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Robert W. Hamblin, Southeast Missouri State University

J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, as the title suggests, is a novel

built on literary parallels and allusions; as a result, its hero, Holden
Caulfield, has been compared to a host of other characters, from both
American and world literature.1 The closest of Holden's blood brothers, as
even a cursory survey of the criticism of Salinger's novel will reveal, is
generally thought to be Huckleberry Finn.2 And certainly there are notable
likenesses between Huck and Holden: both are troubled adolescents on
the run--psychologically, linguistically, and geographically--from an adult
world that they find pretentious, hypocritical, shallow, cruel, and
dangerous. But the most significant details of Holden Caulfield's
characterization --his paralyzing fear of sexuality, his overly protective
attitude toward his sister, and his unhealthy preoccupation with death-are missing in Twain's portrait of Huck.3 Interestingly, though, these
anxieties and obsessions are precisely the ones exhibited by William
Faulkner's Quentin Compson, one of the protagonists of The Sound and the
Fury. The key to the neurotic behavior of both characters can be found in
the Freudian theory of anality, particularly as that theory has been
amplified and reinterpreted by such later psychologists as Norman O.
Brown and Ernest Becker. Both Holden and Quentin exhibit character traits
that are associated with individuals whose development has been arrested
at the anal stage.
The surface similarities between the two characters are easily established,
and striking. Both are intelligent, sensitive, introspective, well-informed
young men: Holden is a seventeen-year-old prep school student who reads
"a lot" (18) and whose best subject is English (110); Quentin is an
eighteen-year-old freshman at Harvard who knows Latin and quotes St.
Francis. Both have highly ambivalent feelings about sex: while they talk or
think about sex almost constantly, and even boast to others about their
sexual knowledge and experience, both are actually fearful of sex, indeed
are self-confessed virgins.4 Moreover, both Holden and Quentin project
their sexual anxiety onto their sisters, adopting a defensive, "big brother"
attitude and seeking to bar the sisters' entrance into carnal knowledge.

Finally, their confused and disturbed mental states lead both Holden and
Quentin to contemplate suicide.5 Quentin, of course, unlike Holden,
actually follows through on his death wish, purchasing a pair of flat-irons
for body weights and then hurling himself from a bridge into the Charles
As suggested earlier, the unifying psychological factor underlying both
Holden and Quentin's anxieties regarding sexuality, females, and death is
to be found in the Freudian theory of anality. According to Freud, the
explanation of all adult neurosis is to be found in the repressed sexual
desires of childhood. Freud posited three stages of infantile sexual
development: the oral (birth to twelve months), involving the activities of
sucking and biting; the anal (one to three years), focusing on the child's
fascination with the anus and feces; and the phallic (two and a half to six
years), centering on the child's discovery of the genitals. If the child's
passage through each of these phases is not negotiated successfully and
happily, the repressed drives will resurface in adulthood in the form of
various neuroses. According to Freud, the adult character traits that are
associated with denial and repression during the anal stage are orderliness
(including neatness), obstinacy, and parsimony (or possessiveness). 6
For Freud, anal curiosity and play, like the child's actions during the other
phases of infantile development, are primarily assertions of the pleasure
principle over the reality and morality principles--what can be viewed in
retrospect as the futile attempts of the child to cling to an Edenic world of
innocent freedom and play in the face of impending exile into the adult
world of work and responsibility. But later psychologists such as Norman O.
Brown and Ernest Becker have helped us to understand that the issue is
somewhat more complicated than even Freud had recognized. In his
insightful and influential book, Life Against Death, Brown argues that what
is really being stamped on the consciousness of each of us during the anal
stage is nothing less than "the conflict between our animal body,
appropriately epitomized in the anal function, and our pretentious
sublimations, more specifically the pretensions of sublimated or romanticPlatonic love" (186). In other words, the anal condition represents the
child's first encounter with mortality and decay. As Becker notes, echoing
Brown, "With anal play the child is already becoming a philosopher of the
human condition. But like all philosophers he is still bound by it, and his
main task in life becomes the denial of what the anus represents: that in
fact, he is nothing but body where nature is concerned. Nature's values
are bodily values, human values are mental values, and though they take
the loftiest flights they are built upon excrement, impossible without it,
always brought back to it" (31). The conflict experienced by the child at
the anal stage, therefore, is that of the body versus the mind or spirit, the
real versus the ideal.
Sometimes, as Brown demonstrates in his brilliant analysis of "The
Excremental Vision" of Jonathan Swift, the repugnance that one comes to
feel for the anus and its foul-smelling product is displaced onto other parts

