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Melissa Schlegel

LIT 420 Dr. Marck

Seminar Report

11 May 2011

Catcher Coming Out of the Closet: A Gay Criticism

Of J.D. Salingers The Catcher in the Rye

Homosexuality has been throughout history one of the most controversial topics

in America. Until 1974 this sexual orientation was considered a mental disorder and listed

with the American Psychiatric Association (Tyson 319). Even though scientists have

proved that this lifestyle is not a disease, many people still think that gay men and

lesbians have something wrong with them. They are treated differently and often with

discrimination which is known as homophobia. Homophobia has lead to the privileging

of heterosexuality, or in other words, the assumption that heterosexuality is the normal

way of life and those who do not engage in this lifestyle are somehow inferior (Tyson

320). Often because of this assumption, literature which contains gay men and women

are read in a way which ignores gay characters and their struggles. One example of this

occurs in J.D. Salingers The Catcher in the Rye. It is often assumed that this novel

highlights the life of a heterosexual adolescent boy who is struggling to accept that he is

becoming an adult. But, throughout the novel there is significant evidence that Holden

Caulfield is a gay man and is restricted from expressing this because of the homophobic

environment in which he lives. Sarah Graham asserts that Holden is fascinated by

homosexuality but because he is growing up in the 1950s he is also repressed in his

feelings (56). The homophobic society in which he is growing up forces Holden to


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accept his societys conventional prejudices against homosexuality (Takeuchi 31).

Holden is portrayed as having homosexual tendencies but is forced to try to hide these

sensations because of his social upbringing; in other words Holden is a product of his

time (Graham 2).

The most significant attributes of this text which portray Holden as a gay man are

gay signs. According to Lois Tyson, gay signs are either characteristics that heterosexist

culture stereotypically associates with gay men or lesbians [or] are coded signs created

by the gay or lesbian subculture itself (340). The most predominant gay sign which

Holden displays throughout the novel is his attraction to males. Stereotypically,

heterosexuals assume that gay men judge each male they encounter, gay or straight, based

upon his appearance. Holden does this numerous times throughout the text and his

comments help paint a picture of what he looks for in a partner. Holden pays excessive

attention to each male he encounters and describes them either positively or negatively.

This excessive attention is first noticed in his encounter with Mr. Spencer. When Holden

sees him he admits that he hates seeing old mens bodies and then goes on to describes

what he was seeing: I dont much like to see old guys in their pajamas and bathrobes

anyway. Their bumpy old chests are always showing (Salinger 11). When reading this

from a heterosexual point of view, it would seem that Holden is simply expressing his

disgust at the male form. But, a few scenes later, Holden begins to express what he likes

to see in males. When Holden describes Stradlater, both his classmate and roommate, he

uses a much more positive description and implies that he finds him attractive: He

always walked around in his bare torso because he thought he had a damn good build. He

did, too. I have to admit it (Salinger 34). This depiction, when taken in contrast to the
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one about Mr. Spencer, begins to show how Holden assess the males he meets based on

how sexually attractive they are to him. When Holden describes Ackley, another

classmate, it is obvious that Holden is not attracted to him:

He was one of those very, very tall, round-shouldered guyswith lousy

teethThey always looked mossy and awful, and he damn near made you

sickBesides that, he had a lot of pimples. Not just on his forehead or

chin, but all over his whole face. And not only that, he had a terrible

personality. He was also sort of a nasty guy. I wasnt too crazy about him,

to tell you the truth. (Salinger 26)

It is clear from theses descriptions that Holden is paying close attention to the physical

features of males and their personalities. He likes Stradlaters form but is sickened by

Ackleys features. He hates Ackleys teeth and pimples but admits that Stradlater was

pretty handsome (Salinger 36). Holden also takes the time to study Stradlaters

grooming habits and admires him because of them: He always shaved himself twice, to

look gorgeous (Salinger 40). Although Holden admits that he knew a lot of guys at

Pencey [that] were a lot handsomer than Stradlater, he still appears to have a one-sided

crush on him (Salinger 36).

