How does J.D Salinger use the character of Holden Caulfield to explore

How does J.D Salinger use the character of Holden Caulfield to explore

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How does J.D Salinger use the character of Holden Caulfield to explore
the issues related to growing up?

‘The Catcher in the Rye’ was written in the late 1940’s and first
published in a magazine in 1947. The novel is like a bildungsroman but
only consists of two and a half days in the life of a 17 year old boy
called Holden Caulfield, although he argues that the book is not about
his “lousy childhood”. Holden seems to be very conscious of this and
doesn’t want it to be “all that David Copperfield kind of crap”.
Nevertheless the book is an insight into a young man’s mind.

Salinger creates Holden Caulfield’s idiolect with all the
colloquialisms and swearing, which resulted in the book being banned
in many states of America. Holden is very open and does not refrain
from sharing some of his views on society and the war. At the time of
publishing, America was experiencing very rich, prosperous, affluent
years. Hollywood was the worlds best film industry and something
America was very proud of and enjoyed, “Everybody was on their way to
the movies” but Holden “couldn’t stand looking at them”, this was a
big dig at American society and became very controversial. Holden
doesn’t hold back his political views either, “I’m sort of glad
they’ve got the atomic bomb invented. If there’s another war, I’m
going to sit right the hell on top of it”. Due to the contextual time
of post WW2 this was deeply shocking and disturbed many people, the
atomic bomb had killed millions of innocent people and thousands had
relatives lost in the war. At this time America was very
anti-communism but Holden hints anti-capitalist views, “Goddamn money.
It always ends up making you feel blue as hell”, and he often wears a
“red hunting hat” which could have easily symbolized a communist. This
was also a contributing factor to the shock this gave American
society. However these are just the views of a teenager and all is
part of J.D Salinger exploring the confused, rebellious thoughts of
someone growing up.

Salinger explores the issues of growing up in many different ways.
Most of them contradict themselves at some point as well, portraying
the confusion and unsettled mind of an adolescence. One of these main
issues is Holden’s longing to gain independence. This is seen from
early on in the book and is carried on throughout. The first main
example of Holden wanting to move freely with independence is when he
decides he’d “get the hell out of Pency...not wait till Wednesday”
when he is supposed to break up from his boarding school.

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Holden did
this for several reasons; one of them being the fact that he failed
most his subjects and didn’t want to go home straight away, but
another being that he hated Pency, not necessarily because it treated
him badly, but because he didn’t fit in. Holden was an individual
there as he didn’t fit in with the repressive male dominated
environment, with the unspoken testosterone hiercy of Pency. Salinger
discusses Holden’s lack of confidence with typical teenage emotions,
“It made me too sad and lonesome”, to remind the reader of Holden’s
vulnerability to hormonal cynical thoughts.

Holden shows a desire throughout the novel to be accepted into
adulthood; like making an effort to talk to the mother of a boy he
knows from Pency prep. He smokes with her, “she took a cigarette off
me and I gave her a light”, and asks her if she’d “care for a
cocktail”, all this behaviour comes across as very mature, but is all
contradicted by Holden’s lies. Throughout the novel Holden has a habit
of making up a new identity for himself, “’Rudolf Schmidt,’ I told
her” and he lies about everything about himself, “Once I get started,
I can go for hours”. In chapter 8, Holden tells Mrs Morrow that her
son is “so darn shy and modest” when really Holden describes him as
someone “that’s always snapping their towels at people’s asses”.
Holden also seeks sympathy in telling Mrs Morrow that he has “to have
this operation” for a reason for his early return from Pency Prep,
instead of really telling her that he failed all his exams and is
running away.

The reason for Holden’s constant lying could be caused by his
insecurities within himself. At this point in his life Holden seems to
be very insecure with his self and so instead of facing up to the
truth and reality of what’s happening to him he finds it much easier
to lie and gain respect from what he is saying. This insecurity is all
reflected with Holden’s ambition to run away. Instead of facing up to
his problems, he wants to run away from them so he can create a new
life for himself. This also highlights Holden’s immaturity.