of the body, particularly the genitals. Such displacement, Brown argues,

explains Lemuel Gulliver's rejection of the body after observing the
"strange Disposition to Nastiness and Dirt" of the Yahoos, as well as the
madness of the lover in one of Swift's poems, who explains to his friend:
"Nor wonder how I lost my wits; / Oh! Caelia, Caelia, Caelia shits." Such
passages have led a number of biographers to suspect that Swift was
sexually dysfunctional in his personal life. As one of those biographers has
written, "One gets the impression that the anal fixation was intense and
binding, and the genital demands so impaired or limited at best that there
was a total retreat from genital sexuality in his early adult life . . . "
(Greenacre, qtd. in Brown 182).
Swift, of course, is not the only one to associate the anus with genitalia.
Freud, too, was horrified that "we are born between urine and feces"
(Freud, Civilization 43, qtd. in Becker 33); and William Butler Yeats's
character Crazy Jane, echoing Swift's young lover, complains that "Love
has pitched his mansion in / The place of excrement" (Collected Poems
254). Two others who are obsessed with this paradoxical condition, as I
shall now seek to demonstrate, are Holden Caulfield and Quentin
Holden Caulfield's attitudes and actions clearly fit the above description of
the anal character. Like Swift's Gulliver, he is both fascinated and repulsed
by "Nastiness and Dirt," particularly any that is associated with body parts
and functions. This attitude is seen not only in the degree to which his
vocabulary is characterized by such words as "crap" (1, 11, 56, 57),
"manure" (3), "vomity" (81), "snot" (103), and "puke" (128, 139), but also
in his specific descriptions of his classmates Ackley and Stradlater. Of
Ackley, Holden observes: "His teeth were always mossy-looking, and his
ears were always dirty as hell, but he was always cleaning his fingernails. I
guess he thought that made him a very neat guy" [Holden's emphasis] (22).
When Ackley picks up a knee supporter and asks, "Who belongsa this?"
Holden notes: "That guy Ackley'd pick up anything. He'd even pick up your
jock strap or something" (22). Later Holden says, "That guy had just about
everything. Sinus trouble, pimples, lousy teeth, halitosis, crumby
fingernails" (39). While conversing with Stradlater in the bathroom as
Stradlater shaves, Holden observes: "you should've seen the razor he
shaved himself with. It was always rusty as hell and full of lather and hairs
and crap. He never cleaned it or anything" (27).
Such passages reveal the extreme discomfort and uneasiness that Holden
feels toward all things physical. That this repulsiveness embraces sexuality
is underscored not only by his own virginity (which is made more revealing
by the fact that it is undesired) but also by his overly protective attitude
toward females. Holden idealizes women and seeks to protect them from
sexual knowledge and experience. Thus he expresses grave concern about
Jane's being out on a date with Stradlater. "I kept thinking about Jane, and
about Stradlater having a date with her and all. It made me so nervous I
nearly went crazy. I already told you what a sexy bastard Stradlater was"

