In chapter 2 when references to Holden's red hunting hat begin, how might Salinger use this hat as a symbol?

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mrssk eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The hat, first mentioned in chapter 3 when Holden returns to his room after visiting his professor, symbolizes several of Holden's internal struggles within the novel.  The color red, a color that does not easily go unnoticed, points to one of Holden's biggest fears, which is disappearing as he grows older; this fear stems from the death of his brother Allie.  The color red also symbolizes Holden's aggressive feelings towards growing up.  The appearance of the hat "with one of those very, very long peaks" is different than a common baseball cap (Salinger 17).  Holden is drawn to this because part of him yearns to be different than his peers and most of the people he meets within the course of the novel.  Even the way that he "swung the old peak way around to the back" noting that he felt this to be "-very corny...but [he] liked it that way" shows that he wants to feel comfortable in being different than those he deems phony (18).   However, he is very conscientious about when he wears the hat and who is around him because there is another part of him that wants to fit in and be a part of the mainstream crowd; he just does not know how to go about achieving this due to his skewed view of the world and growing older.  The hat symbolizes this internal struggle by allowing him to stand out when he feels comfortable doing so, but its removal also allows him to conform without doing so in an overtly obvious way. 

atyourservice | Student

The hat seems to represent Holden’s isolation. He always pulled his hat down when he didn’t feel like engaging in a situation, for example when Ackley kept talking to him; he put on the hat to halt the conversation. It also seems to represent him, the hat is unique and out there most people considered it wack, just like how Holden is seen by people around him. Holden also doesn’t seem to see his own self-worth, just like people don’t see the worth of a hat. Somehow Holden and the hat are parallels. He uses it as a way to keep away from the world and surround himself.

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The Catcher in the Rye

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