How does J. D. Salinger contrast Holden with other characters?

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Salinger's focus is naturally on Holden Caulfield; after all, this is his story we're dealing with. Among other things, this means that there's not a whole lot of space available to flesh out the other characters. To a large extent, they remain one-dimensional, nothing more than "phonies," the very bane of Holden's tortured adolescent existence. There's a good reason for the other characters being presented this way: it's how Holden sees them. And as the story's being told from his point of view, then it's only right and proper that we should see other people the way Holden sees them.

The one character in the book who doesn't fall into this category is Holden's sister Phoebe. Phoebe's probably the only character in the book for whom Holden has any regard. His positive attitude towards her is reflected in the much more multi-dimensional way in which she's characterized. For one thing, Phoebe's a strong character who, unlike her immature brother, understands the importance and necessity of growing up. Just as Holden needs her for emotional support, we also need Phoebe to provide a sense of much-needed balance, to get a different perspective on what kind of person Holden really is.

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Holden is shown as kinder and more authentic than other characters in the novel.

For example, he contrasts himself to Ward Stradlater, his Pencey roommate, who is good looking and self assured but a "phony" who puts up the kind of front that repels Holden. Holden calls him a "secret slob." Stradlater gets Holden to write an English composition for him, another example of his phony front: he doesn't care that this is cheating. Stradlater outrages and alarms Holden when Holden finds out that Stradlater is going on a date with Jane Gallagher. Holden is afraid Stradlater will take sexual advantage of this friend of his from childhood.

Sally Hayes is another social climbing phony who lives with a very different attitude on life than Holden. While he is on a quest for truth and has a strong desire to protect people, she is self-absorbed and interested in appearances, especially her own, such as how she might look in her ice skating outfit at Rockefeller Center.

Holden is also contrasted to characters like Stradlater because of Holden's innate kindness and desire to protect others. Whereas Stradlater would carelessly have sex with Jane, Holden is protective towards her, as he is towards social outcasts at Pencey, and towards Phoebe—and even the nuns he gives money to when he notices that their breakfast is so meager compared to his own.

Unlike other people in the novel, Holden dreams of being the catcher in the rye, saving innocent children from disaster. Unlike the characters who are trying to get ahead, Holden seeks an authentic existence.

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It can be noted that J. D. Salinger uses the age-old artistic technique of contrast in order to make his scenes effective and his characters stand out in the reader's imagination. Throughout the novel, Holden is interacting with characters who are markedly different from him in various and sundry respects. In one of the early chapters, he goes to see Mr. Spencer, his former teacher.

In many of the episodes, Holden is paired and contrasted with female characters. In Chapter 8, he meets Mrs. Morrow on the train going to New York. In Chapter 9, he has a phone conversation with the hard-boiled Faith Cavendish. In Chapter 10, Salinger has Holden encounter three people, all women. They are Bernice, Marty, and Laverne, three out-of-town visitors to the big city. Salinger focuses on Bernice by having Holden take her off to the dance floor. Marty and Laverne hardly figure in the episode except as companions to Bernice.

In Chapter 11, Holden reminisces about another girl, Jane Gallagher, who means a lot to him. In Chapters 13 and 14, he has an encounter with the tough sex worker who calls herself Sunny. He also has an unpleasant encounter with Maurice, but there is a strong contrast between Holden and Maurice, who is older, tougher, illiterate, dirty-minded, mercenary, and sadistic—a lot of things Holden is not.

In Chapter 15, Holden encounters two nuns. In Chapter 17, he has a date with Sally Hayes, a character who is different from Holden not only in being female but also in being gushy and extroverted:

"Holden!" she said. "It's marvelous to see you! It's been ages."

Holden then has a secret meeting with his little sister, Phoebe. Here again, the contrast is sharply drawn. Holden keeps swearing, and Phoebe tells him not to swear. Phoebe, a young child, presents a strong contrast to all the other characters in the book.

When Holden has an encounter with a character of any importance, Salinger invariably arranges it so that there are only two persons involved. This is true even when Holden talks to the two cab drivers. The technique of presenting two characters interacting alone is observable when Holden talks to the pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-sophisticated Carl Luce at the Wicker Bar in Chapter 19, and when he has the fight with Stradlater at Pencey. Although the story is set in New York City, Salinger manages to exclude the millions of people and zoom in on just two people having a tete-a-tete.

Holden's most memorable encounter with a male character is with Mr. Antolini. There is a Mrs. Antolini, but Salinger only gives the reader a glimpse of her and sends her off to bed. Mr. Antolini is different from Holden in many ways. He is a heavy drinker. He is getting old. He has pretty much sold out in life. He just wants to be comfortable and secure. The advice he gives Holden is in keeping with his character. Quoting Wilhelm Stekel, he says, "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." Antolini considers himself a mature man living humbly for a cause, but in reality he is worn out, has a drinking problem, and is in a loveless marriage to a wealthy older woman.

Contrast is used in every art form. It is a highly important factor in characterization in The Catcher in the Rye. None of these characters, including Holden Caulfield, is a real person, but Salinger's artistry makes us feel that all of them are real and that some of them are people we have known all our lives.

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