Madonna-Whore Complex in the Catcher in the Rye

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Holden Caulfield, the main character in The Catcher in the Rye, suffers from a Madonna/whore complex, meaning he can only see women in two ways; as perfect and innocent or as dirty whores, without any ground in between. According to psychiatrists, this disorder may be caused by an excessive bond between one’s mother as a child, or conversely a lack of a bond, resulting in looking towards the one you love as a motherly figure, while nobody else can meet those standards. (Speyer) Holden’s experiences in this novel reveal to us this problem, as he cannot seem to deal with women at all. Even at times when he is Horny and wants to have relations with a women, he finds it impossible because they are either too perfect to sully or to dirty to console doing anything with them. This leaves Holden in a tough spot that he cannot escape from, and throughout the novel we see that he cannot break this problem and he cannot bring himself to see both the good and bad in women, as he can only focus on the extremes.

Holden Caulfield tells us of many people in this novel who were perfectly innocent, such as Jane Gallagher and his little sister, Phoebe. Jane is Holden’s friend from a few years back whom he had had a relationship with. All of Holden’s memories of Jane, which are the only real indications of how she is, portray her as an innocent girl who does childish things such as “Leave it [the kings] in the back row” (Catcher, 33) while they played checkers. Holden never went anywhere with Jane in sexual terms. The closest he had ever gotten to such a thing was when he kissed her face after she broke down while telling Holden about her drunken step-father (Catcher, 78-79). This could be the reason for the way he views her, as she was the only girl he had ever met that was nice, attractive, and not interested in partaking in sexual activities. Every other girl in the novel (minus Phoebe) is showed by Holden as “crumby” or uninteresting, someone that he would not like to get...
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