Holden’s Red Hunting Hat and it’s Symbolism

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Can a hat really provide a person with emotion, or for that matter, can a hat ever protect a person from their own emotions? In the book The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger the image of the main character’s red hunting hat comes up many times. Holden, the main character buys a hat while he is in New York with his school fencing team. Holden has just been kicked out of his school because for academic reasons, he decides to leave his school before the winter break starts, so he goes to New York. Steering clear from his family, except for his sister, he stays there for about three days on his own. During this time a lot happens to Holden, causing him to grow up. Holden’s hat is a metaphor for Holden’s growing up; in the beginning of the book Holden uses his hat frequently to combat as well as bring on emotion, then when he gets to New York and begins to grow up more, he uses his hat less frequently; at the end of the book Holden realizes that he doesn’t need his hat, and gives it to his sister.

Holden’s hat allows him to show and hide his emotions. Holden uses his hunting hat to speak freely and emotionally about his brother in an essay for Stradlater. After Holden gets back from being out with Brossard and Ackley he sits down to write a composition about Allie. Before he does this, he “put on [his] pajamas and bathrobe and [his] old hunting hat,” (37). Holden puts on his hunting hat so that he can write about his brother who died three years before this story takes place. Holden would not normally wear his hat to bed, so we can assume that he doesn’t wear it as a part of his pajamas. Putting it on before he writes an essay about his brother suggests that he put it on for that reason. At another time Holden uses h...

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... as he sits in the rain, reflecting on his hat he says, “My hunting hat really gave me quite a lot of protection, in a way, but I got soaked anyway” (213). Holden realizes that while his hat fails to give him protection from the weather, it did help him grow up. It did this by letting him express his emotions, and then by letting him give it up.

Holden’s hunting hat serves as a metaphor for his growing up; the more he grows up the less he uses his hat as an aide. Throughout the book it seems as though Holden uses his hat unconsciously, until the end, where he seems to divulge his knowledge of the aide of his hat. Does Holden really know how he is using his hat throughout the book, or does he merely realize at the end? The world will never know. What we do know, however, is that he progressively estranges himself from his hat, until he is independent of it.
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