Summarize how the female characters are represented in The Catcher in the Rye.

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When it comes to women in this novel, we need to distinguish between Phoebe, Holden's younger sister, who becomes for him a symbol of childish innocence, and the majority of the other females with whom he seeks to interact. The presentation of women is of course so closely linked with Holden's problems with his emerging understanding of sex and sexuality, and this is something that he struggles to know what to do with and, in part, is terrified by.

This is why throughout the novel Holden ends up variously ruining any attempts he makes to establish intimacy and a relationship with the various female characters he meets. His fear of his burgeoning sexuality makes him dismiss women as nothing more than sex objects. Consider how he talks about the blond woman he dances with in the bar in Chapter Ten:

I was half in love with her by the time we sat down. That's the thing about girls. Every time they do something pretty, even if they're not much to look at, or even if they're sort of stupid, you fall half in love with them, and then you never know where the hell you are. Girls. Jesus Christ. They can drive you crazy. They really can.

Even though Holden feels he is "half in love with her," he has just previously described her as being "dopey" and makes fun of her lack of conversational ability. This woman, like so many others in the novel, is presented as nothing more than a sex object as Holden staggers through his self-imposed wanderings, struggling to reach out to others around him and yet deliberately ruining his chances because of his terror of sex.

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The Catcher in the Rye

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