Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Holden Caulfield, a tall seventeen-year-old with prematurely graying hair. In a California sanatorium where he is undergoing treatment for a physical and mental collapse, he narrates the very subjective account of his almost two-day sojourn in New York City shortly before his breakdown. In the narrative, he flees Pencey, an exclusive boys’ preparatory school in Pennsylvania from which he had been expelled, just before the Christmas break. Alienated, lonely, sad, and afraid to go home until the date his parents expect him, Holden roams New York City seeking comfort and understanding from past friends and acquaintances, from strangers, and, stealthily, from his adored little sister, Phoebe. Still mourning his younger brother Allie’s death from leukemia three years earlier, Holden nurses a morbid sensitivity behind a façade of adolescent loudmouthed belligerence, bravado, and apathy that has cost him friends and family approval and caused this third expulsion from a school. Longing for emotional support, Holden perversely trusts almost no one. He views his world, not incorrectly, as being full of “phonies”; often, he fantasizes about a solitary life as a self-sufficient deaf-mute. Holden longs for an idyllic world epitomized for him in the words of Robert Burns’s “Coming Through the Rye.” He wishes himself to be the “catcher,” protector of children’s innocence, in a kind of sunlit never-never land where life’s ugly adult realities—and even death—are kept at bay. He wryly admits, though, that such a world cannot exist. His temporary retreat is the collapse from which he is now recovering by warily recounting his experiences and feelings to a shadowy listener, probably a psychiatrist.
Sally Hayes, Holden’s longtime friend in New York City, a little older than he and certainly more worldly. A pretty, vain, wealthy, and self-absorbed social climber, she...
(The entire section is 797 words.)
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