What does Holden's relationship with his family in The Catcher in the Rye show about him?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Holden's relationship with his family shows that Holden is emotionally unsettled.  This is a microcosm of how Holden behaves with the world, in general.  On one hand, he cannot be the son that his parents envision.  While he calls them "grand people," it is clear that he cannot be the son that they think him to be and he is unable to emotionally connect with them.  He admires his brother, D.B., in terms of his writing, but Holden also feels that D.B. has sold out in becoming a script writer for Hollywood.  The fact that Holden feels that his brother has "prostituted" himself for money is another reflection of how unsettled he is towards his family.  Holden experiences mourning over Allie's death and his inability to come to terms with this is another level of being unsettled.  The only real certainty that Holden articulates is the love he has towards Phoebe.  This is clear and distinct, just as Holden's hatred for phonies in the world is clear.  Holden's anger towards phoniness is the countervailing force to his love for Phoebe.  Phoebe represents the redemption and restoration that Holden sees in the world.  In his love for Phoebe, Holden displays the love he holds for his own promises of what can be as opposed to what is.  

Holden's relationship with his family is complex.  There are layers where there is hurt and pain, and other planes where there is resentment and anger.  Finally, there are experiences in which there is love and protection.  This reservoir of intense and complex emotions that form the relationship with his family shows that Holden is capable of many different emotions, some of which conflict with one another.  There is a lack of being settled in Holden's relationship with his family which is reflective of Holden's feelings towards the world.  The lack of emotional clarity in his family shows how these experiences are mirrored with the emotional experiences he has with the outside world.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Holden has a unique, complex relationship with his family throughout the novel, which reflects and explains his instability and uncertainty about his future. Holden has a difficult relationship with his parents and older brother D.B, who he thinks has prostituted himself to Hollywood. Holden's negative views towards the older members of his family reflect his perception of all adults. While he feels that some adults have good intentions, he also views them as phonies, who do not fully understand him. Holden's affinity for Phoebe and Allie reflect his love for children and childhood in general. Holden feels like Phoebe can truly understand him, and he views his younger sister as a genuine, compassionate person. The fact that Holden relates to Phoebe the most also reveals his immaturity. As an adolescent suffering from anxiety, Holden fears entering the world of adults and feels more comfortable around his younger sister.

Holden's feelings for his deceased younger brother also explain much of his anguish, stress, and fear. Losing his younger brother takes a toll on Holden's mental health. He is clearly in need of therapy throughout the novel, and the reader sympathizes with his situation. Holden's inability to move forward in life stems from his difficult past, which is something he has not accepted or dealt with in a healthy way. The fact that Holden's parents and older brother seem distant throughout the novel further emphasizes his isolation and loneliness in the world. The only person Holden feels like he can have a genuine conversation with is Phoebe, who lacks certain perspective, experience, and insight. Overall, Holden is very much alone and the only supportive family member portrayed throughout the novel is Phoebe. Holden is essentially left to face life's challenges alone by entering the cold, callous world of phony adults, which emphasizes the difficult transition from childhood to adulthood. 

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The Catcher in the Rye

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