Holdens attraction for males is not only evident in his desire for Stradlater, but

also in his encounter with a transvestite. While Holden is staying at a hotel in New York

City, he notices two peculiar scenes going on in other rooms. One scene involves a male

and female couple engaged in a possible form of foreplay. In the other room, there is a

man who is cross-dressing. Holden pays little attention to the couple but is intrigued by

the cross-dresser. Pia Livia Hekanaho expresses that even though Holden is surprised by
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this mans actions, he still likes what he sees: As much as the transvestites solitary

pleasure shocks Holden, his description nonetheless conveys strong feelings of hidden

but intense enjoyment (93). This is apparent because, although he cannot say what the

couple had in their glasses, he is able to give a complete description of the cross-dressing

man:

I saw one guy, a gray-haired, very distinguished-looking guy with only his

shorts on, do something you wouldnt believe me if I told you. First he put

his suitcase on the bed. Then he took out all these womens clothes, and

put them on. Real womens clothessilk stockings, high-heeled shoes,

brassiere, and one of those corsets with the straps hanging down and all.

Then he put on this very tight black evening dressThen he started

walking up and down the room, taking these very small steps, the way a

woman does, and smoking a cigarette and looking at himself in the mirror.

(Salinger 80).

Holden is clearly fascinated by this activity. He could not describe what the couple

looked like but could give very distinct details about the solitary man. It would have

taken him some time to get dressed the way he did and strut around his hotel room, and

Holden apparently watched it all. In comparison to the brief description of the

heterosexual couple, it is obvious that Holden was much more attracted to the cross-

dressing male.

Holdens attraction to gay men can also be detected in the scenes with Carl Luce

and Mr. Antolini. Hekanaho points out that Holden is attracted toand attractsgay

men and is also the one who actively seeks them out (93). According to Holden, Luce
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would often act very flitty and engage in activities like goosing or leaving the door

open while he went to the bathroom. Holden mentions that these activities are indications

of someone being gay: That stuffs sort of flitty (Salinger 186). Holden also mentions

that Luce has an extensive knowledge of every flit and Lesbian in the United States

(Salinger 186). He opines, All you had to do was mention somebodyanybodyand

old Luced tell you if he was a flit or not (Salinger 186). Graham suggests that Luces

knowledge may indicate that he is a member of the gay community and thus Holden

looks to him as a role model (63-64). Holden has drinks and dinner with Luce and was

the one who made the arrangements; he actively sought out a gay person to speak to.

Holden is also the one to make the arrangements with Mr. Antolini, who later makes a

homosexual pass at him. In both instances, Holden seeks out the people whom he knows

may possibly be gay. This is a telling scenario because although Holden cannot bring

himself to contact women, he has no problem contacting sexually ambivalent men

(Graham 86).

Also, in both of these encounters, Holden and the men engage in the use of coded

language. Hekanaho relays that flit is a slang word for a gay male (91). In his

conversation with Luce, this term is used extensively and Holden often tries to get Luce

to tell him which men at the bar are flits. Also, Mr. Antolini addresses Holden as

handsome and as a very, very strange boy which indicates that he recognizes Holden

as a fellow queer (Salinger 248-250; Hekanaho 95). Hekanaho suggests that the speech

that Mr. Antolini gives to Holden about scholarly fellowshipis reminiscent of the

concept of a gay community that ensures that novices learn the coded language and

behavior of the closeted era (95). Mr. Antolini tells Holden in his speech that he is not
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alone in being confused and troubled, but over time, he will be able to learn from others

and then eventually teach someone else. This, as Hekanaho relays, may suggest that

Holden is currently confused about what he is feeling, but that he will learn gay code and

other information that will help him, and later he will do the same for another confused,

young, gay male.

Another gay sign found throughout this novel that would easily be overlooked

through a heterosexual reading, is Holdens anger at Jane for dating Stradlater. When

Holden discovers that Stradlater has a date with Jane Gallagher, Holden becomes vividly

upset. From a heterosexual reading, it would be argued that Holdens anger stems from an

attraction to Jane. But, the context clues hint that this anger actually stems from his desire

for Stradlater. This is evidence of what Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, in Between Men:

English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire, refers to as an erotic triangle (21). But

rather than the two males being rivals, because Holden is gay, he becomes Janes rival.

Holden feels like he is competing against her for Stradlaters affection. It is apparent that

Holden is not attracted to Jane because the way in which he describes her is drastically

different from the way in which he describes Stradlater. He expresses that he thought Jane

was pretty, but just before this compliment, he states that he wouldnt exactly describe

her as strictly beautifulShe was sort of muckle-mouthed (Salinger 100). There is little

physical description of her and only rarely does he call her pretty or beautiful. This is in

direct contrast to the elaborate description of Stradlater and the numerous times Holden

calls him handsome and sexy. Holden also admits that he and Jane have never had any

sexual advances in their relationship. When she was upset about her stepfather, Holden

kissed her to make her feel better, but he only kissed her face: I was kissing her all
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overher whole face except her mouth and all (Salinger 102). Kissing her lips is a

heterosexual action and Holden cannot do this. He is clearly not attracted to Jane, and

thus the only reason he is upset about the date is because of his attraction for Stradlater.

