Quixotism in the Works of Anderson & Salinger

Another blogpost to prove that J.D. Salinger is the novelistic grandfather of Wes Anderson. This time I’m tackling their theme of quixotism.



Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye has often been compared to “an American Don Quichote, indulging with rare gestures of the spirit in “behavior that sings” and this, in spite of his adolescent disaffiliation, affirming values of truth and imagination” (Strauch 6). Holden, Max and all the other characters of Salinger and Anderson do not seem to notice their own deviant behavior, which means there is a gap between how the characters see themselves and how the world sees them. Therefore, they are all quite quixotic. The meaning The Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary suggests for this term is: “Having or showing ideas that are different and unusual but not practical or likely to succeed”.

max planimetrie

Like Don Quixote, who is at the base of the term, they have romantic, unrealistic ideas about themselves and their actions. Max, for example, thinks that he will win Mrs. Cross’ heart by building an aquarium on the school grounds, but all he accomplishes with this capricious act, is being expelled from school. It also seems as if Salinger, but especially Anderson, suggest that their heroes are, in a way, fighting windmills instead of real enemies. Life is not fair, and not all people are nice, but in the end it is better to learn how to play the game of life and play along with your family or community.

antony window close-up

The way Anderson and Salinger end their stories is equally happy, but also equally ambiguous. Holden might get his life back on tracks in the mental institution, Max might become happy with his new girlfriend and new school, Anthony might be happy in his post-criminal and post-mental institution life, Dignan, despite being in jail, keeps smiling and believing in a bright future. Our heroes seem to have learned something from the adventures they have gone through, but the typical Hollywood Happy ending does not apply here. Anderson always ends his films with a slow motion shot, usually linked to shots of the movie hero doing something heroic, dangerous, admirable or memorable. If we know this, Anderson’s slow motion endings can be seen as either ironic, or hopeful. Strauch compares in his article “Kings in the Back Row: Meaning through Structure” Salinger’s characters to those of the romantics for they will rise again after periods of depression and feelings of dread:

Whatever the dreadful odds, the human spirit, though slain, refuses to stay dead; it is forever hearing the cock crow, forever responding to the Everlasting Yea. So in The Catcher; and the blunted, ambiguous ending mingles with this affirmation the doubt whether now at last, in the long travail of the spirit, the odds have not become too dreadful. If, as this reading interprets the book, the scales tip in favor of the affirmation, it is so because the history of youth is almost always hopeful (Strauch 29).

This conclusion proves critics who only see the darkness, depression and disaffection in Salinger’s work wrong. Not only are their endings ambiguous, Salinger and Anderson also refrain from giving one, unambiguous solution to all problems or the answer to the questions raised. Anderson seems to suggest that a happy and respecting community and living a creative life can help the hero to become happy again. Salinger, on the other hand, besides also suggesting that family, community and creativity are helpful in finding happiness, implies that a Zen life, which all the Glass children strife for, will lift their spirits. But, these are only suggestions, and not pat answers.

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There is a considerable dose of humor and hope present, as there is in Anderson’s films, which shows a mix of irony and disaffection as well as human warmth and the hope for change.

Remember how I called Anderson a unique and new director of the generation Y? Well this mix of irony and disaffection, as well as the theme of hope and human interactions is my main argument for this statement.


Strauch, Carl F. “Kings in the Back Row: Meaning through Structure. A Reading of Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye”.” Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature 2.1 (1961): 5-30

Previous posts on this topic


4 thoughts on “Quixotism in the Works of Anderson & Salinger

  1. OK, I am an fan of your writing. I’m doing some binge reading on your blog and I love your posts.
    Those are some great insights on Wes’ movies. He is my currently active favourite filmmaker and I love in him the things you talked about. His apparently happy finales are always ambiguous. I watched Fantastic Mr. Fox two days ago and that ending was beautiful. They found a source of hope and were understandably happy, but the future that lied ahead was everything but ideal.

  2. Pingback: J.D. Salinger, the Novelistic Grandfather of Wes Anderson | Ways To Make You See

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