Similarities and Differences of the Main Characters in Catcher in the Rye and the Great Gatsby

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Table of contents

  1. Lost Youth: Escaping the Conformity of Adulthood
  2. Holden Caulfield: A Rebellious Soul Amidst a World of Phoniness
  3. Jay Gatsby: An Idealistic Dreamer Trapped in a Flawed Reality
  4. Detachment from Society: Seeking Personal Truth Amidst Disillusionment
  5. Idealized Pasts: Seeking Redemption in Lost Innocence
  6. Works cited

Lost Youth: Escaping the Conformity of Adulthood

Many movies, novels and stories featured in the media revolve around the idea of a hero, and the perfect person who comes in and saves the world. More recently, the idea of the antihero has become increasingly popular. The reader will often find themselves being able to relate to the antihero more, because their flaws are often more prominent than their positive traits. Jay Gatsby and Holden Caulfield are both antiheroes. Holden Caulfield is the main character in the novel Catcher in the Rye written by J.D Salinger, and Jay Gatsby is the main character in the novel The Great Gatsby written by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Holden Caulfield and Jay Gatsby both lack heroic qualities of the usual heroes portrayed in literature. Jay Gatsby and Holden Caulfield both tend to exhibit very similar traits such as straying away from social normalities, inner conflict, which causes them to jeopardize relationships, and they are both well-meaning, but often misguided.

Holden Caulfield: A Rebellious Soul Amidst a World of Phoniness

Both Gatsby and Holden tend to stray away from social normalities in society. This is a characteristic of anti heroism, as anti heroes tend to struggle fitting in to what are considered the norms of a society. Self identity is a large factor in what drives Holden and Gatsby to fall from societal expectations. In The Great Gatsby, Gatsby's only friend Nick, describes Gatsby saying “The truth was that Jay Gatsby, ...sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that…. So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen year old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end.”(F. Scott Fitzgerald 98) Nick uses the comparison between Jesus Christ and Gatsby to represent how Gatsby has created an identity for himself, and attempts to be the “ideal persona” he has in mind. This causes Gatsby to struggle with who he is and his purpose. No matter the challenges Gatsby has faced in society, and the alienation he may face, Gatsby continues to maintain himself and not conform to the society around him. Similar to Gatsby, Holden also struggles with his own personal identity. Holden is stuck in an endless battle between adulthood and childhood and is not aware of where he stands. When speaking to his sister, Phoebe, he says “I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.” (Salinger 191) This is Holden’s idea to preserve innocence. He wants to preserve his own innocence, and those around him. His obvious obsession with wanting to avoid growing up, causes his self identity crisis as it is inevitable that we will all grow up.

Jay Gatsby: An Idealistic Dreamer Trapped in a Flawed Reality

When experiencing a struggle with who you are, you are often faced with no choice but to shelter yourself from society, which is ultimately a characteristic of anti heroism. Holden and Gatsby both long for their own personal isolation, they desire to stand out from society. One of the big symbols represented in Catcher in the Rye is Holden’s red hunting hat. It represents his alienation and the isolation of himself, and how he longs to be different from those around him. When Holden first wears his hat, his roommate, Ackley calls Holden out on how strange he appears in the hat. “Ackley took another look at my hat...Up home we wear a hat like that to shoot deer in, for Chrissake,' he said. 'That’s a deer shooting hat.' 'Like hell it is.' I took it off and looked at it. I sort of closed one eye, like I was taking aim at it. 'This is a people shooting hat,' I said. 'I shoot people in this hat.'(Salinger 26) Ackley observes it is somewhat strange Holden is wearing this hat, although this seems to make Holden want to wear it more, as it is a prominent way for him to stand out or isolate himself. Gatsby too experiences this feeling of personal isolation, although it presents itself differently than Holden’s. Gatsby is constantly surrounded by people, as his own personal choice he throws extravagant parties, and develops a gathering of people wishing to meet him, or to attend these parties. We are able to observe, that the people surrounded by Gatsby are not people who are close with Gatsby, and he seems as though he has no desire to form a bond with anyone. Nick himself is able to observe this, Nick explains the “...sudden emptiness that seemed to flow from the windows and the grand doors, endowing with complete isolation the figure of the host...” (Scott. F. Fitzgerald 55). This is Nick describing how many people are around but they seem to appreciate the idea of Gatsby more than him as a person. Understandably, even when surrounded by many people, the feeling of loneliness is persistent in Gatsby's mind. It is evident both Gatsby and Holden do not choose to conform to society, which shows a present flaw they both share, which is a characteristic of an anti-hero.

