The Catcher In The Rye: Character Analysis Of Holden Caufield Essay, Research Paper
The Catcher in the Rye
In J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye, the main character, Holden Caufield, describes in detail the parts of his life and his environment that bother him the most. He faces these problems with a kind of naivety that prevents him from fully understanding why it is that he is so depressed. His life revolves around his problems, and he seems helpless in evading them. Among others, Holden finds himself facing the issues of acceptance of death, growing up, and his own self-destructiveness.
One of the hardships Holden must cope with is his inability to come to terms with death, in particular that of his younger brother, Allie. Holden seems to have experienced a rather happy and carefree childhood; he lived with his siblings, Phoebe and Allie, and had his older brother D.B. to look up to. Then Holden suddenly is faced with the realization that he has to grow up, and learn to live without Allie. The initial reaction is painful; Holden breaks his hand in a fit of emotion soon after the death. By the time Holden is sixteen years old, he has done little more than accept the fact that Allie is dead. We still see Holden seeking Allie in his bouts of depression. In chapter twenty-five, Holden, while walking along Fifth Avenue, begins to believe that he will not be able to get to the other side of the street each time he reaches the end of a block, as if he will just “fall off.” He talks aloud to Allie to help him get through the ordeal. Holden also continues to see Allie as one of the few things he likes about life.
Yet another demon that Holden avoids is the process of having to grow up. Throughout the book, he seems hesitant to develop any real ambitions or goals. He is a perpetual failure at school. He refuses to associate himself with mature ways of living, and so isolates himself from anyone his own age or older. This is all directly connected to Holden’s picture-perfect image of his childhood. He sees this particular period of his life as his own personal paradise. He does not want to finalize the fact that he has to concede it’s innocence in the end. Towards the end of the book, Holden shows his desire for life to remain as it was by saying, “…certain things should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone.” Holden does not want to join a world of phonies and greed, a world lacking in carelessness and irresponsibility. He won’t, whether consciously or not, accept the fact that he has no choice.
A final conflict in the life of Holden Caufield is his own self-destructiveness. That he is suicidal is never deliberately pointed out in the book but there are several instances in which it is implied. Mr. Antolini, being perhaps the only adult in the story that truly understands the seriousness of Holden’s situation, at one point remarks, “I can very clearly see you dying nobly, one way or another, for some highly unworthy cause,” possibly insinuating that Holden might not value his life enough to avoid throwing it away. Phoebe asks Holden about what he really likes about life, and all he can think of is a young boy named James Castle that commited suicide. At least one chapter finds him irrationally thinking he has cancer, and wandering around thinking he will certainly never make it to the other side of the street. One of the most significant allusions to suicide is when he walks around as though he has been shot, and afterward, in Central Park, he convinces himself that he has developed neumonia and will die very soon. He imagines his funeral, and the reaction of his parents and Phoebe. By the end of the novel, Holden has envisioned his own death by at least four different methods: neumonia, nuclear warfare, homicide, and suicide.
All of Holden’s problems appear to have been derived from change, one way or another, and they all end up leaving him confused and depressed. It is his problems with death and adulthood, that bring his self-destructing nature into being. In The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield finds himself caught in the binds of death, the adult world, and his personal self-destructiveness.