Character Analysis of Holden Caulfield of Catcher In The Rye
Length: 1006 words (2.9 double-spaced pages)
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Ever since its publication in 1951, J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye has served as a firestorm for controversy and debate. Salinger's portrayal of Holden, which includes incidents of depression, nervous breakdown, impulsive spending, sexual exploration, crudeness, and other erratic behavior, have all ascribed to the controversial nature of the novel. Holden embarks on a journey and through every turn in the road, he deals with conflicts within himself searching for the truth in a society full of falsity. Holden is by far the most complex character in the book. His role is surrounded by 2 main themes that serve as his inner conflicts: a critic towards society and an adolescent stuck between the world of childhood and adulthood. Both these themes are related to him through the two children in his life he respects most his brother Allie and his little sister Phoebe. They play the biggest role in Holden's self-realization.
There are two Holden's in this play. One is the character and the other is the narrator. His honesty is entirely internalized. He admits his faults and lies in narration, but can't do the same with other people. I personally like reading stories where the main character is telling the story. In this way, I have noticed some contradictions in Holden's personality. He criticizes everyone in society because they are being phonies when he lies all the time leading him to be a phony himself. Right from the beginning of the story he starts to "shoot the bull" with his history teacher, Mr. Spencer, who had flunked him. In chapter 3, his first line is "I'm the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life." Even as he's leaving Pency Prep, he gives a fake name to the mother of one of his classmates. It seems to me, his criticism of the world first lies within himself. He has shut himself out from the world, which makes him an outcast. And by criticizing everything around him, it seems to be a way for Holden to justify how the world is a bad place and to grow up and leave adolescents behind is just something that no one should do.
Holden's journey takes him though a cross section of American society.
From school, to bars, to the city, to his family, I think Salinger wants to portray how widespread phoniness has become. His relationship with his brother D.B. used to be something he respected until he moved out to Hollywood. Hollywood was a good place for Salinger to use because it's a place where we can understand the meaning of phonies. Holden refers to his brother as a prostitute who has given himself up for the money in Hollywood becoming a thing that he hates the most. It would make sense that Holden didn't like movies because it was something that required acting and being someone your not. Yet, he went to the movies pretty often which again shows me his hypocritical side.
The second theme is the most important because it shows us his transition phase from childhood to an adolescent to finally understanding adulthood. The first place I read where Holden starts to shut himself out from the world, is with Allies death. Holden caused himself physical pain by punching windows in his garage to avoid the emotional pain that comes with a close death, people who we call "cutters". I guess the reason why Allie means so much to Holden is because Allie is now preserved as a true innocent, never will he be affected by the phoniness of the world. In chapter 10 he talks a bit more about Phoebe, his younger sister. He can't say anything bad about her. He even appears charmed by her faults, such as misspelling the name of her girl detective in the story she writes. Holden even compares her to Allie. These two characters, along with Jane Gallagher, represent for Holden a sense of childhood and innocence. Jane Gallagher continues to occupy a great deal of Holden's thoughts, and the stories about her reinforce other themes that emerge throughout The Catcher in the Rye. The story about Jane Gallagher is there to remind the reader that Allie's death has had a major effect on Holden. For Holden, information about Allie remains secretive and private, to be shared only with certain people. This also gives more weight to the earlier chapter in which Holden writes a paper about the baseball mitt for Stradlater. This information, which he once considered to be so private, emerges as part of an essay written for others, indicating that Holden has been repressing certain emotions concerning his brother's death that may eventually emerge. Jane's role in the play may not have been a big one for the plot, but it is pretty significannot
towards Holden's mentality. He believes that Jane Gallagher has been abused by her alcoholic stepfather. This only strengthens Holden's idea that all authority figures are dangerous. This also elaborates part of the reason why Holden has such a jaded view of sexuality. He may associate it with actions such as Mr. Cudahy's predatory behavior toward Jane. Phoebe is still a child, Allie never had the chance to mature, and Jane exists for Holden as an innocent girl playing checkers. Those characters that represent an adult sensibility serve primarily as targets for Holden's jokes.
Almost all of the insight Caulfield spoke of were things that would not have been taught to him. Such as repeatedly displaying understanding of human nature, pretensions, and thought processes. However, despite his intuition, he applies his often cynical and pessimistic reasoning to almost everything. This fact illustrates ignorance and a level of immaturity.
Salinger, J.D. "Catcher in the Rye"