Let’s start with a critical analysis of Holden Caufield.
Holden Caufield is the protagonist and narrator of The Catcher in the Rye. Everything we read comes through his maladjusted filter. His unreliability as a narrator makes the description of events and other characters dubious. It is however, all we have to go by.
Salinger does an expert job of showing how Holden observes things, yet fails to understand them, a common motif in novels narrated by adolescents or children (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird are two such examples). As Holden narrates his experience in the night club at the Edmont Hotel, he attempts to present himself as suave and sophisticated. The mocking behavior of the three women whom he attempts to impress, however, indicate that Holden looks like a jackass. The reader, unlike Holden, also recognizes a contrast between Holden’s ideals and Holden’s actions, making him just as “phony” as the “phonies” he criticizes.
Holden also cannot make sense of his depression and frequent crying. The reader understands that Holden is experiencing a mental breakdown and engaging in self-destructive behavior. Holden fails to recognize that he is the cause of his isolation and suffering, that he brings torment with him wherever he goes. The reader becomes a parent watching his or her teenage son make one stupid mistake after another.
Our analysis continues with a look at Holden Caufield’s family.
Phoebe - Despite being significantly younger than Holden, he goes to his sister for advice and comfort. Her life represents what Holden wants his life to be like.
Allie - Holden’s younger brother died from Leukemia several years before the narrative begins. Allie’s death has had a profoundly negative effect on Holden. Allie remains frozen in childhood, a state Holden wishes he could live in.
D.B. - Holden’s older brother visits Holden in the psychiatric rest home where he resides after the mental breakdown. Because he works in Hollywood, Holden considers him as phony as the rest of the people in his life. It’s no coincidence that Holden dotes on his younger siblings, yet finds fault with his older sibling.
Holden’s Father - We know very little about Holden’s father, other than he’s a corporate lawyer who works a lot.
Holden’s Mother - Holden feels sympathy for his mother and guilt for dissapointing her. She possesses many of the same qualities Holden does: she smokes a lot, is very nervous, and hasn’t gotten over Allie’s death.
Mr. Spencer - Holden’s history teacher lectures Holden after getting kicked out of Pencey. He forces Holden to read his final exam essay, symbolic of forcing Holden to face the truth. It doesn’t go well.
Ackley - Holden finds Ackley’s presence irritating. His presence in Holden’s room torments him.
Stradlater - Holden calls Stradlater, his roommate, a secret slob. Outwardly he’s different than Ackley, but in private he considers them the same. Stradlater represents the type of phony that Holden despises.
Jane Gallagher - Holden remains fascinated with Jane and fails to recognize his own cowardice in regards to calling her. He excuses himself for not calling by saying he’s “not in the mood.” She represents the ideal female, which stands in contrast to her going out with Stradlater.
Sally Hayes - All we know about Sally is that she and Holden have dated before and that she is extremely attractive. Holden overlooks her deficiencies on account of her looks, making him no better than Stradlater and the other phonies Holden despises.
Carl Luce - possibly the most annoying character in the novel, Holden looks up to him on account of his sexual knowledge.
Mr. Antolini - The only adult Holden looks up to in the novel warns him about his imminent fall if he doesn’t change. Holden wakes up to find Mr. Antolini patting him on the head, something which he considers a homosexual advance.
This post is part of the series: The Catcher in the Rye Study Guide
Nothing like the tale of a maladjusted teenager for entertainment.