Another example of Holden’s yearn to fit in with the adult world is
his frequent trips to clubs and bars, he gets very frustrated when the
waiters won’t serve him, ”i gave him this very cold stare, like he’d
insulted the hell out of me”. Holden also smokes. He usually only
smokes when he’s feeling depressed, “I must have smoked about three
cartons that day” or wants confidence, “and light a cigarette, cool as
hell”. This may also be a security thing; smoking makes Holden fell
grown up and accepted.

A constant reoccurring issue with Holden throughout “The Catcher in
the Rye” is sex. Although Holden has certain views on the issue like
he should “quit horsing around with girls that deep down, gave him a
pain in the ass” and he is appalled by his roommate “Stadlater’s
technique” with girls in the back seat of a car, he admits that “Sex
is something I really don’t understand too hot”. Later on Salinger
puts emphasis on Holden’s fickle thoughts on the matter as he
completely contradicts his views as he speaks confidently about his
encounters with sex, “I’ve had quite a few opportunities to lose my
virginity and all, but never got round to it yet”. Holden then goes
further on to say that something has always been stopping him, “if
you’re in the back seat of somebody’s car, there’s always somebody’s
date in the front seat”. This was the exact behaviour he earlier had

The main encounter Holden does have with sex during “The Catcher in
the Rye” is when he has a prostitute sent to his hotel room. Although
Holden even says “It was against my principles” he still agrees to
have her sent up. This again displays Holden’s indecisive teenage mind
on his views and morals. He is very aware of morals and which are
important to have but cannot follow them through, especially with the
girls! Salinger portrays Holden’s shallow side further on when Holden
asks “is she good-looking?” before the girl is sent up. However
Holden’s confidence in being able to “get in some practice on her” is
crushed when “Sunny” turns up and he realizes she is quite young, “she
was around my age”. Sunny turns out to be very different to the
stereotypical prostitute Holden has in his mind; she doesn’t smoke or
swear, “What the heck” and cares not to get her “dress all wrinkly”.
This depresses Holden as she doesn’t seem wreckless or completely
immoral like Holden feels a prostitute should be and leaves him
feeling guilty as she seems really innocent. This reflects Holden’s
sensitive as well as Holden’s childish side. Holden longs to be
independent and act like a adult but when given the chance he’d rather
hold on to his innocence and doesn’t want to accept that people
especially girls do act young yet have lost all their true innocence-
like virginity, “a girl when she really gets passionate, she hasn’t
any brains”. Here Salinger is expressing the stresses of being a
teenager and being new to sex and “getting nervous” and having
“trouble just finding what I’m looking for”.

A very important issue of growing up that every teenager has to face
is the acceptance into society and personally accepting society. This
is a very heavy issue throughout “The Catcher in the Rye” as Holden
has great difficulty dealing with this. Holden portrays himself as an
outsider. In the first chapter, Holden sets himself “way the hell up
on top of Thompson Hill”, he is all alone because “practically the
whole school except me” were at a football game. This acts as a
reflection of what it is to be Holden’s isolation from society,
including his friends and family, portrayed throughout the story.
Holden seems to look down on the football game, “you were supposed to
commit suicide or something if Pency didn’t win,” as he does with
society, “I couldn’t stand somebody going to the movies”; this
attitude constantly crops up in Holden’s weekend. Through this
attitude, “You never saw so many phonies in all your life”, Holden
alienates himself more and more from society.

