How does Holden's reaction to his brother Allie's death contribute to the novel as a whole?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The loss of his brother Allie profoundly affects Holden because he will no longer allow himself to connect with other people after this tragedy. Also, rather than seek a complicated judgment for various people, Holden makes hasty categorical judgments about them.

After his death, Allie becomes the ideal by which others are judged by Holden. Holden now rejects those who have lost their childhood innocence and lack integrity and are "phony." This loss is symbolized in Holden's mind not only with his brother's death, but also with the savagely forced suicide of James Castle at Elkton Hills. Even his brother D.B. is not exempt from Holden's judgment. Holden claims that D.B. once wrote authentic stories, but since he has been in Hollywood, he has prostituted himself and written stories that are not good at all. They have just been written for the money.

Holden views the world darkly, castigating nearly everyone for being "phony." For instance, when he hears that Stradlater has gone on a date with Jane Gallagher, whom he likes, he is disappointed and angered that she would sit in a parked car with Stradlater, feeling that Jane has compromised herself by going on a date with a superficial athlete who usually just wants to "score" with a girl. Stradlater's boasting about Jane, whose name he carelessly confuses with Jean, angers Holden so much that he tries to punch Stradlater, but the athlete pins Holden to the floor and hits Holden in the nose when he will not relent.

When Holden departs from the school, he decides to stay in a hotel until the holiday vacation begins. At that point, he can pretend that he is returning home for the holidays. Even with strangers that Holden meets, he is extremely judgmental, accusing most of them of being "phony." Seeking a respite from the phoniness he perceives in the hotel and bars, Holden decides to sneak into his home and talk to his little sister Phoebe. There he tells Phoebe that he wants to be a "catcher in the rye," as in Robert Burns's poem. He would catch the children as they start to go over a cliff. By this, Holden means that he would protect the children's innocence and prevent them from falling into the dangers of adulthood. However, Phoebe explains that he has misread the poem.

Holden's misreading of the poem indicates his wish to stop time and retain the innocence of childhood. Finally, though, as Holden watches his sister and others ride a carousel, he realizes that

If they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off, they fall off, but it's bad if you say anything to them.

The gold ring represents hope. Because Phoebe had wanted to run away with Holden, he now agrees to remain and not run away.

mlsldy3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Holden loved his brother very much. He wants to be to someone, what Allie was to him. Holden keeps everything inside, yet when his brother dies, we see a side of Holden that is deeply real.

Allie was eleven years old when he died. He was two years younger than Holden. Allie had leukemia and died from this. As Holden thinks about his brother, he says that he was the most intelligent in the whole family. He also says that he was the nicest and sweetest kid ever. The night that Allie dies, Holden sleeps in the garage and broke all of the windows out with his bare hands. Holden ends having to be hospitalized for this. He sees Allies as almost a saint now. We can see that the death of his brother, affected Holden greatly. He still talks to his brother and still thinks about him. Holden probably never got any help with dealing with his feelings over Allie's death. He almost glorifies Allie now. Holden's reaction to his death, shows us that Holden reacts to tragedy, by harming himself. He probably does this, because it is easier to deal with physical pain than to deal with emotional pain.

Throughout the entire novel, Holden struggles to keep focus on the future. He can't do it. He lives in the past. When Holden goes back and thinks about the death of his brother, we see how the emotional scars of the past still dictate our future. Holden's behavior over the death of Allie, is the same behavior he has anytime things go wrong in his life.   

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Allie's death gives context for Holden's struggles with depression, anxiety, fear, and anger throughout the novel. The death of Holden's younger brother profoundly impacts Holden's attitude, behavior, and perception. Throughout the novel, Holden mentions that he missed his brother's funeral because he was in the hospital after punching the windows out of the family car. Holden also reveres Allie and mentions that Allie was his favorite person. The reader has sympathy for Holden after learning about Allie's tragic death. Realizing that Holden is a traumatized adolescent makes his unapologetic nature a little more palatable. Holden's negative feelings and jaded perception of society stem from his brother's death. Several times throughout the novel, Holden mentions that he thinks of Allie whenever he becomes depressed. Overall, the loss of Allie provides insight into Holden's jaded demeanor and negative attitude. As far as the reader knows, Holden never received therapy or learned to cope with Allie's death. Holden's reverence for Allie also suggests that he never got over his death, which profoundly affects his attitude throughout the novel.

Read the study guide:
The Catcher in the Rye

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question