Holden Caulfield is the controversial character in The Catcher in the
Rye. He goes through many changes throughout the novel as he matures from
a child to an adult. In this book, he is portrayed as a confused teenager trying
to find his place in the crazy world, while criticizing his foes and
contradicting himself. The way he presents himself throughout the novel
allows readers to relate to him better. His experiences and his thoughts vary,
but still revolve around one main center of gravity which the author, J.D.
Holden has many distinct characteristics that set him apart from his
peers. There is one problem that he cannot escape, and that is lying. Holden
lies to everyone including two nuns that he meets in a diner. Another thing is
his language. This is representative of the typical adolescence of his time
and place and indicative of his personal fears and frustrations. (Magill,
Magills…1803). He is sixteen years old and a junior at Pencey Prep School
in Agerstown, Pennsylvania. His age ties in to his openness. Holden often
expresses his feelings because he is at the age where he does not really care
about others. He is not afraid to tell people what he thinks or how he feels
about them. Holden criticizes people for the little things that they do. He
stereotypes them just by the things that he notices about them.
Throughout the story, Holden seems to have a goal set for himself.
This quest involves the preserving of innocence. He believes that if a child
can be saved from the cruel world and things in it, they will be spared.
Another thing in this journey is that he is looking for an ideal, but un-human
love that will meet all demands. This means that he will have a love for
everyone that is unconditional and that he will recieve love from everyone
else. Finally, the most important task, is the search for an identity. He is
constantly trying to find his true self amongst all the evils of the world. Later
on, Holden realizes he can achieve none of this (Unger 555).
The family is really not emphasized much in the context of this book.
Holden does not ever look to his family for help with his struggles or for
guidance along the way. Although he does mention his two brothers D.B.
and Allie, the only member he connects with is his younger sister, Phoebe.
They seem to share a common bond that links them to each other. His
parents never really offer him the shelter that he is looking for. He is
constantly searching for someone or something to turn to when he needs help,
but considers none of his family members (Magill, Critical…2935). Holdens
parents are considered wealthy and provide him with expensive, top of the
line luggage. Their only flaw mentioned is that they are too busy and do not
There is much irony scattered throughout Holdens story. One
example is how, from the very beginning of the novel, he tells of key things
that he detests, like when people repeat things constantly over and over. He
does not realize that right after he says this, he contradicts himself and does
the things he says he hates. It is also ironic how Holden despises his
roommate, Stradlater. He is always complaining about what a phony that he
is and how he is a secret slob. Yet, at some points, Holden comments that he
would not mind being like him. His cruelty toward others and his frustration
over his own mistakes just mix together (Lieder 2).
Symbolism is another theme that runs throughout the novel. Holden
has a dream that one day he can be the ultimate protector of all children. He
wants to save these children from being exposed to the evil world we live in.
His dream is counterbalanced by a feeling of falling that he always gets.
These two things seem to meet in his idea of a perfect world and everything
always stays the same (Unger 557). Time is also used as a type of
symbolism. The setting of the novel is in the cold, and in the middle of
winter. Time to celebrate Christmas, the ending of one year and awaiting of
another in a time of expiration. Holdens story is one of death to his
adolescent self and a rebirth to a new refreshed and mature Holden (Unger 556). This book can also be seen as a growing process. At the beginning, he
is immature and then as he approaches adulthood, he starts to get nervous and
worried of what lies ahead (Magill, Critical…2935). The world is also used
in expressing symbolism. It is often used to represent the madness and
cruelty that ruins people. Holden refers to it when he is talking of the
imminent fall from innocence (Magill, Magills…1803-1804).
Holden experiences many changes as the maturing process goes on.
He realizes that he can not be the catcher in the rye. The children are going
to be transformed and effected by the world in some way, no matter how hard
he tries to prevent it. He is also reborn to a knowledge of the world around
him. This refocuses the way he thinks. He, himself is transformed. He
realizes his own phoniness and deception toward others. This is a major step.
The main thing that happens is that he obtains a love for everything. Through
this he finds his true identity and learns the concept of compassion. Through
these changes he becomes peaceful. A survivor who finally achieves peace
of mind. (Hipple 106). Holden also realizes that even though he misses
everyone, he only really respected all children and the two nuns.
Holden Caulfield was confused, he criticized a lot of people, but he
also made some people think better of themselves through lying. In this
book, The Catcher in the Rye, he penetrates his own phoniness, in a sort of
retrospect, and realizes his faults. This represents a mature knowledge that
lies at the novels center of gravity. (Unger 555). After coming to these
conclusions, it puts an end to all the struggles that Holden went through to get
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“Holden Caulfield.” http://catcherintherye.terrashore.com/cast.html.
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Lieder, Tim. “So where do the ducks go in winter?” http://www.geocites.com /SoHo/gallery/7466/catcher-rye.html. September 12, 2000.
Magill, Frank N.,ed. “J.D. Salinger.” Critical Survey of Long Fiction: English Language Series, Revised Edition. Volume 6. Pasadena: Salem Press, 1991.
—.”J.D. Salinger.” Magill’s Survey of American Literature. Volume 5. New York: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 1991.
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