(34). Later, when Holden observes the man and woman in the hotel
squirting water in each other's faces, he says, "I think if you don't really
like a girl, you shouldn't horse around with her at all, and if you do like
her, then you're supposed to like her face [emphasis added], and if you
like her face, you ought to be careful about doing crumby stuff to it, like
squirting water all over it" (62). Consistent with this idealized, unsexed
view of women, Holden declines to engage in sex with the hotel
prostitute; and when Luce refers to one of his former girlfriends as "the
Whore of New Hampshire," Holden objects: "That isn't nice. If she was
decent enough to let you get sexy with her all the time, you at least
shouldn't talk about her that way" (145).
A similar attitude is evidenced in the interpretation Holden puts upon the
Robert Burns poem that provides the title of the novel. As several critics
have pointed out, the text of the original poem (and even more the
dozens of parodies of Bums's poem) strongly suggests that the bodies
meeting in the rye field are there to engage in sex. 7 But Holden reshapes
what in actuality is a bawdy poem into an idealized story of a chivalric
knight who rescues children from the danger of falling over a cliff. To the
reader who knows Bums's poem, it is clear that the "cliff' that represents a
threat to the children is their "fall" into sexual awareness and experience.
Holden's idealized characterization of himself as one who saves the
children from falling over the cliff is thus to be understood as an
unconscious desire to deny the fact of human sexuality.
This chivalric, unrealistic, and ultimately unhealthy attitude, of course,
explains Holden's obsession with the word "fuck." When he visits Phoebe's
school, he observes,
Somebody'd written "Fuck you" on the wall. It drove me damn near
crazy. I thought Phoebe and all the other little kids would see it, and
how they'd wonder what the hell it meant, and then finally some dirty
kid would tell them--all cockeyed, naturally--what it meant, and how
they'd all think about it and maybe even worry about it for a couple of
days. I kept wanting to kill whoever'd written it. I figured it was some
perverty bum that'd sneaked in the school late at night to take a leak or
something and then wrote it on the wall. I kept picturing myself
catching him at it, and how I'd smash his head on the stone steps till he
was good and goddam dead and bloody (201).
The overreaction in this scene demonstrates, as perhaps no other scene in
the book does so well, the extent of Holden's neurosis regarding sex.
Making the act of scribbling an obscenity on a schoolhouse wall into a
capital offense, with himself as the happy executioner of the vile
offender, is hardly the behavior of an individual who is comfortable with
sexuality, whether his own or someone else's.
It is, of course, Holden's subconscious fear of sexuality which explains his
overly protective attitude toward children, particularly his sister Phoebe.

Ideally, Holden would prefer a world without "fuck," not merely the word
but also the act. Thus he erases the obscenity from the wall--only to
discover a second one, "scratched on," and hence impossible to remove
(202). Becker states: "The upsetting thing about anality is that it reveals
that all culture, all man's creative life-ways, are in some basic part of
them a fabricated protest against natural reality, a denial of the truth of
the human condition, and an attempt to forget the pathetic creature that
man is" (33). Holden's version of this idea is just as tragic, and just as
universal: "It's hopeless, anyway. If you had a million years to do it in, you
couldn't rub out even half the `Fuck you' signs in the world. It's
impossible" (202).
Like Holden Caulfield, Faulkner's Quentin Compson represents a classic
case of the anal character. He too is repulsed by sexuality because he
associates it with "Nastiness and Dirt." This attitude is established in the
childhood episode in which Quentin and the other children look at "the
muddy bottom of [Caddy's] drawers" (39) as she climbs the pear tree to
look through the parlor window to view the wake being held for her
grandmother.8 It is hardly coincidental that Faulkner here symbolically
links Caddy's stained bottom and death. Not only does the scene
foreshadow Caddy's later "fall" into sexual experience, which she
identifies with death ("When they touched me I died," she tells Quentin
[149]); the stain also symbolizes original sin, which many of the characters
of the novel (as indeed many individuals since St. Augustine have done)
identify with sexuality. What is important for my purpose here, however,
is to note how this scene captures so perfectly the essence of the anal
condition. An innocent child, with panties soiled by contact with the
physical earth, climbs the Tree of Knowledge in her childhood Eden to
become one with the adult gods. Observing, Quentin is already beginning
(unconsciously, of course) to develop the neurosis that will characterize
his adult attitude toward sexuality.
Quentin's personal identification with Caddy's muddy drawers is made
clear in another childhood scene in which Caddy chastises him for
"hugging" (137) Natalie. Quentin's embarrassment and guilt over being
caught with "a dirty girl like Natalie" (134) is both interesting and
revealing: "I jumped hard as I could into the hogwallow and mud yellowed
up to my waist stinking I kept on plunging until I fell down and rolled over
in it" (136?7). In the quarrel with Caddy which continues, Quentin covers
her with mud: "I wiped mud from my legs smeared it on her wet hard
turning body" (137). Later, when they wash themselves in the branch,
Quentin observes "the sloughed mud stinking surfaceward' (138).
Such passages are typical of the Quentin section. Like Holden's, Quentin's
language9 is filled with references to filthiness, and most such phrases
relate to sexuality, particularly female. Women are "little dirty sluts" (78),
"bitches" (160), and "whore[s]" (159) who "have an affinity for evil" (96)
which is symbolized by the menstrual cycle, described as the "Delicate
equilibrium of periodical filth between two moons balanced" (128). These

