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...
(The entire section is 797 words.)
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Themes and Characters
As he roams about the city, Holden encounters his brother's old friends, calls strangers to whom friends have referred him, mixes in a hotel bar, and invites a prostitute into his hotel room, only to be shaken down by her pimp. He arranges a date to a theater performance with an old girlfriend, Sally Hayes, and the evening ends in a fight over his plea for her to run away with him to the Vermont wilderness.
After taking Sally home, Holden goes to a movie at Radio City, then stops off for a drink at the Seton Hotel with an old school friend named Luce who chastises him for his social and sexual immaturity. Holden finally sneaks into his parents' apartment and wakes up his little sister Phoebe. His long conversation with Phoebe provides a partial motive for Holden's alienation, revealing much about his personality that has been masked, particularly his love for the innocence of young children and his desire to save them from the pain and corruption of the adult social world. On a sudden impulse, Holden sets out for a late night visit to a favorite old teacher, Mr. Antolini.
This visit gives readers further insight into Holden's unusual sensitivity. Antolini gives Holden wise advice about the need to adjust to adult society and to outgrow dangerous illusions in order to avoid suffering a serious "fall" or disillusionment, but Holden remains unconvinced. Holden falls asleep and awakes to find Mr. Antolini touching his head in an affectionate...
(The entire section is 880 words.)
Think of The Catcher in the Rye, and one immediately thinks of Holden Caulfield. He is one of the great characters of fiction, the model of the sensitive, idealistic, and confused young man. His struggles with society and against Time, told from his own point of view, make the book intensely real for most readers who empathize with Holden. But something bigger and stranger happens. Like Huck Finn, Jay Gatsby, and other memorable characters, Holden breaks the bounds of his own fictional world and achieves an independent existence. Readers imagine him as a real person in real-life situations.
Holden is the only fully drawn character in the novel; the others are character sketches. Phoebe and Allie are rare creations: intelligent and lovable children, yet believable and unsentimentalized. Like Dickens, Salinger has the uncanny ability to make even his most minor characters into memorable individuals — Harris Macklin, for instance, who was such a terrific whistler. The only stereotypes are several of the adult figures: Holden's father, the corporation lawyer; Holden's mother, the worrier; Haas and Ossenburger, the phony businessmen. But even these stereotypes serve to characterize Holden. Since all of the characters are presented from his point of view, his vision of vital, loving kids and cold, phony adults tells the reader a great deal about Holden.
(The entire section is 216 words.)
Holden's unpleasant dormmate, whose personal habits are dirty and whose room stinks. Holden suspects that Ackley does not brush his teeth and describes them as mossy. Cursed with acne, Ackley constantly picks at the sores. Ackley dislikes Stadlater, calling him a "son of a bitch." Holden finds Ackley disgusting but appears to feel sorry for him at the same time.
Holden's former English teacher, Mr. Antolini, "the best teacher I ever had," invited Holden to come right over, even though Holden probably woke him and his wife up in the middle of the night. Mr. Antolini asked why Holden was no longer at Pencey, warned him about heading for a fall, and wrote down a quote on paper for him: "The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one." Later that night, after falling asleep on the couch, Holden wakes up to find Mr. Antolini patting his head in the dark. Holden leaps up, convinced Mr. Antolini is a pervert, and rushes out of the apartment. Later Holden is unsure whether his reaction was mistaken.
Allie Caulfield is Holden's younger brother. While he has died of leukemia, he is very much alive throughout the book. Holden refers to him as still living and even talks to him. Bright and charming, Allie is/was Holden's best friend other than...
(The entire section is 2624 words.)
The first-person narrator of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield is the sixteen-year-old son of wealthy New York parents. His defining characteristic is his hatred of "phoniness" in every sphere of life. In fact, the prevalence of phonies in academia is one reason why Holden has just flunked out of his third prep school, Pencey, when the novel opens. Despite emerging as a great iconoclastic rebel, Holden also lacks direction, and that is reflected in his three days of wandering around New York.
Holden yearns for honesty from other people and finds himself repeatedly disappointed. He has an instinctive dislike of pomposity, power and those with an arrogant sense of entitlement. Those he criticizes include religious hypocrites, athletic heroes, and vacuous women obsessed with celebrities, among others. He has a witty streak and is not above spoofing others.
His attitude toward sex is a peculiar blend of teenage lust, ambivalence and conscientiousness. He ends up backing out of potential encounters with two women of so-called loose moral character.
Much of what Holden does is an attempt to avoid continuing his academic career. He discusses his dreams of driving away to another state and living a rural life, or alternatively, from a metaphorical point of view, becoming the "catcher in the rye," a figure who saves people from throwing themselves over a cliff. He mourns the...
(The entire section is 1078 words.)