Last weekend marked the 60th anniversary of the publication of The Catcher in the Rye, and to commemorate the event, the Fiction Advocate published “The Real Holden Caulfield,” an extended essay by Michael Moats. The whole thing is available for $1.99 at the Fiction Advocate, and the Awl and the Rumpus have both published portions of it. From reading the excerpts, the project seems smart, lively, and personal. Here are the first three paragraphs:
It’s the story of a young boy wandering the streets of his home city. He can’t go to school and he can’t go home. In the course of a few days, he runs across a series of unsavory characters, people who seem honest but are not. He feels pursued at every turn by an overactive conscience. The boy gets wet, catches a chill; he drinks and swears and makes an ass of himself. He can’t seem to connect with anyone he can trust. He meets a girl, who is finally able to give him the thing he is searching for, something that makes him — or at least makes him feel, in a world so phony — like a real boy.
This is, roughly, the story of Pinocchio.
There is no known evidence that Salinger drew from the old Tuscan story when creating Holden Caulfield. It’s only coincidence that the cover of Il Giovane Holden, the Italian translation of The Catcher in the Rye, shows a rough sketch of Holden with arms and legs skewed, his body crumpled like a discarded marionette. Holden, who might have just as easily cried, “Oh, I’m sick and tired of always being a puppet!”