Catcher in the Rye: Is Antolini Gay?

I’m teaching Catcher in the Rye for the umpteenth time, and every year the kids are fixated on this one point: Is Mr. Antolini gay? My first instinct is to say no, b/c they think EVERYONE is gay. However, there is some textual evidence to suggest that he is. His wife is much older, and Holden mentions that Mr. and Mrs. Antolini are never in the same room together. Makes me think they’re each other’s beards. Also, as a teacher, I can tell you that I’d have to have imbibed an ocean of highballs before I’d be petting one of my student’s heads as they slept.

Does anyone have an opinion on this? Why do you think so?

I always thought so–if only because Holden seems so freaked out by his behavior, and because Holden leaves so quickly after the hair stroking incident. There was also something about the vocab that Holden used to describe him that struck a bell, but it has been a while since I read the book…

I always assumed so. That doesn’t mean I think he was intending to make further advances. The feel I got from the book was that petting the boy’s head was as far as Antolini was willing to take it.

Still, if I had been in Holden’s place, at that age, I would have been creeped out and left ASAP.

That’s fer sure. In Freshman English we read A Separate Peace. The merits of the book as a good book aside, the homoeroticism of Gene Forrester was a constant topic of discussion. Yours truly contributed with a series of very funny cartoons, including one of the notorious scene whereing Gene describes another boy’s rump for a paragraph or two (I’d love to show you it as it was one of my better drawings, from a contour/shape/shading angle, but the scanner was a dud and we got rid of it) and one of the greatest discoveries I made in my Freshman year:

Finny is the object of much of Gene’s thoughts.

His birth name is “Phineas”.


Make it a plural possessive*.


Split the word


And we arrive at

Fine Ass.

Thus, Gene is a homosexual. We were such smart kids.

*I know it’s wrong, but it made sense at the time!

I read Catcher in the Rye once.

It made me want to kill Reagan all over agian. Badum psssht.

I didn’t take from it that he is gay, so much as curious; or kooky. He married the older woman but never really spends any time with her, drinks like a fish, and apparently has a history of taking in young, troubled kids.

It never even alludes to his gaining any kind of sexual gratification or hoping for anything beyond the petting, and as strange as the hair stroking is, it isn’t too condemnable.

What stuck out more in my mind when I read that part of the novel was Holden’s reaction and his saying something about how this kind of thing always happened.

Perhaps it’s the norm for adults in Holden’s world to be borderline pedophiles.

  • Taxi Driver * was Reagen.

  • Catcher in the Rye * was John Lennon. I would have preferred it be the other way around, only so Lennon would still be alive.

Have any of you ever heard the word “flit” used as a noun to describe a homosexual, outside of this book?

It’s 1940s-50s slang, so only people of a certain age are likely to have ever heard it in regular parlance. Like moxie, whippersnapper, etc, etc.

Remember how the major asassins had a copy of Catcher in the Rye along with three names?

Don’t most people have three names?

I basically interpret Mr. Antolini as a gay character, although I come to the decision cautiously–Holden is definitely a character who tends to misinterpret people and is very loose in his descriptions. Mrs. Antolini is described as being “about sixty years older” than Mr. Antolini, for example. Some of the dialogue Salinger puts into Antolini’s mouth–such as telling Holden “Goodnight, handsome.”–seem a little questionable.

I don’t like the interpretation, though, because in a novel so obsessed with phoniness, the homosexual through Antolini becomes sort of the ultimate phony–and perhaps a dangerous predator. This view probably wouldn’t be uncommon in the 1940s and 1950s, though. Hell, some people hold that opinion now.

Montag01, I have the same trepidation about labelling Antolini gay. Holden is prone to hyperbole, and also admits very early on in the text that he is a “terrific liar.” He might have wildly overreacted to an innocent, if alcohol-induced action.

OTOH, not for nothing, but Mr. & Mrs. Antolini do not sound like a marriage for love, and let’s face it: drunk or not, patting a teenage boy’s head in the middle of the night is ill-advised. Dangerous predator? I don’t know if I’d go that far, but you are correct when you say that a gay Antolini, for all his articulate and well-intentioned rhetoric, would be a huge phony in his marriage of convenience. Hmmm… interesting.

I guess my students will have to live with the ambiguity, but this is good food for thought and discussion.

I agree the term predator might be too much. I chose the word as a substitute for pedophile, which gets confused (I think) with homosexuality and I didn’t want muddy the waters. But it comes to the same problem anyway, because pedophile is also probably too harsh and inaccurate, since Holden is about 17.

I think if I were teaching Catcher in the Rye and had enough experience to know that students are typically very curious about Antolini, I would definitely co-assign the short story “Hands” from Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. It was the tale about a teacher named “Wing” Biddlebaum who has very large hands (hence his nickname) and who is sort of Socratic in nature, often touching his students heads and shoulders as he communicates his knowledge. Anderson leaves no doubt that Biddlebaum’s motives are pure, and there’s a lovely description of how he feels that he is imparting his knowledge through his hands. But a student misinterprets the caresses and soon the town of Winesburg forces him out of his position and into the margins of their society. I think the story might provide students with an interesting take on what appears to be a similar situation.

Motang01, that is a great idea. I know the story you mean but never connected it to Catcher. Thanks so much for your insights. I really appreciate them.

I don’t. Which is apparently why I will never make it out of the minor-leagues as an assassin. sigh Yet another potential lucrative career ruled out.


  • Tamerlane

Yes, but the assassins were known by all three, as opposed to just having a more or less inactive middle name and going by their first and last.

In regards to the gayness question, I’d tell your class that the book leaves Antolini’s gayness up to the imagination. Tell them it’s however you’d like to interpret it.