As he is trying to express his anger about the date, he once again mentions Stradlaters

features: The reason she did that, she probably just didnt know what a handsome,

charming bastard you are (Salinger 44). Holden seems to be trying to express his desire

to Stradlater but he is not interested. Holden is not upset about Stradlater taking

advantage of Jane, but rather he is upset that Stradlater is going out with someone else.

Holden is therefore, caught in a triangle where he is competing for Stradlaters attention

but fails to obtain it because Stradlater is attracted to Jane.

Holdens attraction to males is not the only gay sign in this novel. Another sign

which would again be easily overlooked by a heterosexual reading is his lack of attention

to female characteristics. As mentioned previously, Holden gives little description of Jane

Gallagher, a girl whom he has known for a very long time. After mentioning Stradlaters

gorgeous locks, Holden tries to describe Jane but gets sidetracked by talking about her

stepfather (Salinger 42). Holden once again focuses on a male and describes how the man

liked to walk around naked: [He was a] skinny guy with hairy legsHe wore shorts all

the timeAnd [he ran] around the goddamn house, naked (Salinger 42). Even though

Holden began the conversation talking about Jane, he once again went into detail about a

male. In fact, the only female that he describes in any great detail is his younger sister

Phoebe. He describes her with the same amount of detail that he dedicates to Ackley and

Stradlater. He describes how intelligent she is and describes her as having red hairshe

sticksbehind her ears (Salinger 87-88). He talks about how she roller skates, her
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favorite movies, her conversation habits and how she likes to write (Salinger 88-89).

According to Robert Bennett, instead of developing sexual or intimate relationships

with women, Holden seems to focus most of his emotional energy on his younger sister,

Phoebe. Holden is able to talk about her in this fashion and connect to her emotionally

because it is safe to pay this much attention to her. The attention cannot be misconstrued

as sexual because she is his sister. If he did this with other females, it would seem as

though he were interested in them. But, because his desire is for males, he holds this type

of attention for them and his sister, and pays little attention to other women.

Another gay sign found throughout The Catcher in the Rye is Holdens femininity.

Holden knows that he is supposed to have a masculine demeanor but is unable to display

one. For example, when he discusses the fact the he wishes he knew who took his gloves,

he expresses how he would like to confront that person. He would like to approach him

and say something cutting and snotty and threaten him (Salinger 116). But in reality,

Holden realizes he would not be able to do such a thing: I wouldnt have the guts to do

itIm partly yellow (Salinger 116-117). Holden is just too effeminate to do such a

thing.

Holdens femininity is also present when he gets into a fight with Maurice, the

pimp. Instead of being concerned with how to defend himself, Holden is overly

concerned about being seen in his pajamas: It wouldnt have been so bad, I dont think,

if I hadnt had just my goddamn pajamas on (Salinger 133). Rather than trying to think

of ways to overcome Maurice, Holden is focused on his appearance. Also during this

scene, instead of fighting, Holden tells Maurice that he will yell and wake everyone up.

After this statement, he simply starts to cry: All of a sudden I started to cry (Salinger
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134). At no point in this confrontation does Holden do anything masculine; he does not

even think about trying to protect himself. Instead, he focuses on his appearance and

starts to cry.

A final example of Holdens femininity is evident when he is out with Sally

Hayes. While they are spending time in New York City, he relays to her how cars are

used as status symbols. Traditionally, cars are a masculine symbol, and in this scene,

Holden rejects them: I dont even like old cars. I mean they dont even interest me. Id

rather had a goddamn horse (Salinger 170). Horses are animals and animals are usually

a female interest. But in this case, they are more appealing to Holden. This can be seen as

a rejection of the masculine lifestyle and all things associated with it as well as his

embracement of the feminine. According to Sarah Graham, Holden recognizes and

rejectspassive acceptance of the social norms in women and men (10). In other words,

Holden knows as a man, what he is supposed to like and be interested in, but realizes that

he is not like everybody else. This not only helps to portray Holdens femininity but also

is an example of Holdens gay sensibility.

