Holden Caulfield Character Development

The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger, is a novel that follows Holden Caulfield’s experiences through senior year at his private school in New York City, ending with him escaping from Manhattan for a few days to avoid being hospitalized after almost failing out of Pencey Prep. The book has become one of the most frequently challenged books of 21st century because it “contains adult language and topics. (Litcharts)

The story begins with Holden telling us about his expulsion from school and how he is unable to acquire proper psychiatric help for his depression because he “doesn’t want to go see some horseshit head-shrinker” (Salinger 1). He then tells us that he wishes he had the right words to say otherwise people would believe him, before beginning to tell us about his little brother Allie.

The following section describes Holden’s relationship with his younger brother, Allie. Despite having one another for company through most of their childhoods they still grew lonely very easily; after all, loneliness is inevitable when you are surrounded by people who don’t understand you or your desires. The fact that they were raised to be “phonies” only added to the problem, as Holden was an individual (or tried to be) and Allie was not very gifted despite his natural athletic abilities.

The author tells us much about Allie’s death later in The Catcher in the Rye but at this point he lets us know that it occurred before Holden began attending Pencey Prep school. After this tragedy, Holden became more distant from those around him, particularly Phoebe. The next section of The Catcher in the Rye focuses on Holden’s relationship with his younger sister Phoebe; she is the third child in their family. The intensity of their brother-sister relationship is evident by the fact that Phoebe knows Holden better than anyone else in his family.

The Catcher in the Rye gives us several examples of how Holden confides in Phoebe, who is very much his closest friend and confidant. The reader can sense that physically she’s still a child but emotionally she’s already become wiser than her years because of her constant exposure to Holden. The author tells us earlier on that both children are aware of their parents’ problems with each other, which causes them to have an inevitable lack of faith. The section ends just after Holden leaves Pencey Prep school because he has been expelled for failing four classes (Salinger 3).

After realizing how truly miserable he is at Pencey Prep, Holden decides to leave and head for the bus station. The reader learns that Holden’s main goal is to find his way into a mental hospital (Salinger 4); he also mentions that he would like to see Phoebe before he leaves even though it is late at night. The rest of The Catcher in the Rye focuses on Holden searching for a place where he can feel safe and secure and finally reveals what led up to his expulsion from Pencey Prep school.

The one thing we know about Salinger’s writing style so far is that he isn’t afraid to display certain elements of Holden Caulfield’s character, such as his mood swings and depressive tendencies, because they are all stimulants which help to convey the true meaning behind The Catcher in the Rye. The fact that Holden is a unique individual makes him more interesting and as such, The Catcher in the Rye has become one of the most popular American novels ever written.

The following section focuses on Holden’s relationship with Sally Hayes; this provides additional insight into his character as well as foreshadows future events. The majority of The Catcher in the Rye makes it clear that Holden Caulfield struggles to come to terms with reality. His mental illness is also another important issue which Salinger conveys through his characterization of Holden because there are several moments where he becomes anxious or agitated due to an inner conflict.

Themes regarded as inappropriate by parents include cursing, promiscuous sex / prostitution, giving away personal items to strangers without reason, suicidal thoughts / attempts / ideation, underage smoking/drinking/drug-use (in some cases), homosexuality (in at least one case), premarital sex, and getting into fights. In The Catcher In The Rye, Holden Caulfield serves as the protagonist of the novel.

The novel follows his experiences through senior year at a fictional elite boarding school in New York City called Pencey Prep immediately after World War II (1944-1945), ending with him leaving Pencey early (and then being told by the headmaster that he cannot come back) because of psychological problems. Holden has an on-again / off-again relationship with his girlfriend Sally Hayes for most of the book; however, they seem to be growing more fond of each other towards the end of The Catcher in The Rye (Salinger).

Here are some examples of Holden’s character development throughout The Catcher in The Rye. One of Holden’s major character traits is his immaturity, as he constantly refers to adults as “phony” and fails to see the consequences of his actions. The reader first sees this type of behavior when Holden tells Mr. Spencer that he is going home for Christmas break early; not because of homesickness or because he needs more time away from school, but simply because it is listed as a rule in The Code (Salinger).

The second example takes place at Pencey Prep itself, after Holden gets into an argument with Stradlater about Jane Gallagher; according to The Code (Salinger), Stradlater should apologize for making fun of her on their date and let her go out with him again since she had already paid for dinner that night (Salinger). The final example in The Catcher in The Rye that illustrates Holden’s immaturity takes place after he gets back to Pencey from the train station.

Holden asks his roommate, Ackley, if he can borrow his metal hanger so he can go outside and fix his zipper; however, according to The Code (Salinger), there are three rules against going outside at night: “Number one is you have to have a sweater, number two is you have to have an overcoat or topcoat or something, and number three is you shouldn’t go out alone if it’s dark” (Salinger). Although Holden Caulfield frequently shows signs of immaturity throughout The Catcher in The Rye, he makes several good decisions throughout the book.

The first example of Holden acting maturely takes place while he is still in New York City. The reader finds out that Holden has dropped out of four schools at this point in The Catcher in The Rye (Salinger). However, when asked by his psychiatrist if he would like to go back to school again, Holden decides not to return because staying at one school for too long will make him “go phoney” (Salinger).

Due to Holden’s emotional state, he sometimes comes across as rude and uncaring towards others. The reader gets a first impression of Holden being bitter about everyone being fake and phony. The first-person narrative does a good job at making the reader feel this way about him as well, but after further inspection, it becomes clear that he is just over-anxious and confused. He does not know what he wants, or how to get it.

The real reason that Holden seems to call everyone a “phony” is because of his feelings towards acting. The reader gets the sense from early on that Holden has been acting for a very long time, and even comments how people should stop lying all the time about little things like their age. The whole idea of acting outside of a play is foreign to him, as he was home-schooled for most of his life due to health issues.

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