When one both reads Catcher in the Rye and sees Rebel Without a Cause, he or she can’t help but wonder if the writers, Nicholas Ray and J.D. Salinger, somehow knew each other, or if one writer copied the ideas of the other. Jim Stark and Holden Caulfield, the two main characters of the stories, have so much in common that if they ever met one another, they would immediately become friends. The main theme that applies to both works is teenage rebellion. Holden and Jim seem to get into trouble often, which affects many different aspects of their lives, including their friends, family, school, location, and self-image.
Holden’s and Jim’s parents have very similar attitudes towards their children. They both appear to spoil their children indefinitely, a common display of parents during the 1950’s. Jim’s father mentioned that he bought Jim everything he wants, including a car and bicycle. Holden said that his mother had recently sent ice skates to his school for him. Also, both parents show embarrassment of their children’s delinquent behavior. Neither Jim’s nor Holden’s fathers are good role models for their sons. Jim feels that his father is cowardly, weak, and a chicken.
Holden’s father isn’t ever around, since Holden is always at one boarding school or another. Furthermore, both sons feel misunderstood by their parents. The major difference between Holden’s and Jim’s families is that Holden’s parents deal with his problems by sending him away to prep schools, whereas Jim’s parents try to be more involved in their son’s life and move with him from town to town. A minor difference in their families is that Jim is an only child, but Holden has three siblings.
Holden does not really have any friends. He constantly criticizes and complains about the people he interacts with, rarely has anything positive to say about them, and does not consider anyone his real friend. Jim tries to make friends with the kids at his new school, but only succeeds in gaining two real ones. Plato, who is a social outcast at school, jumps at the chance to become Jim’s friend. Judy, however, makes fun of Jim with her friends until her boyfriend, Buzz, is killed. Then, she seeks comfort in Jim and they fall in love. Both the Jim and Holden feel like outcasts, which is a major part of their rebellion. However, where Jim tries to fit in and is rejected by his peers, Holden does not make such attempts and he is the one who rejects his classmates.
Neither Holden nor Jim fit into their schools. Holden has a lot of academic problems, although he appears to be a fairly intelligent boy. Jim, on the other hand, has social problems. In his previous schools, he had a tendency to beat up kids for calling him chicken. He also feels the need to keep his honor, and therefore participate in the “chickie fight” against Buzz, which leads to Buzz’s death. Holden seems to put in very little to no effort in his schoolwork and fitting in. He doesn’t really care that he flunks out of his classes. Jim’s academic life wasn’t really portrayed in the film, but he did try to fit in. When he was scolded for walking over the school’s insignia, he felt very sorry about it. Therefore, Jim is not always intentionally rebellious, but Holden’s rebellion is deliberate.
Jim’s and Holden’s emotional confusion affect their lives similarly. Both are extremely misunderstood by both the public and their own families. Although they appear to be rebellious and tough, both have a more sensitive interior. They suffer from alienation from their families and peers, but Jim definitely strives towards acceptance while Holden does not. If Catcher in the Rye had been made into a movie, James Dean would have been the perfect actor to play the part of Holden, since his portrayal of Jim was so precise.