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The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger
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Who in The Catcher in the Rye is a flat character?

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Because flat characters receive little development, it is arguable that Sally Hayes is a flat character in The Catcher in the Rye. She appears in the novel more than once, but there is no appreciable growth or change in her character from one episode to the next.

Sally Hayes is a conventional girl that comes from a similar upper-class Manhattan background as Holden. Like him, she attends boarding school. Her outlook is superficial, and her thoughts trend toward socializing, clothes, and a predictable future. She is a nice-looking date for Holden but nothing more. When he tries, imperfectly, to get her to see that he wants a less conventional life in the future, she is dismissive and does not understand him. She is self-absorbed and vain and fails to recognize the emotional pain Holden is suffering.

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Flat characters are typically one-dimensional characters who are not complex and do not change throughout the course of the story. In J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, there are several flat characters who interact with Holden Caulfield. Holden's roommate, Stradlater, is a flat character. He is a self-assured, charismatic young man with an affinity for girls. Holden refers to Stradlater as a "secret slob" and is jealous of the fact that he took Jane Gallagher on a date. Stradlater is considered a flat character because he does not experience a change throughout the story and is not depicted as a complex individual. He is the prototypical confident, sexually active teenager who attends social events and enjoys attention from others. Another flat character is Sally Hayes. She also does not change in the story and is depicted as a conventional, superficial teenage girl. Holden views her as a "phony" and cannot stand her infatuation with movies and Broadway stars.

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Let us first define the traits of a flat character in order to appropriately attribute them.

A flat character is one which does not go through any significant changes as a result of the sequence of events that occur in the novel. This is a character that serves as a support system to the main character who is usually round, or changing, also known as "dynamic". Moreover, a flat character is two-dimensional which means that the reader does not learn a lot of information about their inner thoughts and emotions; they are an active part of the plot, but are not affected by it. Therefore, we could conclude that the character of Phoebe Caulfield is a flat character.

Phoebe, who is much more intellectually and socially mature than her older brother Holden, preserves these very traits all throughout Holden's narrative. This is the first fact that would define her as a flat character. The second fact is that she serves as an anchor of support for Holden. So important is her presence in Holden's life that it is Phoebe who inspires his wish to become the catcher in the rye. Phoebe is Holden's go-to support mechanism and the mutual love that exists between Phoebe and Holden does not change either.

As a flat character, Phoebe is also two-dimensional. We do learn some information about her, but hardly any really intimate facts that reveal her differently to the reader. She remains the same Phoebe in the eyes of Holden, and in the reader's own eyes.

Lastly, but not less importantly, the events in Holden's life do not directly affect Phoebe. She remains on the sidelines performing her role as Holden's support system. The fact that she is unaffected confirms that she is a flat character. Had she undergone any significant changes as a result of Holden's problems, then she would have been a round or dynamic character.


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