The Importance of Being Present - White Mike and Holden coping with Parental Absence

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2004 20 Pages

American Studies - Culture and Applied Geography


Table of contents

1 Introduction

2 The Different Types of Parental Absence
2.1 White Mike and his Parents
2.2 Holden and his Parents

3 The Substitute Role Models
3.1 White Mike’s Flesh-and-Blood Role Models
3.2 Literature as a Substitute
3.3 Role Models of Holden
3.3.1 His Siblings
3.3.2 His Teachers
3.4 Role Models Reviewed

4 White Mike and Holden in their Social Outcast States
4.1 What White Mike thinks about being a Drug-Dealer
4.2 Sociologist and Psychoanalyst Views
4.3 Holden’s Motif for Rejecting School
4.4 Widespread Scientific Explanations

5 Narrating Parental Absence
5.1 McDonell Narrating Parental Absence
5.2 Salinger Narrating Parental Absence
5.3 The End of the Year

6 Conclusion

7 Blibliography and Webliography

1 Introduction

A reviewer named Sullivan wrote that “reviews that compare White Mike to Holden Caulfield” would make her “shudder in disdain[1]. This was the spark that lit my thoughts about the lives of the two adolescent protagonists.

“What do you want? Because if you don’t want something, you’ve got nothing. [...] no one will remember where you were frozen and buried, and you will no longer be anywhere.”[2]

“Certainly it is! Why the hell isn’t it? People never think anything is anything really. I’m getting goddamn sick of it.”[3]

It is the very special ways Nick McDonell and J.D. Salinger deal with the idea of problematic adolescent identities, which make Twelve as well as The Catcher in the Rye seem extraordinary in many ways. Despite the fact that their techniques and plots are worlds apart, there are to some extent parallels which catch the eyes of at least the attentive reader.

The first section of this paper deals with the different types of parental absence White Mike and Holden have to cope with. Concerning this, there is also laid an eye on the by many means similar impacts on them. The substitute role models are discussed in the following part of the paper, while the third part shows up the different types of outcast state White Mike and Holden live in. Last but not least, the fourth section of this paper deals with the stylistic devices both McDonell and Salinger use to create their special atmosphere of parental absence.

2 The Different Types of Parental Absence

There are no doubt many ways in which mothers and fathers can be absent. Referring to an essay by Frances Nadeau, the absence could be divided into four different types.

The first type of separation is provided by death and illness, the second type is separation by living in different places[4]. A third kind of shift in the relationship between children and their parents may be caused by some “outside force[5] - like war. A fourth type of parental absence is the more or less harsh rejection of the parental lifestyle by the children[6]. If that is the case, a fatal conflict is mostly inevitable.

A discussion of the different types of parental absence in Twelve and The Catcher in the Rye is what this chapter provides - focussed on the familiar background of the main protagonists, White Mike in Twelve and Salinger’s Holden Caulfield.

2.1 White Mike and his Parents

At the time when the story takes place, the mother of White Mike has been dead for three and a half year. At that former point in time, Mike moved with his father[7], this being a symbol for the new life both of them had to cope with. That his new room is depicted as being “hot”, and that “there was nothing on the walls”[8], could be regarded as a symbol for the gap the death of his mother left in his life, the heat symbolizing danger and the empty walls showing that his life is in a way incomplete.

The father of White Mike is absent in another way. He is always stuck into his work, which consists in giving “people a place to eat[9] in restaurants. The little time they spend together is the main reason why the relationship between them is very loose. McDonell himself in an interview gives an unmatched explanation of why the child-parent-relations in his debut are like that.

“And why are there no parents? Because these are rich kids and their parents are off getting rich and being rich.”[10]

Reading that they are spending their time and energy just for earning money, it seems obvious that White Mike’s father as well as the other parents do not provide any basis for a satisfying relationship.

2.2 Holden and his Parents

It is a boarding school where Holden lives, except for his vacations. This fact reveals how weak the relationship between him and his parents is. Physical togetherness only exists in the short intervals when he is at home. His father being a successful lawyer, his mother being occupied by her social duties, even in his vacations Holden seems to be alone in at least in a psychological way. Throughout the story, not a single word is exchanged between Holden and his parents. It could be argued that this lack of communication intensifies Holden’s feeling misunderstood.

That he thinks his parents would like him to be a “hot-shot” [11] , and knowing that he is not, seems to be his existential problem. He is most of the time moving back and forth between his wish for earning the respect of his wealth-oriented parents and his own system of values, which concentrates on honesty and humanity.

3 The Substitute Role Models

Being parted from their parents, either in a physical or in a psychological way, both White Mike and Holden Caulfield are in a strong need of substitute role models they can identify with. To show up the wide-spreading spectre from which these substitutes are drawn, is the aim of this chapter.

3.1 White Mike’s Flesh-and-Blood Role Models

Though “buried and mourned by a few[12], White Mike’s mother is still very crucial to his edifice of ideas. Attending her burial, for him the loss appears to be a symbol for the senselessness of life:

“You have seen that before you lies a great stretch of road, and it is windswept or blasted by the hot sun or covered in snow, […], but no matter what, it is utterly empty.”[13]


[1] 2p. Online. Internet. 13.05.2004 15.00. Available FTP :


[2] McDonell, Nick. Twelve. New York : Atlantic Books 2003, 23. White Mike is thinking about”how rich

everyone is”.

[3] Salinger, J.D.. The Catcher in the Rye. London : Penguin Books 1994, 155. Holden’s sister Phoebe

before was asking him what he wants to be, and he did not give a conventional answer.

[4] Nadeau, Frances A.. The Mother/Daughter Relationship in Young Adult Fiction. In: The Alan Review.

New York : 1995, 15.

[5] Nadeau, Frances A., 15.

[6] Nadeau, Frances A., 16.

[7] McDonell, Nick., 58.

[8] McDonell, Nick., 58.

[9] McDonell, Nick., 158.

[10] 4p. Online. Internet. 24.05.2004 12.15. Available FTP : http://www.readinggroupguides.com/guides3/twelve2.asp Nick McDonell is interviewed by his Editor Morgan Entrekin. The question to McDonell’s answer From which these lines are quoted is: “What about the question of the adults? They’re strangely absent in this book. Was that intentional?”

[11] Salinger, J.D.., 50.

[12] McDonell, Nick, 88.

Here it is told what White Mike was thinking while attending his mother’s burial.

[13] McDonell, Nick, 88f.


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Institution / College
Humboldt-University of Berlin – Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik
Importance Being Presen Mike Holden Parental Absence Missing Mothers Caring Fathers Absent Parents Shifting Family Models Recent Young Adult Fiction Amerikanistik Literaturwissenschaft Young adult literature Salinger McDonell Hu Berlin Death of Salinger J.D. J. D. Salinger Holden Caulfield Salinger dead death tod salinger salinger tot salinger gestorben Catcher in the rye Fänger im Roggen




Title: The Importance of Being Present - White Mike and Holden coping with Parental Absence