In The Catcher in the Rye, how does Holden describe his mother?  What is their relationship?

In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden does not have a very good relationship with his mother. Mrs. Caulfield is so grief-stricken over Allie's death that she does not pay much attention to Holden and is emotionally distant. Holden describes his mother as having a nervous condition that causes her to have terrible headaches, anxiety, and trouble sleeping. He feels guilty at the thought that he is a burden to her.

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Holden has a strained relationship with his mother. They are both suffering painfully from the death of Allie. Holden knows he isn't helping the situation with his own self-destructive reaction to his brother's death, and much of the plot of the novel is driven by his desire to avoid seeing his mother until she has had time to absorb the fact that he has flunked out of Pencey.

Holden's mother is a sophisticated society woman who belongs to clubs and goes to the theater. She tries to be a good parent to her children, and she does seem to care about them, but she also has a difficult time relating to them. A telling fact is that she goes to the effort to buy Holden the gift of ice skates but gets the wrong kind: he wanted racing skates and she bought him hockey skates. On the other hand, she knows how to dress Phoebe well, which Holden appreciates.

Two episodes give us insights into Holden's relationship with his mother. On the train to New York, he meets a woman whose son Holden knows at Pencey. Although Holden does not think much of this son, he gives the mother a falsely glowing account of him because he knows mothers like to hear good reports about their children. In this, he is projecting his desire to protect his own mother from hearing the bad news about him and his desire that people would say good things about him to her.

Second, he hides in the closet and overhears the strained conversation between Phoebe and his mother. The mother is caring but also parental, and the conversation misfires, showing that Holden's mother can't quite relate to her children.

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Holden's first comment on his mother is that she "gets very hysterical." It is Holden's own behavior, particularly his propensity for being expelled from school, that brings on this hysteria, which, in its turn, creates a nervous reaction in him. This mutual nervousness seems to be the foundation of their relationship, with Holden feeling guilty about the amount of trouble he causes both his parents but viewing his father as tough enough to handle it, while his mother is not.

Holden's comments on his new ice skates are also revealing about his relationship with his mother. He feels sad that she spent so much time and trouble getting them for him, even though they were not the kind he wanted. Holden's mother provides amply for him in material terms, but her lack of focus is evident even in the gifts she sends him.

Holden knows that he is not the primary cause of his mother's nervous anxiety. He says that she "hasn't felt too healthy since my brother Allie died." However, he also knows that he causes her additional worry, which exacerbates her nervous condition. As a result, he is somewhat wary of mothers as a class, commenting as soon as he encounters Ernest Morrow's mother, "Mothers are all slightly insane." Holden has no idea what a healthy mother-and-son relationship would be like, not even a memory of one from before Allie's death.

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Holden is emotionally distant from his mother.  The loss of her younger son has locked Mrs. Caulfield in a state of nervous exhaustion that is characterized by constant headaches and anxiety which causes her to lose sleep and chain smoke.

Holden knows that his mother has not gotten over the death of her youngest son, so she is still grieving, which leads the reader to understand that she is sad.

In Chapter 7, Holden describes how his mother will react when she finds out that he has been kicked out of another school. He wants to arrive home after his parents have received the letter from Pencey Prep indicating that Holden has been expelled.

"I didn't want to go home or anything till they got it and thoroughly digested it and all.  I didn't want to be around when they first got it.  My mother gets very hysterical.  She's not too bad after she gets something thoroughly digested, though." (Salinger)  

In Chapter 21, when Holden sneaks into his apartment, he talks about his mother again.  Holden tells the reader that his mother is a light sleeper, she can hear a pin drop a mile away.

"You can hit my father over the head with a chair and he won't take up, but my mother, all you have to do to my mother is cough somewhere in Siberia and she'll hear you.  She's nervous as hell.  Half the time she's up all night smoking cigarettes. (Salinger) 

Holden doesn't have a very good relationship with either of his parents.  He can't confide in them.  He has not opened up to anyone about his grief over his brother.  He sneaks into his apartment and listens to his mother scold Phoebe, while he hides in the closet, he can't even confront her, he doesn't trust her.

Holden believes that his mother is in a fragile state, suffering from a nervous condition with constant headaches is how he describes her in Chapter 23.  Holden's mother is so grief stricken over the death of her son, Allie, that Holden feels really guilty about being such a burden to her, that is why he doesn't go home right away and that is why he chooses to hide while in NYC rather than go home, even after he has no where else to stay.

The only person in the book that Holden has a genuine relationship with that is based on trust and real love is his little sister Phoebe.

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