Holden Caulfield is an extremely complex character. The fact that he is not static, but changes throughout The Catcher in the Rye, makes it nearly impossible to summarize Holden’s development in a short paragraph. The original quote is “You never really know anybody.” The most important things to delve into when discussing Holden’s character development are the changes in his mood, the ways in which Holden’s personality shifts throughout The Catcher in The Rye, what Holden Caulfield is known for, and how The Catcher in The Rye reflects modern society.
Holden’s mood changes drastically throughout the novel. Sometimes he is extremely energetic, talkative, happy, or humorous. Other times he seems completely apathetic or even depressed. The most important thing about these changing moods is their correlation with different phases of adolescence. For example, when Holden goes home after getting kicked out of Pencey Prep, he is very depressed and lonely. The only interactions that Holden has with other people in this section of The Catcher in The Rye are ones where he is either completely alone or antagonizing others to get a reaction out of them (i.e., Holden’s encounters with Ackley) (24).
The next day after returning home from school, Holden seems much more cheerful despite being caught masturbating by his grandmother. The shift between these two moods demonstrates the changing attitudes towards sexuality for teens today. As adolescence progresses “children become aware of their sexuality,” which results in a wide variation of emotions surrounding it (Microsoft Word 383-384).
The character development that The Catcher In The Rye presents makes it an extremely relatable novel to readers today. The biggest reason for Holden’s appeal is that he is “nearly everyman.” The character development in The Catcher in The Rye allows Holden to be realistic, relatable, and emotionally engaging (Microsoft Word 383-384).
The way Holden acts represents the typical teenager which makes him able to be seen as a symbol of teenage angst. The fact that his actions are not accepted by society is one of the reasons why teens can relate to him so well (i.e., getting kicked out of school). His emotional response towards things like rejection or loneliness make him seem real and not an idealized version of how teenagers act (Word Microsoft 383-384).
The Catcher in The Rye reflects modern society by showing the different aspects of teenage life in the novel. The reactions that Holden has to different events are ones that teens can relate to today, although Holden’s actions are not always accepted by society (i.e., getting kicked out of school). The changes in Holden’s mood throughout The Catcher in The Rye show how adolescence progresses through many different stages. The symbolism in The Catcher in The Rye also reflects modern culture because Holden often interacts with symbols that represent something more than what they seem (i.e., the carousel or Phoebe).
The character development is an important aspect of The Catcher in The Rye, so readers can relate to Holden Caulfield and understand the context of the book. Young adults have a wide variety of emotions surrounding sexuality which The Catcher in The Rye acts as a guide to help teens through this confusing time. The ways that Holden acts are relatable because he is the perfect representation of what teenagers are like today. The symbolism in The Catcher in The Rye also reflects modern culture by adding depth to otherwise mundane objects. The character development that The Catcher In The Rye presents makes it an extremely relatable novel to readers today.
The most important thing about Holden’s character development is the correlation between his moods and different phases of adolescence. Holden changes from apathetic and depressed when alone to more cheerful, confident, and even cocky when interacting with others (i.e., Sally Hayes).
Throughout The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield is constantly torn between his desire to be independent and the social limitations he has imposed on himself. The novel begins with him leaving his school after getting kicked out of it for failing nearly every class except English, which was taught by an unsympathetic teacher who Holden cannot stand. The first day of this expulsion marks a major turning point for Holden because it represents the first time that he has made any decision without the input or advice of others.
The problem is that once he makes up his mind to leave Pencey Prep School, he doesn’t really know where he wants to go or what exactly he wants to do, so throughout most of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden must learn to figure out what to do with himself once he is out in the world. The first thing that Holden wants to do after leaving school is go home, but then his brother D. B. calls him and talks him into coming to New York City instead because there are less distractions for writing there than at home.
The next day Holden starts to learn about New York by taking various trains all around Manhattan island (he actually gets on the wrong train and ends up in Brooklyn). He stops off at the Museum of Natural History where he meets an old gentleman named Robert whom he befriends briefly. The two talk about Robert’s job as a guard at the museum, and Holden seems interested in this line of work for reasons that are never made explicit (he does compare Robert’s job to an important catcher in the rye, but he doesn’t know what this means yet).
Soon after meeting Robert, Holden goes out drinking with his old roommate Maurice, who is very upset because he has just found out that his wife is cheating on him. The drinking makes Holden feel sick, so later in the night when Maurice leaves him alone at a bar after getting into a fight with some men there, Holden decides to go home and get some sleep. The next day Holden wakes up early and calls Sally Hayes for the first time in weeks (he had stopped calling her before leaving Pencey Prep). They agree to meet on Sunday afternoon at Grand Central Station because she was going to spend some time with her brother while he was in town.
The meeting is not a success, though, because Holden acts very rudely towards Sally’s brother and ends up leaving the station without even saying goodbye to her. The next day he meets his old history teacher Mr. Spencer for lunch at a restaurant, and then they go see an afternoon movie called The Lost Weekend. The main character in this film appears to be very similar to Holden with his alcoholism and general moodiness, but Holden tells Mr. Spencer that he thinks The Lost Weekend is a “phony” picture because it doesn’t seem realistic to him (he writes off the main character’s problem as just being too sensitive).