last two quotes Quentin recalls from his father, who must bear the primary
responsibility for teaching his son that female sexuality is synonymous
with all impurity and evil. "Purity is a negative state and therefore
contrary to nature," Mr. Compson tells Quentin. "It's nature is hurting you
not Caddy" (116). Quentin also remembers that his father's one-word
characterization of the human condition was, significantly, "Excrement"
Such negative views of sexuality account for Quentin's desire for
castration. "Versh told me about a man who mutilated himself. He went
into the woods and did it with a razor, sitting in a ditch" (115?16). But
Quentin would prefer a state even more startling and un-natural. "But
that's not it. It's not not having them. It's never to have had them then I
could say O That That's Chinese I dont know Chinese" (116). In this
passage, the reader will soon discover, is to be found the essence of
Quentin's character and fate. His self-imposed virginity represents his
identification with the eunuch, as his suicide represents his desire to
enter a world where sexuality is not even a possibility. Like Holden
Caulfield, Quentin Compson would prefer a world without "Fuck."
Like Holden, too, Quentin exhibits the obsessive concern for neatness and
cleanliness that Freud associated with anal retentive behavior. Even on
the day that will end in the irrationality of suicide, Quentin bathes,
shaves, puts on his new suit, packs his trunk, writes letters to his father
and his roommate, and even takes time to clean the watch he has
intentionally broken. Observing such fastidiousness, his roommate Shreve
asks, "Is it a wedding or a wake?" (82)--not knowing it is both. At the end
of the day, following his fight with Gerald Bland, Quentin worries about
the shape of his collar, cleans the blood off his vest with gasoline, changes
shirts and collars, gets a fresh handkerchief, brushes his hair and teeth,
and repacks his bag. Significantly, the last action Faulkner has him perform
before leaving his room to drown himself in the river underscores his
obsession for neatness and order: "Before I snapped the light out I looked
around to see if there was anything else, then I saw that I had forgotten
my hat . . . I had forgotten to brush it too, but Shreve had a brush, so I
didn't have to open the bag any more" (179).
Also as in the case of Holden, Quentin's sexual anxieties lead him to be
overly protective of his sister Caddy. In the stream episode it is Quentin,
the oldest child, who feels that he must assume the responsibility for
Caddy's muddy drawers, as he also later seeks to take responsibility for
her adolescent promiscuity. To characterize Quentin's feelings concerning
the latter, one might paraphrase Swift's observation on Caelia: "Poor
Quentin! such sad, sad news: / Caddy, Caddy, Caddy screws." Driven to
near madness by this discovery, he threatens to kill Dalton Ames to avenge
his sister's seduction and disgrace. Quentin's failure in this scene further
underscores his sexual impotence. When Ames hands him a gun (an
obvious phallic symbol) and invites him to make good on his threat,
Quentin faints, "just passed out like a girl" (162), he says. Having thus