Tyson relays that gay sensibility is an acute feeling that one is different from other

people in society: [G]ay sensibility includes an awareness of being different, at least in

certain ways, from the members of the mainstream dominant culture and the complex

feelings that result from an implicit, ongoing social oppression (330). James Lunquist

points out that throughout the novel, Holden realizes how different he is from other

people (38). This is evident early on in the text when he is seen watching the football

game from afar. All of the other boys at the school are completely intrigued and

fascinated by the game, but Holden cannot get interested and so, according to Thomas
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Reed Whissen, he alienates himself. Whissen expresses that Holdens reason for doing

this is because he cannot stand the company of others simply because he cannot relate

(55). Holden knows that he is different from the majority of the boys at the game and

chooses to alienate himself because of this.

Holdens gay sensibility is also evident in his insistence on wearing his red

hunting hat backwards. These hats are normally worn with the peak facing frontwards.

But, Holden rejects the normal way of life and wears his differently. Thus, his hat can be

seen as a symbol of his sexual orientation, and by wearing it backwards, he is showing

that he does not follow the heterosexual lifestyle. Holden relays, The way I wore it, I

swung the old peak around to the backvery corny, Ill admit, but I liked it that way. I

looked good in it that way (Salinger 24). Holden knows that others may not like what he

is doing because it is different, but he is going to do it anyways because he likes it. He

knows he is different but enjoys who he is.

Holden also acknowledges his differences while watching a play with Sally

Hayes. The play they view involves a typical, married couple and Holden admits that he

could not enjoy it because of the heterosexual characters: The husband and wife were a

pretty nice old couplevery witty and allbut I couldnt get too interested in them

(Salinger 163). After the first act, Holden expresses that the majority of the audience was

engrossed with the play but he was in the minority; he did not like what he was seeing.

This is indicative of how Holden feels in general society. He knows he is in the minority

because he does not follow the heterosexual lifestyle. He should be interested in married

couples because that is supposed to be his future. But, Holden understands that he is

different. He cannot follow that lifestyle because he is gay.


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Homoerotic depictions can also be found throughout the novel. Homoerotic

denotes erotic (though not overtly sexual) depictions that imply same-sex attraction or

that might appeal sexually to a same-sex reader (Tyson 321). The first example of this

occurs when Stradlater playfully slaps Holden: He came over to me and gave me these

two playful as hell slaps on both cheeks. (Salinger 33). This type of activity denotes

playfulness between the two boys can be considered slightly sexual because Holden

appears to have a crush on Stradlater. Another homoerotic instance occurs with Stradlater

in their bedroom: He got up from the bed, in just his damn shorts and all, and started

getting very damn playful. He came over to my bed and started leaning all over me and

taking these playful as hell socks at my shoulder (Salinger 55). This type of activity

would be sexually appealing to a same-sex reader. Stradlater is almost naked and begins

to get playful with Holden. He is leaning over Holden which indicates that they are

close and touching and Stradlater begins roughhousing in a playful manner with Holden.

When these actions are coupled with the evidence that Holden finds Stradlater attractive,

it forms a very erotic scene.

Not only is there evidence of homoeroticism, but one can also find homosocial

bonding throughout the text. Homosocial refers to the social bonds between persons of

the same sex which involve strong emotions (Sedgwick, Between Men 1). There are

numerous occurrences of these bonds being formed throughout the novel. These include

Holden playing football with his male companions and roughhousing with Stradlater, as

well as going out to dinner and playing pinball with Mal Brossard and Ackley. These

activities helped to forge the bonds that Holden laments about at the end of his narrative.

He relays, I sort of miss everybody I told about. Even old Stradlater and Ackley, for
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instance. I think I even miss that goddamn Maurice. Its funny. Dont ever tell anybody

anything. If you do, you start missing everybody (Salinger 277). Holden engaged in

activities with these people that created emotional ties. He was close to each of these men

in a different way and has feelings for each of them. As he is alone in the sanitarium, he

realizes the depth of his feelings and how he misses them.

