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.