failed to protect Caddy from Ames, Quentin next seeks to negate Caddy's
promiscuity by persuading his father that he has committed incest with his
sister. His father knows better, however, and, unfortunately for Quentin's
ultimate well-being, responds to his son's "confession" with ridicule and
Quentin's subsequent attempt to rescue the little lost Italian girl, another
"little dirty girl" (146), in Cambridge is an obvious attempt to atone for his
failure to protect Caddy. To make the parallel umistakable, Faulkner not
only has Quentin repeatedly call the little girl "sister" (125ff.) but also
repeats in this episode many of the symbols and motifs employed earlier in
the Quentin-Caddy scenes: for example, flowers, trees, water, fences, and
gates. Ironically, Quentin is no more successful in his chivalric treatment
of the little stranger than he was with Caddy: his possessive behavior
being misunderstood as attempted child molestation, he is detained for a
time by policemen and must himself be rescued by his friends. None of
these friends, though--only the reader--understands the disappointment
and frustration and rage that Quentin directs toward Caddy and the world
she represents when he attacks Gerald Bland while shouting, "Did you ever
have a sister? did you?" (166). It is the same disappointment and
frustration and rage that Holden Caulfield feels when he wants to murder
the individual who wrote "Fuck you" on Phoebe's schoolhouse wall.
1 As Carl F. Strauch has noted, Holden, in his alienation from society and
his quest for personal identity, "is observed to keep company not only with
Huck Finn but also with Ulysses, Aeneas, Ishmael, Alyosha, Stephen
Dedalus, and Hans Castrop" (in Salzberg 65). Other critics have found
similarities between Holden and David Copperfield, Eugene Gant, Nick
Adams, Jay Gatsby, and even an occasional female character such as
Carson McCullers' Frankie Addams.
2 See, for example, Edgar Branch, "Mark Twain and J.D. Salinger: A Study
in Literary Continuity," American Quarterly 9 (Summer 1958), 144-158;
Charles Kaplan, "Holden and Huck: The Odysseys of Youth," College
English 18 (November 1956), 76-80; and John Pilkington, "About This
Madman Stuff," University of Mississippi Studies in English 7 (1966), 6575.
3 Huck's involvement with death, particularly his faking his own death, is
symbolic, not literal.
4 "The thing is," Holden admits, "most of the time when you're coming
pretty close to doing it with a girl . . . she keeps telling you to stop. The
trouble with me is, I stop. Most guys don't. I can't help it" (92). "Poor
Quentin," his sister Caddy tells him, "you've never done that have you"

5 "I felt so lonesome, all of a sudden," Holden says atone point. "I almost
wished I was dead" (48). This death wish is objectified in Holden's
sympathetic viewing of the museum mummies (204), as it is also in the
body of James Castle, the classmate who, clad in the turtleneck sweater
Holden has lent him (thus making him Holden's alter ego), kills himself by
leaping from a dormitory window (170). 6 See Corsini, vol. 3: 143, 247.
7 See references to the poem in Salzberg.
8 Significantly, Faulkner identified this scene as the genesis of his novel.
See, for example, Faulkner in the University, 31-32.
9 Sometimes the disparaging words are spoken by characters other than
Quentin, but since they are presented to the reader through Quentin's
stream of consciousness, they come to represent his own views as well.
Works Cited
Becker, Ernest. The Denial of Death. New York: Free Press, 1973.
Brown, Norman O. Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytic Meaning of
History. Middleton, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1959.
Corsini, Raymond J., ed. Encyclopedia of Psychology. 2nd ed. New York:
John Wiley and Sons, 1994.
Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. The Corrected Text. New York:
Vintage Books, 1990.
Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. London: Hogarth Press,
Gwynn, Frederick L., and Joseph L. Blotner, eds. Faulkner in the
University: Class Conferences at the University of Virginia 1957-1958.
Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1959.
Salinger, J. D. The Catcher in the Rye. Boston: Little, Brown Books, 1991.
Salzberg, Joel, ed. Critical Essays on Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye.
Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990.
Yeats, William Butler. Collected Poems. 2nd ed. New York: Macmillan,