Although Holden has a strong attraction to males and the homosexual lifestyle, it

is apparent that he must be restrained in his feelings. Holden lives in a society which is

based upon heterocentrism. In this type of society, citizens believe that the universal

norm is based upon male-female relationships and does not include male-male or

female-female relationships (Tyson 320). The society enforces obligatory

heterosexuality which creates a strong pressure on everyone to be straight and often

leads to homophobia (Sedgwick, Between Men 3). Unfortunately, Holden appears to live

in this type of community. This is first evident in an apparent gay slur by Stradlater. After

Stradlater comes back from his date with Jane, he becomes angry at Holden for not

writing his paper the way he would have written it. He gets very upset with Holden and

tells him that he never does anything the right way, or in other words, the way he does

things: God damn itYou always do everything backasswards (Salinger 53). Stradlater

not only tells him that he is backwards, which in itself is an insult, but the fact that he

uses backasswards may be considered a reference to gay sexual activities. Stradlater

wanted Holden to be like him in writing the paper and in relationships, but he realizes

that Holden is completely different and he does not like it.

Holdens society is further portrayed as heterocentric due to his desire to hide his

sexual orientation. Holden explicitly states that he needs to do or say certain things so
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that he can survive in his community: If you want to stay alive, you have to say that

[type of] stuff (Salinger 114). He knows that certain things must be said or done to be

accepted in society. One way in which he tries to gain this acceptance is by trying to

cover up his homosexuality. He portrays this through the ways he wears his red hunting

cap. As previously mentioned, his hat can be considered a symbol of his sexual

orientation. At the beginning of the story, Holden is comfortable with wearing his hat

backwards and showing how he is different: I put it on, and turned the old peak around

to the back, the way I liked it (Salinger 59). But, as he progresses through New York

City, he become less and less comfortable with others learning his sexual orientation.

Before he goes into a hotel he mentions that he takes his hat off because he does not want

to look like a screwball (Salinger 79). He is fearful that people will know that he is

different and will judge him. Even though he is fearful of this discovery, it is also evident

that he becomes frustrated with the pressure society has put on him. At one point, he

mentions that after taking his hat off to try to fit in, he put it back on and did not care how

people perceived him: I didnt give a damn how I looked. I even put the earlaps down

(Salinger 115). Holden knows he cannot live up to the heterocentric societys

expectations and tries to not care that people will judge him. But later, the pressures get

to him once again, and he again takes off his hat so that he appears normal: Id already

taken off my hunting hat, so as not to look suspicious or anything (Salinger 204). This

constant taking off of his hat is representative of Holdens confusion about his sexuality.

He knows that he is supposed to be interested in females. But, he also has gay

sensibilities and cannot follow the lifestyle of everyone else. He wants to be comfortable

with who he is but also knows that there is a lot of discrimination against homosexuals.
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Another example of Holden understanding the need to hide who he is, involves

his comment about piano playing. Holden opines, If I were a piano player, Id play it in

the goddamn closet (Salinger 110). According to Sedgwick, in Epistemology of the

Closet, The closet is the defining structure for gay oppression in this century (71).

Holdens statement about playing in the closest can be seen as an expression of his need

to hide is homosexuality. Playing the piano is a talent that anyone should be proud of, but

rather than Holden wanting to show everyone his abilities, he would play in the closet.

This is the same way in which Holden views his sexual orientation. He knows that he

should be allowed to be proud of his homosexuality, but cannot because of the society he

lives in; he must remain in the closet about his homosexuality due to the homophobia

which surrounds him.

Holdens attempt to fit in with conventional society is also evident in his effort to

date girls. The heterocentric society in which he lives, demands that men date and have

sex only with women. Thus, Holden feels pressured to engage in such acts. Holden has

two major attempts at engaging in relations with females. The first is with a prostitute

named Sunny and the second is with Sally Hayes. After the scene where he watches the

transvestite, Holden seems to be sexually excited and does not know what to do. The only

thing that he can think of is to call a female because that is what any other male would

do. Holden first tries to call Faith Cavendish but fails to get her to come to his hotel

room; he does not know how to woo a female: Boy, I really fouled that up. I shouldve

at least made it for cocktails or something (Salinger 86). He tried to get her to come to

his hotel room but he had no idea how to do so. He did not even know how to ask her on

a date, let alone to bed. He next enlists the services of a prostitute. He knows that she will
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not turn him down, even if he is gay. But, when she actually comes to his room and is

ready to have sex, Holden panics. As Sunny starts getting undressed, he gets more and

more nervous until he resorts to lying. He tells her that he is recuperating from surgery on

his clavichord and cannot have sex (Salinger 124). This panic at the prospect of sex

displays how even though Holden tries to act the way he thinks he should, he still cannot

bring himself to abandon his true feelings (Graham 28). He knows that he should want to

have sex with a female but he cannot abandon his attraction for males.

