Distance as a Threat to Relationships in The Catcher in the Rye
Humans are social creatures who build connections with others and thrive as companionship increases; however, relationships are often susceptible to failure. Holden Caulfield, the main character in the novel The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, experiences much frustration in his inability and unwillingness to form long-lasting social connections. Most of the people he comes across become “phonies” in his mind. Holden really only has true connections with his childhood neighbor Jane and his siblings DB, Phoebe, and Allie. With the exception of Phoebe, Holden’s relationships with Jane, his older brother DB, and his younger brother Allie, who passed away at a young age from leukemia, are all somehow hindered by distance. DB no longer lives with Holden and his family so they rarely see each other, especially since DB has become a successful movie writer in Hollywood. Holden’s relationship with Jane is merely composed of childhood memories which Holden holds on to. And although Holden still spiritually treasures his relationship with Allie, who has tragically passed away, Allie’s absence is a glaring relationship barrier.
Holden’s relationships with the minor characters in the novel whom he is particularly close to show that even the strongest relationships can suffer if companions are distant from each other. Holden’s relationship with his older brother DB is an example of how distance can damage the firmest of relationships. Holden reminisces that when he was younger DB took him and Phoebe to go see the movie Hamlet together, appearing to be a kind older brother, since Holden mentions that DB “treat[ed] [them] to lunch first and then took [them]. He’d already seen it” (Salinger 117). This quote shows that DB truly cares about Holden and spending time with him, even if his own fun is jeopardized. Even though DB appears to be a caring older brother, it is obvious that distance has hurt his and Holden’s relationship. DB no longer lives with the rest of his family since he has become a Hollywood writer, and it is obvious Holden does not fully approve of this new distancing from his older sibling. At the very beginning of the novel, Holden says, “He’s got a lot of dough, now. He didn’t used to. He used to be just a regular writer, when he was home[…]Now he’s in Hollywood, D.B., being a prostitute” (Salinger 1-2). Holden resents the fact the D.B. is now living so far from home in Hollywood, and makes his sentiment apparent by sarcastically calling him a “prostitute.” Being such a long distance apart changes Holden and D.B.’s strong and caring brotherhood to a rather out-of-reach relationship, since Holden clearly dislikes D.B.’s career choice and D.B. can only visit once a week. Holden talks about D.B. less dearly in the beginning of the novel after his brother D.B. has moved to Hollywood, especially compared to his flashback when D.B. accompanies him to the movies before moving away. Distance can definitely be a reason for this lack of dearness. Since D.B. is farther away, Holden’s connection with him unmistakably suffers.
Distance also proves to hinder strong relationships in the case of Holden and Jane throughout The Catcher in the Rye. Jane never appears in the novel as anything other than an aspect of Holden’s memories, which shows that not being able to see each other has broken up their strong connection. The distance between the two proves to be the ultimate hindrance to the relationship they once had. Holden merely holds on to past memories in fear that they will somehow be altered or that somehow he will lose all of their happy childhood times together. When Holden’s roommate Stradlater from Pencey goes on a date with Jane, Holden shows that his relationship with Jane was once strong by constantly asking about her and mentioning obscure details about her life, details that most people usually would not take notice of. He says, “She’s a dancer[…]Ballet and all. She used to practice about two hours every day right in the middle of the hottest weather and all. She was worried that it would make her legs all lousy[…]I used to play checkers with her all the time” (Salinger 31). This quote shows how close Holden and Jane once were because he knows so much about her, down to an unusual anxiety about her legs. After Holden has left Pencey, he tries to call Jane from a payphone but “her phone didn’t answer so [he] had to hang up” (Salinger 136). This quote further proves that Holden and Jane were once close but that the distance and inability to see each other have ruined their relationship since they still remain out of touch. Holden’s rather estranged relationship with Jane shows that even the strongest relationships are susceptible to damage due to distance.
The last close relationship between Holden and a minor character that goes awry as a result of distance is his relationship with his younger brother Allie. Allie tragically passed away at the age of eleven after suffering from leukemia, and his death left Holden’s entire family in grief, especially Holden himself. Holden still holds his brother dearly in his heart and thinks about him very often, but sadly Allie is in a completely unidentifiable place. Though spiritually they are still close, the fact that Allie no longer physically with Holden proves to be very difficult for Holden to endure. Holden exemplifies his closeness with Allie when he describes him after writing a composition about his younger brother’s baseball mitt, saying, “You’d have liked him” (Salinger 38). When Phoebe interrogates Holden, asking what he likes, Holden says “‘I like Allie’” (Salinger 171). Phoebe then chimes in that Allie is dead and Holden seems quite offended. Holden then says, “‘I know he’s dead! Don’t you think I know that? I can still like him, though, can’t I? Just because somebody’s dead, you don’t just stop liking them, for God’s sake’” (Salinger 171). This quote shows how close Holden still feels to Allie because Allie is one of the only things in his life that he genuinely likes, but Holden’s relationship with his younger brother will never be the same again because Allie is no longer with him. The physical distance strains their relationship because Holden continues loving and thinking about his brother, yet never receives any love in return because Allie is only present in spirit.
In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden’s distance from the minor characters he was once close with proves to be a major detriment to his ability to form relationships. He is no longer in touch with his childhood friend Jane, his older brother D.B. has decided to move away to pursue bigger and better things in Hollywood, and his younger brother Allie is with him spiritually but is physically in a completely different place. This distance breaks up Holden’s most secure relationships. Distance can enter into a struggle for any close relationship, no matter what the situation. Humans have a potential to grow distant either due to environmental factors they cannot control or due to simply moving on and meeting new people. As evidenced by Holden’s relationships with minor characters such as Jane, D.B., and Allie, distance can be a major threat to close relationships.
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