As an element of their work to analyze Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, I had my freshman students complete a Myers-Briggs personality quiz as if they were Holden, and then retake the test as themselves. It was extra credit and so my sample size was smaller than it might have been otherwise, but the results were great fun to look at. Especially because the majority of my students said that they found Holden to be a whining, complaining, “royal pain in the ass” (as Holden so harshly calls Sally Hayes with whom he has a relationship that, ironically, seemed to ring true with most of them) and they saw very few similarities between themselves and Holden. This makes me chuckle. Many of these same students will reread the novel as seniors and, according to the teacher who has them do this, the vast majority of these same students will have a very different opinion of Holden at that time. But I digress.
I chose to have them do this because I had recently completed the same personality test for my own self (involved) interest. I am an ENTJ: extrovert, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging, known as the Fieldmarshal. Apparently fewer than two percent of the population fall into this category. Some famous ENTJs include Napoleon Bonaparte, Hilary Clinton, Carl Sagan, John Adams and George Bernard Shaw. Interesting. Fieldmarshals are described as follows:
Frank, decisive, assume leadership readily. Quickly see illogical and inefficient procedures and policies, develop and implement comprehensive systems to solve organizational problems. Enjoy long-term planning and goal setting. Usually well-informed, well read, enjoy expanding their knowledge and passing it on to others. Forceful in presenting their ideas.
When I took the same test as Holden the result was ISFP. For those less familiar with the Myers-Briggs categories, that is the diametric opposite of me. In each of the four categories. And I love Holden. I guess it’s true, opposites attract. Holden’s type in my analysis was the Composer. Composers can be described this way:
They do not wait to consider their moves; rather, they act in the here and now, with little or no planning or preparation. Composers are especially sensitive to the pain and suffering of others, and they sympathize freely with the sufferer. Some have a remarkable way with young children, almost as if there were a natural bond of sympathy and trust between them. Often greatly misunderstood. Very likely the difficulty comes from their tendency not to express themselves verbally, but through their works of art. Composers are usually not interested in developing ability in public speaking, or even in the art of conversation; they prefer to feel the pulse of life by touch, in the muscles, in the eyes, in the ears, on the tongue.
That seemed pretty accurate, and it made me wonder what Holden’s work of art would have been…
My students’ results were wildly divergent. Interestingly, the way they saw Holden varied by class group rather than individually. At first this made me think that there had been some unauthorized “collaboration”, but their analyses seemed to indicate that they had, in fact, arrived at collective understandings of Holden as we read the novel that were the result of class discussions, which were quite logically unique based on the different natures of each class. Overall, my students breakdown to 80% extroverts and 20% introverts and the larger groups into which they fall are Idealists and Artisans. The largest group being ENFJ… Teachers, and the next group? ESFP: Performers. I get tired even thinking about it.
The majority of my kids saw Holden as ISTP, the Crafter. “Crafters are people who love action, and who know instinctively that their activities are more enjoyable, and more effective, if done impulsively, spontaneously, subject to no schedules or standards but their own.” That was really interesting because it showed me what parts of Holden’s personality they had really tuned into; his impulsiveness and irreverence. The second most dominant result was INTP, the Architect. These people are described as tending “to see distinctions and inconsistencies instantaneously, and can detect contradictions no matter when or where they were made. It is difficult for an Architect to listen to nonsense, even in a casual conversation, without pointing out the speaker’s error. And in any serious discussion or debate Architects are devastating, their skill in framing arguments giving them an enormous advantage. Architects regard all discussions as a search for understanding, and believe their function is to eliminate inconsistencies, which can make communication with them an uncomfortable experience for many.” Again, this was amazing to see what the kids had picked out about Holden.
I have been working with some smart cookies this year.
Some other interesting generalizations were brought to light with this activity. The larger the percentage of introverts I had in a class the larger number of them saw Holden as an extrovert. [The categories of extrovert that they saw Holden as included ESTP, ESFP, ESTJ (Promoters, Performers, Supervisors.)] Also, not a single student arrived at the same result as I did for Holden, which definitely makes me want to take the quiz again.
Another large distinction was that regardless of being extroverts or introverts, only 28% of my students were thinkers over feelers. I think this is probably age appropriate (these are freshman on the brink of becoming sophomoric…) and they were split just about evenly between being sensing and intuiting, as well as between perceiving and judging.
In terms of an element of literary analysis, using the Myers-Briggs to consider a fictional character was something they enjoyed and I think offered them an entirely new way to look at literary analysis that was more comfortable for them if for no other reason than the concrete nature of the activity.
Obviously I love data and I love rationalizing things, like personality, that seem impossibly irrational most of the time. To that end I am not interested in making more of this than I should, but it is still really fun to look at. Their narrative analyses of their results were also fascinating. I think that next year I will have all my freshmen do this rather than have it be an optional extra credit assignment just because it would be fascinating to see how it shakes down. Though I do feel like the sample this year was freakishly accurate in its representation of the group as a whole and within the classes.
In the end, this Fieldmarshal has gotten a huge kick out of working with her largely extroverted feeling freshmen this year. And I still love Holden Caulfield after all these years.
I’m guessing they’re gonna like him down the road, too.