Holden Caulfield

Outer characterization

Holden Caulfield is the main character and narrator of J. D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye. He is an American seventeen-year-old boy who recounts the events that occurred a few days before Christmas the previous year when he was sixteen. 

Holden’s family lives in New York City and, at the time he narrates the story, he is currently living in an institution in California. Before, Holden was a student at Pencey Prep, where he was expelled because he failed all his subjects except English. Holden has abandoned or been kicked out of several other schools because he felt depressed by the fake attitude of the headmaster and by the phony students. 

Holden has an older brother, D. B., a younger sister, Phoebe, and a younger brother, Allie, who died of leukemia when Holden was thirteen. Holden has a close relationship with Phoebe and cherishes Allie’s memory. 

Physically, the element that makes Holden stand out in the novel is his red hunting hat, which he got from New York:

It was this red hunting hat, with one of those very, very long peaks. I saw it in the window of this sports store when we got out of the subway (…) It only cost me a buck. The way I wore it, I swung the old peak way around to the back – very corny, I’ll admit, but I liked it that way. I looked good in it that way. (pp. 18-19)

The red hunting hat appears several times throughout the novel and becomes a symbol of Holden’s uniqueness and quirkiness. 

Holden reveals that he is “six foot two and a half” (p. 9) and that he has “millions of gray hairs” (p. 9) on the right side of his head. In several contexts, Holden uses his gray hair as an excuse to appear older and to trick people into thinking that he is more mature than he looks. 

Inner characterization

Holden yearns for companionship but is unable to form meaningful connections

Holden’s story presents a series of his failed attempts to connect with the people around him. This comes from both a tendency to isolate himself from others and a deliberate rejection of those who might want to form a connection with him. He is lonely and, despite having a superior attitude, he feels the need to connect with other people. For example, he reaches out to different people throughout the novel, expressing his need for connection, but he is unable to fully commit and ends up rejecting the people he needs.

He reaches out to former friends, Sally Hayes and Carl Luce, when he is in New York, but he ends up rejecting Sally and pushing Luce away. Holden also pushes his family away by refusing to tell his parents that he was expelled, and rejects some of his colleagues at Pencey because he feels superior to them. In the end, Holden’s alienation is his worst enemy, as it makes him reach out to people then push them away, re...

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