The Catcher In The Rye: Holden Essay, Research Paper
The Catcher In The Rye: Holden
This book has been steeped in controversy since it was banned in America after
it’s first publication. John Lennon’s assassin, Mark Chapman, asked the former
beatle to sign a copy of the book earlier in the morning of the day that he
murdered Lennon. Police found the book in his possession upon apprehending the
psychologically disturbed Chapman. However, the book itself contains nothing
that could be attributed with leading Chapman to act as he did – it could have
been any book that he was reading the day he decided to kill John Lennon – and
as a result of the fact that it was ‘The Catcher In The Rye’, a book describing
nervous breakdown, media speculated widely about the possible connection. This
gave the book even more notoriety. So what is ‘The Catcher In The Rye’ actually
Superficially the story of a young man’s expulsion from yet another school, ‘The
Catcher In The Rye’ is in fact a perceptive study of one individual’s
understanding of his human condition. Holden Caulfield, a teenager growing up in
1950s New York, has been expelled school for poor achievement once again. In an
attempt to deal with this he leaves school a few days prior to the end of term,
and goes to New York to ‘take a vacation’ before returning to his parents’
Told as a monologue, the book describes Holden’s thoughts and activities over
these few days, during which he describes a developing nervous breakdown,
symptomised by his bouts of unexplained depression, impulsive spending and
generally odd, erratic behaviour, prior to his eventual nervous collapse.
However, during his psychological battle, life continues on around Holden as it
always had, with the majority of people ignoring the ‘madman stuff’ that is
happening to him – until it begins to encroach on their well defined social
codes. Progressively through the novel we are challenged to think about
society’s attitude to the human condition – does society have an ‘ostrich in the
sand’ mentality, a deliberate ignorance of the emptiness that can characterize
human existence? And if so, when Caulfield begins to probe and investigate his
own sense of emptiness and isolation, before finally declaring that the world is
full of ‘phonies’ with each one put out for their own phony gain, is Holden
actually the one who is going insane, or is it society which has lost it’s mind
for failing to see the hopelessness of their own lives?
Holden’s Personality -
There are 3 main aspects in Holden’s personality :
1. His criticism toward the ‘phony’ things in society.
2. His perception that laws (Rules) are ‘child’s play’ for the strong
and a difficult
struggle for the weak.
3. Respect for fellowman.
The criticism toward ‘phony’ things in society is expressed in the novel
primarily by the word ‘phony’. Holden is a representative of the world of
childhood whose characteristics are the opposite values to those Holden calls
One of the things Holden often calls ‘phony’ is the world of movies and
everything about it. Examples of it are his anger toward his brother D.B.
because he moved to Hollywood, aversion of Sunny the prostitute who tells him
she spends most of her time in film theaters and derision to the three women he
met at the bar who are only interested in movies and famous actors.
Another thing Holden calls ‘phony’ is the theater. He finds the theater ‘phony’
because he thinks that instead of demonstrating reality as it is, the emphasis
is put on polishing theatricality. He says he has never seen so much ‘phony’
things like he saw in the theater. Out of these examples and others we see that
for Holden it is very important to be ‘real’, honest and not ‘phony’, thus the
criticism toward the ‘phony’ things in society is the most significant aspect of
Another important aspect in Holden’s personality is that rules to him were meant
to serve the strong, whereas he belongs to the weak, thus he ignores them
completely. His attitude toward rules can be demonstrated by these examples :
Ring Lardner’s tells Holden a story in which a married policeman fell in love
with a girl who drove faster than the speed limit and eventually was killed
because of it. In this story laws (Rules) are mentioned twice :
1. The policeman fell in love with a girl while he was married and
this means breaking social laws.
2. The girl drove too fast and this means breaking traffic laws.
The outcome of this story is failure and death. From here we can learn of
Holden’s personality because he likes this story very much and he thinks that
these felonies don’t require punishment.
Another example is Holden’s talk with Mr. Spencer who tells him : “Life is a
game boy. Life is a game that one plays according to the rules… If you get on
the side where all the hot-shots are, then it’s a game… But if you get on the
other side, where there aren’t any hot-shots, then what’s a game about it ?”.
Holden agrees with Mr. Spencer.
Actually, Holden has an ambivalent view of rules which is expressed in Holden’s
words : “I’m always setting myself rules about sex and I immediately break them”.
Holden refers rules to the world of the strong but he himself cannot avoid
setting rules for himself, yet he never keeps them. So this is another
contradiction in Holden’s personality.
Another aspect of Holden’s personality is the fact that Holden can’t stand
people who don’t respect fellowmen and don’t listen to what they say. Holden
thinks that it is very important to listen to people and respect their privacy.
Examples of this can be found in many parts of the story such as :
1. Holden’s willingness to stop in the middle of the sexual act
because of a girl’s request when others wouldn’t.
2. Holden’s respect to the nuns.
3. Holden’s respect to Jane : the willingness not to kiss her and
comforting her when she cried.
In light of these examples and others we can conclude that fellowman is very
important to Holden. However, when people criticize him, he doesn’t respect them
at all. This can clearly be seen in Holden’s attitude toward Pheobe and Antolini.
Holden’s attitude toward :
1.Holden’s attitude toward teachers is ambivalent : on the one hand he is
instinctively against them because they are representatives of the laws he
breaks. On the other hand he respects teachers like Antolini and Spencer.
2.Holdne’s friends are presented as negative and selfish characters such as
Stradlater and Ackley. Although Stradlater and Ackley are socially opposite,
(Stradlater on the top and Ackley in the bottom) they are both unfit for Holden
and under the disguise of the handsome successful athlete or the ugly rejected
sloth, they are the same – selfish, hurt other people and obey laws.
3. Holden has an exceptional attitude toward his parents. On the one hand he
wants to please them and on the other hand he doesn’t do anything to accomplish
that so he disappoints them.
To his brother D.B, Holden has some respect accompanied with disappointment of
him becoming commercialized all his life as a writer in Hollywood, of his
girlfriend and of his car.
To his sister Pheobe, however, Holden has a special sentiment because she
represents childhood, purity, innocence and understanding to Holden. Despite all
this, Pheobe likes movies, participates in school plays and criticizes Holden.
Allegedly, Holden should have hated her but he chooses to ignore these
4.Holden’s attitude toward life results from his attitude toward himself. His
low self-esteem causes him to try to run away from life and from reality. When
life is presented to him as a game with rules, he breaks the rules and leaves
In Conclusion -
We see Holden as a constant character. As a person who refuses to accept reality
and tries as much as he can to grasp childhood. He wants to become patron of the
children in order to protect their purity and innocence.
And as a final remark I would like to say that when we are honest we can see
within ourselves suppressed elements of the forces operating within Holden
Caulfield, and because of that I would recommend this thought provoking novel as
a fascinating and enlightening description of our human condition. However,
beware … for that very reason it is not comfortable reading.