Even though Holden goes out on dates with girls and tries to convince himself

that he is having a good time, he always lies to them in an attempt to hide his true

identity. He lies to Ernest Morrows mother by telling her a wrong name and also that he

has a tumor (Salinger 75-76). He also gives the wrong name to the three girls he dances

with at a night club and also to the prostitute, Sunny. Holden knows that a normal male

would try to flirt with all of these women but because that is not the behavior he would

engage in, he gives a fake name. He feels the pressure to fit in but also feels like he needs

to protect and hide his true sexual identity.

Further evidence to support the fact that Holden is living in a hetercentric society

revolves around the fact that multiple people tell him that he needs to be psychoanalyzed.

During the 1950s, homosexuality was considered a disease that could be corrected with

psychoanalysis. Holden tells the reader that his parents think that he needs to speak to a

psychoanalyst and he also hears this from Carl Luce. According to Holden, Luce used to

act like a flit but, as they are having dinner, Holden notices that he has somehow

changed. He no longer wants to speak about who is gay or not and gets very angry at

Holden for asking. After Holden asks him about his sex life, Luce tells him to drop it
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(Salinger 190). Luce goes on to tell Holden that his father sent him to a psychoanalyst

who helped to change his attitude: Hes helped me to adjust myself to a certain extent

(Salinger 192-193). Due to the emphasis on the word adjust and because, according to

Holden, his demeanor has changed, it appears that the psychoanalyst has helped Luce

overcome his homosexuality. He proceeds to tell Holden that he needs to be

psychoanalyzed so that he can recognize the patterns of [his] mind and begin to fit in

(Salinger 192). Luce, who apparently used to be as interested in gay men and lesbians as

Holden, no longer has that interest due to psychoanalysis. He is now disgusted with

Holdens conversations and wants him to see a psychoanalyst. Luce now lives in the

heterocentric world and cannot stand that Holden is a reminder of who he used to be.

A final piece of evidence to prove that Holden is living in a heterocentric society

involves the detail that while telling his story, he is in a sanitarium. During the time that

this story takes place, homosexuality was considered a mental disease and listed with the

American Psychiatric Association (Tyson 319). It was a documented disorder and people

were put into institutions because of their sexual orientation. While Holden is telling his

story, he hints to the reader that he is in an institution. In the beginning he mentions that

he is away from home but not at school. At the conclusion of his story, he mentions that

he is surrounded by psychoanalysts. It seems that Holden has been put into the institution

due to the stresses of the heterocentric society and their inability to understand his sexual

orientation. He mentions that he can not tell his whole story because his parents would

not appreciate it:

My parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told

anything pretty personal about them. Theyre quote touchy about anything
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like that, especially my father. Theyre nice and allIm not saying that

but theyre also touchy as hell. (Salinger 3)

Holdens parents appear to be embarrassed that their son has ended up in this predicament

and do not want anyone to know that they are associated with a homosexual. They have

the same heterocentric beliefs that the rest of society has and they have distanced

themselves from their son: The brief comments on his parentsimply distance

(Graham 33). In fact, when Holden is visiting Phoebe at his parents apartment, he hides

in the closet to avoid his mother: I grabbed my shoes and got in the closet and shut the

doorI heard my mother go out and close the door. I waited a couple of minutes. Then I

came out of the closet (Salinger 229-231). Holden cannot be open with his parents

because they will not accept who he is. Around his parents, he must remain in the closet.

He can only come out to those who will accept him, like his sister.

The pressures of the heterocentric world not only caused Holden to remain in the

closet around certain people, but also caused him to experience internalized homophobia.

Internalized homophobia is defined as negative feelings about ones own

homosexuality (Herek et al. 18). This internalized hatred is first noticeable when Holden

is discussing the fact that he is in a sanitarium. He relays that not only can he not talk

about his parents because they are embarrassed of him but he also cannot tell most of his

story to his brother: I mean thats all I told D.B. about, and hes my brother and all

(Salinger 3). Holden cannot bring himself to tell his brother the whole truth about why he

is in the institution because he is embarrassed. Even though D.B. is his brother and he

should be comfortable around him, Holden cannot talk to him openly because of his
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internalized hatred for his homosexuality. He is embarrassed about whom he is and afraid

that, like his parents, his brother will abandon him.