Yet because of this attitude and opinions he has, he tends to hang
back from joining in with interacting with people. At clubs and bars
Holden would prefer to sit back and “watch the phonies for a while”
than joining in and having a good time there. Another classic example
of this behaviour Salinger creates is with Sally Hayes’ friend George
in chapter 17. Holden has a strong opinion on what George is talking
about yet instead of expressing these opinions, “Angels. For
Christsake. Angels”, he listens criticizing along the way, “It was the
phoniest conversation you ever heard in your life”. This is a strong
example of an insecurity Holden has with himself. While he narrates
his story he can express his opinions and criticisms freely, but does
not state them out aloud therefore can never be challenged or agreed
with, so he remains enclosed in his thoughts, but also feeling

As a result of Holden’s feeling of isolation from society, Holden
rebels against them. Holden didn’t feel like he fitted in to Pency
Prep, “It was one of the worst schools I ever went to” so he didn’t
try hard at his subjects and consequently got kicked out. This
rebellious streak is carried on with his attitude towards society. The
main example of this is Holden’s ambition to runaway to the
countryside, “we’ll stay in these cabin camps” and he rebels against
the much expected dream of getting a job to earn enough to buy a
“goddamn Cadillac” as he’d “rather have a goddamn horse”. Holden seems
to think that there is no way out of following that path and seems
very afraid of it so much so that he feels that he has to run away
more than any thing else. Here Salinger expresses Holden’s immaturity
in dealing with these views- he is in much desperation to escape as if
he feels like he can’t control his own actions, and may turn “Phony”.
It also shows the main character’s naivety in thinking he can just
“get a job somewhere” and “we’d have a terrific time”. Innocence is
lost in growing up and this dream of Holden’s highlights his ignorance
in this matter and that he is not yet ready for adult life.

Through symbolism Holden expresses his rebellion against capitalism by
showing interest in communism. This can be read into from the “red
hunting hat” Holden often wears. Because of the sensitive time that
the book was written- post WW2, a red hat could be easily read as an
indication of support for communism. It is also indicated in the
situation that Holden wears the hat, like just after the fight with
Stradlater, when leaving Pency and when drunk in New York and so on.

To illustrate Holden’s personal problems of growing up, Salinger uses
a museum that Holden used to visit regularly as a child. In chapter 16
Holden reminisces about the differences of each visit, “You’d have an
overcoat on this time”, and how “The best thing” about the museum “was
that everything always stayed right where it was”. As Holden reflects
on this he observes that “The only thing that would be different would
be you” and within everything else being exactly the same he saw
changes in himself, “you’d be different in some way”. Holden
consequently decides not to go inside the museum which suggests that
he does not want to be faced with how he has changed now and what he
is becoming, an adult.

In the last few chapters in Salinger’s novel, “The Catcher in the
Rye”, Holden is reunited with his little sister Phoebe. Phoebe is the
only person Holden feels he’s ever been able to relate to, “she was
somebody you always felt like talking to” and so this is where Holden
finds his feet. In chapter 26 Holden and Phoebe go to the zoo, here
there is a carrousel that the Caulfield children have gone to since
they were little. Salinger uses the carrousel as a symbol and an
extended metaphor which helps conclude Holden’s journey. It confronts
Holden with his placement in life; he is not a child any more. Phoebe
is “mad about the carrousel”, which prompt Holden into knowing that he
must take the role of a mature person looking after his little sister.
He stands at the side and “watched her go around and around” and this
triggers the symbolism of the circle of life which dawns upon Holden
which he takes with acceptance, “I felt so damn happy all of a

Salinger explores the issues of growing up really well through many
different techniques, a significant one being the symbolism of the
museum. Other skills used is the contradictions he makes which puts
emphasis on the confusion of growing up, the depression and the way
how Holden isolates himself from expressing his opinions openly all
web together the issues of growing up. Having the confidence yourself
as a teenager plays a huge part in growing up as it helps you to learn
and adjust your views and morals through discussions and stating your
opinions. This way you can develop and adapt to at least cope with
society, you also find people who may feel the same way about aspects
of life. Without expression of these morals or opinions no one would
ever be able to learn or strengthen these ideas, therefore remaining
‘right’ in their own eyes and also feeling alone and singled out
though these thoughts. This is a very significant problem which alot
of people have of growing up and Salinger explores it really well,
expressing in a really unique way. The structure of Salinger’s novel
also contributes towards the feel the reader gets of growing up
because they only get one person’s interpretation, leaving the story
coming from the mind of a questionable young boy’s mind.
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