The Catcher in the Rye Holden
by J. D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download The Catcher in the Rye Study Guide

Subscribe Now


Extended Character Analysis

J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye is narrated by Holden Caulfield, the jaded, brash, and irreverent protagonist. Holden is a 17 year old who has been admitted into a psychiatric hospital in California. While there, he details the events following his expulsion from Pencey Prep School. Holden is afraid of returning to his parents early. He decides to spend the last three days until his school break wandering New York before returning to his parents. During his time in New York City, he seeks companionship and understanding, but is often unsuccessful.

Each character interaction within The Catcher in the Rye highlights an aspect of Holden’s character. Holden’s first important interaction is with Mr. Spencer, his history teacher from Pencey Prep. In their interactions, Holden reveals his immaturity, claiming that he sometimes acts like a 12 or 13 year old. He also shows his ageist attitude toward the elderly Mr. Spencer. He describes Mr. Spencer’s agedness and sickliness as depressing, even expressing regret over his decision to visit and say goodbye. Holden rejects Mr. Spencer’s efforts to help during this visit. Holden shows contempt for the “phony” adults that have surrounded him in all his schools. Furthermore, he is restless, careless, and has no future aspirations. Yet, he also exhibits a creative side through his inner monologue.

Holden is disillusioned with adulthood and detached from his surroundings. A large part of this may be due to this younger brother Allie Caulfield’s untimely death. Holden has been negatively affected by Allie’s death, and reflects on Allie’s life often. When Holden is feeling depressed, he “talks” to Allie, and imagines a conversation with him. This shows how Holden is stuck in the past where his brother was still alive instead of being in the present. Holden’s detached sentiment is also apparent when he interacts with people he dislikes. In his interaction with Ackley, he demonstrates acute but rude observational skills. Holden is good at making Ackley and those around him uncomfortable and irritated. Additionally, Holden’s observations are often irreverent and matter-of-fact. Yet, Holden idealizes his deceased brother Allie, his sister Phoebe, and his friend Jane Gallagher. Holden views these people in a loving light. He notices their small and endearing characteristics. Furthermore, Holden is a self-proclaimed liar and pacifist. He lies easily to his teacher Mr. Spencer and to many others. For example, he picks a fight with Stradlater over his mistreatment of Jane Gallagher. Holden is unable to match Stradlater’s violence, and loses.

At the end of the first part of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden decides to leave Pencey Prep and head to New York for a few days before returning to his parents. This showcases Holden’s spontaneity and indicates how little regard he has for personal consequences. Holden also exhibits signs of depression at this point; he admits to crying and feeling dark and lonely. As a last hurrah, and as an example of Holden’s often obnoxious bravado, he yells, “Sleep tight, ya morons!” to the sleeping students in his dorm before leaving.

On the train ride to New York, Holden meets a classmate’s mother. They start a conversation, but Holden hides his identity and his dislike for the classmate. This conversation shows Holden’s manipulative side. He enjoys “chucking the old crap around,” or making things up, and getting the interest and attention of his classmate’s mother. He tells her he is having an “operation” as a way of explaining him being out of school earlier than he should be. However, Holden feels uncomfortable when he sees how genuine the mother’s reactions are. Although he enjoys making up stories, he doesn’t enjoy receiving undeserved pity.

During Holden’s meanderings through New York, he appreciates characters who don’t talk much. For example, the taxi driver that brings Holden from the train to his...

(The entire section is 1,632 words.)