The Characters of Hamlet and Holden

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To some, this argument may seem the most blatant form of mistruth, horrendous, even, in its lack of taste, a kind of literary sacrilege, in fact. Surely we have reached the end, one might say, when one can considerer comparing the immortal Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, with the adolescent protagonist of Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Salinger’s hero has been compared to many literary figures, from Huckleberry Finn to David Copperfield. So many different attitudes have been taken toward him. Let’s stop talking about him and write something else. Isn’t the subject getting boring? Perhaps so, but Holden will not go away. He continues to pester the mind, and while reading A.C. Bradley’s analysis of Hamlet’s character, it was hard to resist the idea that much of what Bradley was saying about Hamlet applied to Holden as well. Perhaps the comparison is not as absurd as it first appears. Of course, there is no similarity between the events of the play and those of the novel. The fascinating thing while reading Bradley was how perfectly his analysis of Hamlet’s character applied to Holden’s, how deeply, in fact, he was going into Holden’s character as well, revealing, among other things, its potentially tragic nature.

After demolishing the theories of other critics, Bradley concluded that the essence of Hamlet’s character is contained in a three-fold analysis of it. First, that rather than being melancholy by temperament, in the usual sense of “profoundly sad,” he is a person of unusual nervous instability, one liable to extreme and profound alterations of mood, a potential manic-depressive type. Romantic, we might say. Second, this Hamlet is also a person of “exquisite moral sensibility, “ hypersensitive to goodness, a m...

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...dy view holden as symbolizing the plight of the idealist in the modern world. Most importantly, however, it suggests why Holden Caulfied will not go away, he continues to remain so potent an influence on the now aging younger generation that he first spoke to, and why he continues to brand himself anew on the young. In fact, in this age of atrophy, in this thought-tormented, thought-tormenting time in which we live, perhaps it is not going too far to say that, for many of us, at least, our Hamlet is Holden.

Works Cited

Bradley, A.C. “Hamlet.” Shakespearean Tragedy. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1981. 89-174.

Sanders, Wlibur, and Howard Jacobson. “Hamlet’s Sanity.” Shakespeare’s Magnanimity: Four Tragic Heroes, Their Friends and Families. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978. 22-56.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. New York: Washington Square Press, 1992.
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