Holden Caulfield and Jay Gatsby both often find themselves jeopardizing the relationships around them due to their own inner conflict. They face personal battles which result in poor communication, and lack of maintaining healthy relationships.

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Detachment from Society: Seeking Personal Truth Amidst Disillusionment

Gatsby and Holden both compare every relationship they experience to a past one. For example, Holden is obsessed with the idea of his brother, Allie, who is no longer alive. Allie’s death causes Holden a great deal of trauma, which is why he values him as an ideal person. He struggles to cope with Allie’s death and he continues to search for someone like Allie and will not accept anyone to be as great as him. This idea he has made in his head clearly causes him to jeopardize many future relationships, as no one, in his mind, can be as great as Allie was. For example, Holden is able to point out everyone’s flaws, such as when he is describing one of his past love interests Sally, he says “She had one of those very loud, embarrassing voices..”(Salinger 138) or when Holden refers to her as “Sally the queen of phonies” (Salinger 130) Holden has some desire to see Sally, but he can’t help but pick out all of the things about her that bother him, which gives him an excuse to not have a strong relationship with her, and he cannot help but to find fault in everyone, except Allie, who Holden believed was perfect. Similar to Holden, Gatsby is in love with his old flame, Daisy, and will not accept time or change to get between this, instead he compares everyone to her and does not want to be with anyone else if it is not her. For example, Nick mentions “Gatsby bought that house so that Daisy would be just across the bay” (F. Scott Fitzgerald 78) or when Daisy and Gatsby are reunited once again she mentions “We haven't met for many years,' and Gatsby replies, 'Five years next November.' ( Scott. F Fitzgerald 70) This shows the reader that Gatsby does not have a desire to be with anyone except for Daisy, similar to Holden, although Gatsby is pursuing a love interest. This type of obsession stems from their own inner conflict, as both Gatsby and Holden are not able to deal with the loss of people around them. Holden stays attached to the idea of Allie, and Gatsby stays attached to the idea of Daisy even though this puts strain on the relationships around them. The idea of failure is a factor of inner conflict, and leads to struggling relationships. Both Holden and Gatsby experience this idea of setting themselves up for personal failure and often, this leads them to stride for themselves to fail, especially when attempting to form a healthy relationship with the people around them. For Gatsby, he has an overbearing love for Daisy and we are able to see how he has been waiting for her and longing for her. On the other end, Daisy doesn’t exactly feel this way and instead, her feelings are clouded. In this sense, Gatsby sets himself up for failure but he doesn’t seem to mind this, he does not truly observe the situation brought to him when him and Daisy meet again. Gatsby, in this way only considers how he feels and assumes Daisy to feel the same which leads to this downfall of their relationship. Holden too, experiences setting himself up to fail. Holden is faced with his roommate Stratlader, someone he does not really have a desire to be around. Holden wrote Straltlader’s paper for him, but Stratlader seems to be angry that he wrote the assignment on Allie’s glove. Holden and Stratlader continue to have an argument, and Holden picks a fight with Stratlader. Although Holden knows Stratlader is much more powerful than him, he continues to start this physical altercation resulting in him, obviously taking the hit harder and getting knocked out. This is a time where Holden has set himself up for failure. If one is to have these kinds of attitudes about themselves, how is it possible to be able to form positive and healthy relationships? It is evident to struggle, which essentially both Gatsby and Holden do. This struggle with relationships is a step into something they have trouble coping with, unlike a hero, an antihero will face these sorts of personal faults in their story.

