Characterization Of Holden Caulfield In The Catcher In The Rye

Holden Caulfield is a lonely misanthrope who craves compassion. He’s afraid of change, wants to preserve the innocence of children, and searches for an escape. He also displays critical point of views and deceives those around him. This 16-year-old boy perceives the world as a harsh and evil place. However, he slowly comes to a conclusion that he cannot change the world to his own liking. In J. D Salinger’s novel, the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, goes through issues like coping with his brother’s death, growing up, and having a competition with himself and his depression. Most of the novel displays Holden’s critical and pessimistic views on the world and desires to contain the innocence that’s left. It becomes clear in the final chapters of the novel that Holden is a dynamic character that becomes accepting of the real world. While he had a cynical outlook on the world, he transformed as a character and came to understand that he cannot preserve innocence, adulthood, and change are inevitable, and that he cannot escape, but rather be strong enough to live with his struggles.

Holden Caulfield’s evolution of a dynamic character begins when he realizes he cannot be the “Catcher in the Rye”. When Holden goes up the stairs in Phoebe’s school, he finds that someone has scrawled a curse word on the wall. Seeing this makes Holden angry and “thought how Phoebe and all the other kids would see it, and how they’d wonder what the hell it meant, and then finally some dirty kid would tell them” (260). He cannot stand to see kids getting corrupted because he wants to save children from losing their innocence. However, when Holden goes up another staircase, he sees the same curse word on the wall that was scratched on and tries to rub it off but “it wouldn’t come off. It’s hopeless, anyway. If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn’t rub out even half the ‘Fuck You’ signs in the world. ” At this scene, he accepts that it’s impossible to save the innocence of children because it’s inevitable for children to lose it in this world.

The next step of his progression as a character was when he understood that adulthood and change are inevitable. Holden sparks up a conversation with a cab driver about the ducks in the lagoon in Central Park and asks if he “happens to know where they go in the wintertime” like if they “fly away by themselves-go south or something” (107). By Holden asking about where the ducks go, he’s demonstrating his struggle with change and him wanting things to stay the same, but knows that they can’t because the ducks are proof that you have to adapt to the environment to survive. However, Holden accepts the notion of change and that it’s inevitable to enter adulthood when Phoebe rides the carousel and tries to reach for the gold ring. Holden was afraid she would fall off but understood that “the thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it and not say anything” (274).

The protagonist of the book came to understand that running away from his problems and escaping is not the answer. Holden was fond of his thoughts about living in his own cabin and being isolated from people and pretend to be a deaf-mute so he “wouldn’t have to have any goddam stupid useless conversations with anybody” (257). He wrote Phoebe a letter that he’d be leaving soon. However, when Phoebe pleads to go along with him, he changes his mind and thinks realistically for Phoebe’s protection. When Phoebe comes back from her carousel ride, she put on the red hunting hat on Holden as a shield and Holden agrees he would go home afterward instead of his plan to travel West when his sister asks. Holden “meant it, too” and “wasn’t lying to her” because he “really did go home afterward” (274).

From the beginning to the end of the book, Holden went through a major change as a character, which dubs him as a dynamic character. Before, he was pessimistic about the ways of the world and wanted to be the savior of innocence and wanted to save children from going through the emerging world of adulthood. Towards the end, he changed and came to understand that he cannot preserve innocence, adulthood, and change are inevitable, and that he cannot escape. Holden as a character reflects the human world that people can change their outlook on life. Holden demonstrates that people aren’t perfect and brings about issues that people didn’t want to bring about before. He’s an imperfect character that was worth bringing to life because he’s a relatable character that some teenagers perceive as a friend.

31 October 2020
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