In The Catcher in the Rye, what is Holden Caulfield's character?

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Catcher in the Rye is considered J.D. Salinger's magnum opus, and on publication in 1951 caused a great deal of controversy over its language and themes.

Holden Caulfield, the protagonist, is 17 years old and in the grip of a passionate hatred for "phonies," or people who, in his view, act publicly in a way designed to win them approval from peers. Holden's beliefs are all predicated in his loathing of worldly things and topics, and he is arrogant, selfish, and immature. Throughout the book, he tries to connect with people, but his distrust of real motives and outward appearance acts as a barrier. The only person he feels he can talk to is his little sister, Phoebe, and even in dealing with her Holden is crude, short-tempered, and generally angry:

"Anyway, I like it now," I said. "I mean right now. Sitting here with you and just chewing the fat and horsing--"

"That isn't anything really!"

"It is so something really! Certainly it is! Why the hell isn't it? People never think anything is anything really. I'm getting goddam sick of it."

"Stop swearing. All right, name something else. Name something you'd like to be. Like a scientist. Or a lawyer or something."

"I couldn't be a scientist. I'm no good in science."
(Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye,

His anger extends into his own self-doubt; he cripples his ambitions because he believes himself to be incapable of changing. In a typically juvenile fashion, Holden believes himself to be as mature and grown-up as he will ever be; he cannot conceive of maturing further, and so he channels his frustration into anger at everyone around him, who he believes to be as undeveloped as he is, but willing to present a "phony" front for the sake of others.

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The Catcher in the Rye

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