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Holden Caulfield's New York Odyssey

By Edited Nov 30, 2015 3 4

Where did the ducks go?

Personally, I have always loved Holden Caulfield, the unique teenage protagonist from the 1950s novel "Catcher in the Rye". Sometimes I feel that I am alone in this however. Thinking about visiting New York, I scoured the internet looking for maps and ideas about following Holden's footsteps, during his three days alone in the "city that never sleeps". What I discovered, was seriously nasty and waspish character assassination,  which made me somehow glad that Holden is not in fact real. Yet there is a part of me, that believes that Holden Caulfield has existed in this world and if I could somehow visit the American Museum of Natural History, I might just catch sight of  him by the giant canoes.

First edition cover

Holden  and New York seem bound together in my mind and many of the landmarks he visited are still there - Like Central Park.  Remember when Holden leaves his school Pencey Prep in the middle of the night, and yells "Sleep tight, ya morons!" He then takes a taxi, which drives  by the lonely, dark Central Park and Holden suddenly becomes anxious about the ducks who live there, wondering where they go in the winter. This concern about the ducks seems to connect with Holden's sorrow about his dead brother, Allie, alone in his grave. The memory Holden shares, about visiting his brother's grave when it starts to rain is pretty moving.  As Holden expresses it, Leaving his brother alone in the wet cold ground "That's what nearly drove me crazy".

But You Won't Find

 You won't find the Edmont Hotel in New York, where the lonely, curious Holden encounters Sunny the prostitute, nor will you find a phone booth, which Holden used to call Jane Gallagher. And Ernie's Place full of "phonies" and sycophants, also seems fictional. You can however stop by Grand Central Terminal, where Holden met the nuns with the battered suitcase, which spoke so much of authenticity and poverty. Thinking of the nuns suitcase, made me remember Holden's former room-mate, who tried to pretend, that Holden's swanky, expensive cases belonged to him? Definitely "phony".

It was around Christmas time when Holden was wandering around New York, so I often imagine snow on the ground and a portly Santa Claus ringing his bell, with the smell of chestnuts in the air. I also think of those particularly distinctive New York sky-scrapers, like the Chrysler and Empire State buildings, soaring upward like they own the sky. Holden, a gawky teen with a red hunting cap, would be making his way to the clock at the Biltmore Hotel, to wait for Sally Hayes. He would sit and watch the girls for a while though, "girls that looked like swell girls".

The Rockefeller Center skating rink and Radio City are still around, but I'm not sure about the Rockettes. You probably won't be able to watch a play starring the "Lunt's" and forget about trying to buy a "Little Shirley Beans" record ( Poor Holden I was so sorry for him when he broke it). You can however, visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art over on the East side though, but it would be unlikely that the mummy's tomb would be there (hopefully there is no graffiti on the wall).


 Wounded Holden

Nature Diorama, Natural History Museum NYC

Smoke Gets in your Eyes

Throughout the book, as Holden travels around, he shares his thoughts and feelings with us. He is sometimes funny, often wise, frequently immature and deeply sad.  Near the end of the book, for a while he is oddly happy, but "damn near bawling, " when he watches his sister on the carousel in Central Park and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes starts to play". As Holden describes the scene he says,  "God, I wish you could've been there".......  Ah if only.


"His tragedy was that when he attempted to enter the human race, there was no human race there." William Faulkner

Bandits of the acoustic revolution - Here's to Life



Mar 19, 2012 6:06am
You know what's interesting about this book? The more you read it over different times in your life, you come away with slightly different perspectives/insights about it. [If you've never read William Saroyan's "The Human Comedy" (early 1940s)you need to, as it is a clear antecedent to "Catcher"].

I've read this thing dozens of times, I never get tired of it, and I can still laugh out loud over phrases like "my parents would have around two hemorrhages apiece..." or my favorite, the one about the kind of guy who felt he "had to break around forty of your fingers" when shaking your hand.

Excellent. A thumb.
Mar 19, 2012 5:55pm
I haven't heard of William Saroyan's "The Human Comedy" but I will try to find it, thanks for the tip. I also agree with you about "Catcher in the Rye" bringing different insights and perspectives every time you read it.And Holden certainly had a way with words in the novel which often made me laugh, what about “Old Gatsby, Old sport. That killed me,”. I love that!
Mar 28, 2012 6:56pm
Great article, really enjoyed this novel.
Mar 28, 2012 8:21pm
Thanks. It's a novel that I never tire of, although it can be pretty dark at times.
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