice Christmas myself, any more.


How could Holden Caulfield possibly have a desire to talk about Christmas decorations?


You'd have to ask him, but my guess would be that it wasn't central to the story.


Maybe the character of Holden just didn't notice it, Santa and Christmas decorations were not on his mind, not something he cared to mention


Christmas is a loaded setting for an author to use. I think it works in Catcher as being notable that Holden barely noticed it. I picked post-Christmas for "Room Four" to add to one character's "bah humbug" take on things.


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