In The Catcher in the Rye by Salinger, the protagonists of both novels, Tess and Holden, are portrayed as typical teenagers of their time who make rash decisions based on their naivety. Tess and Holden are both inexperienced in the world and are forced to choose their own paths to follow. They are trapped by society’s class system, struggles with money, and their own inexperience and naivety, which lead them to make disastrous choices that inevitably doom them to a tragic end. Both Tess and Holden are caught in society’s class system and make choices based on their own beliefs because they are confused about what society expects of them. Tess feels inferior to Angel because his family is financially stable while her family is not.
Tess chooses to tell Angel about Alec seducing her. When Angel takes the news poorly, she tells him, I will obey you like your wretched slave, even if it is to lie down and die” (Hardy 226). Because Tess feels socially inferior, she is willing to act as a slave. However, Angel leaves because he sees Tess as something too low for him. This abandonment is the key to Tess’ downfall.
Holden is at the opposite end of the ladder. He has wealth, and because of his money, he feels as though he is better than other people. Tess, on the other hand, feels as if she is lower than other people. While Holden is in the cab, he asks Horwitz, Do you ever pass by the lagoon in Central Park? Down by the Central Park South?” (Salinger 81). Holden knows that Horwitz will not have an answer to this question. When Horwitz does not respond, Holden feels superior to him because he perceives Horwitz as a mere cabbie who does not compare to himself and his social class. Tess and Holden are at opposite ends, and in this instance, they approach similar situations completely differently because of their social standing. Society and the class divisions of their time influence them both.
Tess chose to tell Angel about her previous sexual relationship, which tragically led to his departure. Similarly, Holden chose to mock those he deemed socially inferior, ultimately resulting in his tragic isolation and institutionalization. Tess, a beautiful English peasant, sought to marry a wealthy man to secure her family’s financial stability. In contrast, Holden’s family was already wealthy, but he believed that money made people insincere. Despite her reluctance, Tess tragically married Alec for his money after he convinced her that Angel would never return. When Angel does return from Brazil, he immediately notices Tess’s changed appearance and demeanor. She has become a gold digger, unhappy and longing for the happiness she once knew.
Tess and Holden are similar in that they both realize that money doesn’t bring happiness, and they can be happy without wealth. Despite Holden’s lack of belief in God, he willingly gave two nuns ten dollars for their collection. However, he later regretted only giving them ten dollars because he had made plans to go to a matinee with Sally Hayes and needed money for tickets and other expenses. Nevertheless, he still felt sorry for not being able to give more.
Goddamn money. It always ends up making you blue as hell” (Salinger 113). Holden’s statement shows that he really doesn’t like having money because it makes him more upset than joyful. Tess and Holden share similar beliefs that money isn’t everything.
Tess makes the disastrous choice of marrying Alec, which eventually leads to the tragic end of both their lives. Holden also makes a choice.