An Abundance of Holes: Green’s Colin vs. Salinger’s Holden

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From John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines:

“At the start of the second semester of ninth grade, a new girl showed up from New York and she was rich as they come, but she hated being rich and loved The Catcher in the Rye, and she said I reminded her of Holden Caulfield, presumably because we were both self-absorbed losers, and she liked me because I knew a lot of languages and had read a lot of books, and then she broke up with me after twenty-five days because she wanted a boyfriend who didn’t spend so much time reading and learning languages” (205).

This may be a bit obvious, since it is mentioned right in the quote, but there is an intertextual relationship between this contemporary Young Adult novel and Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.  If you are unfamiliar with these works you can check out a summary of An Abundance of Katherines here and a summary of The Catcher in the Rye here. 

Many students have mixed emotions about The Catcher in the Rye, some people love it, some people hate it.  As a future teacher, I personally don’t think it is particularly relatable to students and would not opt to teach it.  However, few people would argue that The Catcher in the Rye has not had an effect on the Young Adult genre.  It is probably one of the most influential works in the development of YA Lit.

However, I don’t think that Green drew the parallel between the two works to force the reader into seeing similarities between Colin and Holden, but instead to highlight the differences between the two.  Notice in the quote above how the girl from New York first likes him, “because I knew a lot of language and had read a lot of books,” and then later she breaks up with him because of his “reading and learning languages.”  Green focuses on this double-sided feature of Colin’s personality to show that his strengths can be used to both garner affection and then to eventually rebuff it.  Just as while initially one may perceive similarities in Holden and Colin (after all, they both have holes in their guts), they are not really all that similar.  At the end of An Abundance of Katherines, Colin has developed.  He’s changed, he’s found a girlfriend whose name is not Katherine, and the hole in his gut has stopped hurting.  At the end of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden may be out of the mental ward and heading back to school, but there are not perceivable differences from the Holden at the beginning of the novel and the end—he has the same speech patterns, the same attitudes, the same unresolved problems.  Therefore, Green’s invocation of The Catcher in the Rye was meant more to point out how very different Colin is from Holden.  The two may have started out similarly, but it is what one does when presented with problems which allows them to break away from the Holden Caulfield-mold.        

So here are my questions for anyone who reads this:

1. Do you agree with me or do you think Green referenced The Catcher in the Rye for some other reason?

2. The sentence in the quote I chose is very long; do you think Green made it this way for some reason? 

2. If you were going to teach at the high school level, which book would you teach: The Catcher in the Rye or An Abundance of Katherines?  Why?

3. If you have read Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger how do you think the protagonist (John) fits into this puzzle?  Is he like Colin, is he like Holden, or is he different from both of them?    

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Angela Palumbo said:

That is a great observation, Greta! I didn't really think about the differences between Holden and Colin. Notice how their names rhyme? I think that Holden and Colin definately do have a lot of similarities. Like you, I don't necessarily think that Green would try to write a character that was parallel to Holden. That story has already been written, therefore does not need to be retold. So to answer your question, I do not think that Holden and Colin are meant to be alike.

I would rather teach Katherines because it is an all around better book. However, I feel that Catcher in the Rye is more "literary" than Katherines. It is more heavily referenced in literature, therefore I feel that if given the choice I would teach Sir Salinger's book.

I would say that John reminds me more of Colin. They go through the same journey of self discovery and grow as a result of this.

Greta Carroll said:

You mentioned that you would rather teach The Catcher in the Rye because it is more “literary.” My question is this, what makes something “literary.” If Abundance of Katherines is an all around better book as you mentioned, why wouldn’t it be considered “literary”?

James Lohr said:

Having never read An Abundance of Katherines, I will do my best to answer the questions that I can.
Upon first glance at the quote, I have to admit that I had a similar feeling to reading a sentence from The Catcher in the Rye. The long and winding thought like sentence was definitely a similarity that I saw between the two. Could it be possible that the comparison shown through the text might go farther than just naming the other work?
As far as teaching is concerned, if the two have as many comparisons as you seem to think, wouldn’t it be wonderful to teach both. This would open the opportunity to work on an intertextual critique with students who would later see this done in college. I think it would be interesting to see what makes one character change, and another remain the same. Let me know what you think.

Greta Carroll said:

Even though you didn’t read An Abundance of Katherines, James, I think you made some really good points. I didn’t think about the length being related to Holden’s long disjointed thoughts, but that is a really good observation which makes sense to me. As to your comment about teaching both An Abundance of Katherine and The Catcher in the Rye and then having students relate them to each other, I think that’s a really great idea too. There’s a lot they could do having read both works. They could compare and contrast classic vs. contemporary fiction, the differences, similarities, etc. So thanks for the feedback and ideas :)

Angela palumbo said:

I agree with James. It woul dbe great to teach both. The problem with that, however, is that teachers have a very limited time to teach what they have to teach so both might not be an option. The reason I say Cather in the Rye is more literary is because I know that many contemporary Young Adult literature authors seem to mention J.D. Salinger if not mentioning Holden Caulfield directly. If a student has never read the book, they don't have that foundation. It's just one of those books that is referenced so much that it becomes a must read.

Greta Carroll said:

Angela brings up a good point about the time factor. However, I’m still not sure I would have my students read The Cather in the Rye. Granted, it is referenced in a lot in literature, but a teacher could have her students read An Abundance of Katherines and simply explain to them the reference. She could have the students read a summary of The Catcher in the Rye and tell them it is alluded to frequently in literature, and then the students would be just as prepared to recognize it.

Katie Vann said:

Greta, I don't think that Green created Colin parallel to Holden. Looking at his interview (since I tried to use author intent criticism), Green stated that Katherines began with the creation of Hassan. I think had Green wanted to parallel the two, he would have began the book with the idea of Colin as the foundation because he would have already had some basis from Holden to begin creating his character. When it comes to the decision of which one I would teach. I think I have to agree with James on this one, if I would want to teach either of them at all, I would have to do both. They do have a lot in common although I don't believe they are direct parallels of each other.

Angela Palumbo said:

How much say, though, do teachers really have in the material they teach? Greta does bring up a good point about summarizing Catcher in the Rye. I think that could suffice. Maybe that book could be read outside the classroom so the students could still experience it. Then they could write a paper about it.

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