Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye , has a remarkably unique perception on his world. Truthfully, Holden's main talent lies in his ability to criticize others. In Holden's viewpoint, most people he encounters are bastards, phonies, morons, liars, and so on. This raises...
Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, has a remarkably unique perception on his world. Truthfully, Holden's main talent lies in his ability to criticize others. In Holden's viewpoint, most people he encounters are bastards, phonies, morons, liars, and so on. This raises the interesting question as to how Holden views himself.
Holden's hasty criticisms of friends, acquaintances, and strangers often seem wholly misanthropic. His tolerance for negative character traits is practically nonexistent, and he occasionally applies his own high standards to himself.
For one thing, Holden certainly seems aware of his own mental instability. After spontaneously asking an old romantic flame, Sally Hayes, if she wants to get married, he reflects on his impulsive action: "I don't even know why I started that stuff with her . . . I swear to God I'm a madman" (134).
Holden is embarrassed about his academic shortcomings; when confronted by Mr. Spencer about a mediocre essay that he had written on the Egyptians, Holden cringes and becomes uncomfortable. He seems to view himself as an intelligent boy that is capable of better work, which is further suggested by his excessive criticism of others.
He also considers himself to be weak and passive. He does not necessarily believe in violence—apart from roughhousing with Stradlater—and he describes himself specifically as a "pacifist." Holden also admits to being a "terrific liar," a trait that he certainly loathes in others.
Holden Caulfield does not necessarily have tremendous self-esteem, which could possibly be caused or affected by his misanthropy. In many ways, his hasty criticisms act as a defensive shield to avoid getting hurt by others. His dismissal of everyone as a "phony" brings about the question as to whether or not he views himself as phony. As a whole, it seems as though his self-awareness is so keen that it cripples him; in other words, as seen in his interaction with Sally Hayes, he becomes conflicted in his feelings. By fearing hypocrisy—or becoming like one of those he holds contempt for—he is not able to act sincerely toward others. He asks Sally Hayes to marry him but then retreats into his protective shell. Holden aims to stay sincere but consequently struggles to find his identity.