Often Jay Gatsby and Holden Caulfield have the right intentions and wish to do good in the world for themselves and others, but they just do not have the right approach to aiding a situation, and instead are often misguided.

Idealized Pasts: Seeking Redemption in Lost Innocence

Holden and Gatsby are both spontaneous and impulsive which leads them to make quick thinking decisions that sometimes this results in a negative consequence, even if their intentions are in the right place. For example, Gatsby, in love with Daisy, desires for her to be happy. When he discovers she is not happy with her husband, Tom, he interferes in their marriage and practically forces Daisy to tell Tom how she truly feels. Gatsby then tells Tom, “She never loved you, do you hear? She only married you because I was poor and she was tired of waiting for me. It was a terrible mistake, but in her heart she never loved anyone except me' (Scott. F Fitzgerald 130). In this quote, we are able to see how Gatsby does not truly consider the outcome of the situation, and makes a harsh decision which ultimately caused tension between all three of them. Holden, also shares this spontaneity that Gatsby possesses. Holden is a very impulsive character and has made several choices without thinking before acting. Holden becomes annoyed with Sally and says to her “You give me a royal pain in the ass” (Salinger 140) This immediately upsets her and Holden regrets saying it afterwards. Holden also makes the rash decision to leave Pencey Prep, without considering the consequences that may fall behind this. These examples convey how Holden and Gatsby are both impulsive, which leads them to often make rash decisions and judgments, even if the intention behind it was for good. One of the biggest contributes to the misguidance is the fatal flaw. Jay Gatsby and Holden Caulfield both have a fatal flaw that intercepts into their lives. Gatsby’s greatest flaw is that he is delusional. He is caught up in a series of dreams and desires to be with Daisy. In the novel, even after Daisy ends her relationship with Gatsby he still holds the hope that she will come back like he has always dreamed of. This flaw gets in the way of his way of living. Gatsby focuses everything on Daisy. Where he lives, who he connects with, and the reason for Gatsby to throw parties is all a way of him longing for Daisy's attention. One can observe that he wants to do good, Gatsby just wants to make himself, and Daisy happy and wants them to live happily together. However, his fatal flaw approaches his love for Daisy in a negative aspect ultimately causing the downfall of their relationship. Holden’s fatal flaw, similarly brings him down as well. Holden’s fatal flaw is his desire to preserve innocence. Holden mentions himself as wanting to be the “Catcher in the Rye”. We see his intentions are good as he wants to preserve the innocence of children, to essentially save them from any trauma or difficulties they may face in adult life. His flaw though ultimately interferes with his intentions because it is impossible to save anyone from growing up and it is something one must face throughout the course of their lives. Their good intentions, show that they do want to strive for good although faced with problems along the way. This is an aspect of what it means to be an antihero, as they often reflect both positive and negative traits.

Often readers may feel more connected to a character who is an antihero. This is because, as people we all face personal flaws and bumps throughout our path of life. When one reads about characters who go through some of the same battles it is easier for the reader to immerse themselves into the story. To conclude, it is evident that Jay Gatsby and Holden Caulfield are both antiheroes. The theme of social conformity, inner conflict jeopardizing relationships, and their good intentions with bad outcomes, all play a large role in showing how the characters are ultimately both antiheroes. One can be able to observe how they aren’t perfectly constructed characters, and how they showcase flaws like an antihero does.

Works cited

  1. Salinger J.D Catcher in the rye Little Brown Company March 2014
  2. Fitzgerald F. Scott The Great Gatsby SCRIBNER April 2018
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Similarities and Differences of the Main Characters in Catcher in the Rye and the Great Gatsby. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from
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