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Read J.D. Salinger’s first short story to feature Holden Caufield.

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December 22, 2021, 2:38pm

An educated guess: when we think of The Catcher in the Rye, our mind leaps to its precocious and misunderstood protagonist, Holden Caufield. But The Catcher in the Rye wasn’t Holden Caufield’s first published appearance. In 1946, The New Yorker published a story called “Slight Rebellion off Madison,” which would become chapter 17 of The Catcher in the Rye—and even earlier, on this day in 1945, Collier’s published “I’m Crazy,” a short story by J.D. Salinger with Holden Caufield as the protagonist.

“I’m Crazy” charts a post-dropout Holden Caufield watching a basketball game; talking to his history teacher, which doesn’t yield the mutual understanding he wants; and traveling back home to tell his family he’s no longer enrolled in school. Much of this material would make its way into The Catcher in the Rye, albeit in reworked form; the voice of “I’m Crazy” is slightly different, a bit less hardened and more naïve, but a reader can see Holden’s nascent voice. Collier’s described “I’m Crazy” as “the heart-warming story of a kid whose only fault lay in understanding people so well that most of them were baffled by him and only a very few would believe in him.”

The story begins:

It was about eight o’clock at night, and dark, and raining, and freezing, and the wind was noisy the way it is in spooky movies on the night the old slob with the will gets murdered. I stood by the cannon on the top of Thomsen Hill, freezing to death, watching the big south windows of the gym—shining big and bright and dumb, like the windows of a gymnasium, and nothing else (but maybe you never went to a boarding school).

I just had on my reversible and no gloves. Somebody had swiped my camel’s hair the week before, and my gloves were in the pocket. Boy, I was cold. Only a crazy guy would have stood there. That’s me. Crazy. No kidding, I have a screw loose. But I had to stand there to feel the goodby to the youngness of the place, as though I were an old man. The whole school was down below in the gym for the basketball game with the Saxon Charter slobs, and I was standing there to feel the goodbye.

I stood there—boy, I was freezing to death—and I kept saying goodbye to myself, “Good-bye, Caulfield. Good-bye, you slob . . .”

Read the full story here.

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