His self-hatred is also evident in his numerous references about wanting to

commit suicide. This first begins after his advances towards Stradlater are turned down.

Stradlater left Holden to go on his date with Jane and Holden begins to feel lonely and

down. He states, I felt so lonesome, all of a sudden. I almost wished I was dead

(Salinger 62). Holden is so upset that Stradlater left that he cannot even sleep in their

room. He decides to stay in Ackleys room but he still cannot stop thinking about

Stradlater and Jane having sex: I thought about her and Stradlater parked somewhere in

that fat-assed Ed Bankeys car. Every time I thought about it, I felt like jumping out the

window (Salinger 63). Stradlaters rejection of Holden causes him to begin his

downward spiral. He is upset at the rejection and begins to hate who he is which triggers

thoughts of suicide. He mentions at one point that the only thing keeping him from

jumping out a window is that people would once again be looking at him and judging

him:

What I really felt like, though, was committing suicide. I felt like jumping

out the window. I probably wouldve done it, too, if Id been sure

somebodyd cover me up as soon as I landed. I didnt want a bunch of

stupid rubbernecks looking at me when I was all gory. (Salinger 136)

Holden is upset that he cannot be accepted for who he is and hates himself for his

sexuality so much that he willing to commit suicide. But, once again, he knows that as

soon as he jumps, he will be judged and even death will not allow him to escape the

pressures of his society and his internalized hatred.


Schlegel 19

A final example of Holdens internalized homophobia involves Mr. Antolini.

While Holden was staying at his apartment, Mr. Antolini made an apparent homosexual

pass at him. Holden becomes very agitated due to this action and leaves in a hurry. As

Holden thinks back upon this situation, he gets angry at himself for leaving. He regrets

lying to him and thinks of all the nice things that he had done for him. He relays, The

more I though about it, the more depressed I got. I mean I started thinking maybe I

shouldve gone back to his houseThe more I thought about it, the more depressed and

screwed up about it I got (Salinger 253). Holden hates the way he treated Mr. Antolini

after hed been so nice to him. He keeps finding more and more reasons to hate himself

and wants nothing more than to commit suicide. He has rejected Mr. Antolini in the same

way that Stradlater rejected him and he feels guilty for the treatment he has given to his

friend. As a gay man, he should have understood the difficulties that are endured after

such a rejection. But, Holden, in a panicked state, turned him away and now feels guilty

for committing such an act. He wants to be comfortable with his sexuality but has lived in

a heterocentric society for so long, that it is difficult for him to accept who he is. He

knows he is different and wants to embrace his sexuality but also hates himself for it

because of the difficulties he must endure.

Holden Caulfield is a prime example of a gay character who must face the

difficulties of growing up in a heterocentric society. Not only are his differences rejected

in his own world, but today, readers often overlook and ignore his obvious

homosexuality. When J.D. Salinger wrote The Catcher in the Rye, he lived in a time of

oppression. Homosexuals were institutionalized rather than accepted just because of their

preferences for life partners. Although today we do not institutionalize gay men and
Schlegel 20

women, there is still obvious discrimination. Salingers novel displays the difficulties

which were faced by gay men and how they had to live in codes and fear, which still

exists today. Holden had to hide his identity, even from his own family, and had to deal

with feelings of self-hatred. Unfortunately, perhaps the only safe place for Holden is in

the rye; the place where he can be accepted for whom he is and rescue others from the

same discrimination he suffered through.


Schlegel 21

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Graham, Sarah. Salingers The Catcher in the Rye. New York: Continuum, 2007. Print.

Hekanaho, Pia Livia. Queering Catcher: Flits, Straights, and Other Morons. J.D.

Salingers The Catcher in the Rye. Ed. Sarah Graham. New York: Routledge,

2007. Print

Herek, Gregory M., Jeanine C. Cogan, J. Roy Gillis, and Eric K. Glunt. Correlates of

Internalized Homophobia in a Community Sample of Lesbians and Gay Men.

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Lunquist, James. Against Obscenity: The Catcher in the Rye. New York: Frederick Ungar

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Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1979. Print

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial

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---. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990. Print.

Takeuchi, Yasuhiro. The Burning Carousel and the Carnivalesque: Subversion and

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(2002). Print.

Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide. New York: Routledge, 2006.

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Whissen, Thomas Reed. The Catcher in the Rye is a Cult Novel. Readings on J.D.

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