Character Development of Holden Caulfield

Categories: Holden Caulfield

Holden Caulfield narrates the entirety of J.D. Salinger's first and only novel, The Catcher in the Rye. He is a young boy who is afraid to grow up and tries to prevent himself from growing up in many different ways. He also tries to help little kids from growing up by being "the catcher" to prevent them from falling down the path of maturity and to prevent them from seeing adulthood and all the "phonies.". Holden's thoughts, and relationships show that Holden remains a static character of sorts; there are times where he shows a little bit of maturity but he then soon returns back to his normal static self.

Throughout this novel, Holden has many thoughts while wandering around. Some of the thoughts that he thinks of depresses him: determine what and whom is "phony," careers, economic class, losing innocence and becoming a failed catcher in the rye. These thoughts happen multiple times throughout his three day journey in New York City while most of them show his static character.

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Holden suffers from depression and constantly thinks about what depresses him. He mentions that the reason why he left Elkton Hills was because Mr.Haas would "shake hands with them [parents] and give them a phony smile and then he'd go talk [...] with somebody else's parents," (Salinger 17). Mr. Haas didn't like to talk with his students parents that look bad/disgusting. Holden . He then mentions that "it makes me so depressed I go crazy," (Salinger 17). Holden gets depressed on the judgement of other people.

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Holden gets depressed when he receives gifts from anyone as well. He hated getting gifts from other people because he is constantly "leaving" schools and he says, "One thing about packing depressed me a little. I had to pack these brand-new ice skates my mother had practically just sent me a couple of days before. That depressed me." (Salinger 58). He hates getting gifts from people because he knows he's going to have to pack it up to leave and go somewhere else, even if it's not what he wanted. These are just a small glimpse of examples that depress him. Everything that depresses him has one thing in common: that is that they don't live up to his expectations. Holden is always prepared to be dissapointed. He assumes that he will be disappointed, therefore when he is disappointed, he gets depressed.

Holden finds a lot of people to be "phony" and a lot of sayings to be "phony". Holden uses the phrase "phony" to characterize insincere people, their language, and actions. Holden describes the word "grand" (Salinger 12) used by Spencer as phony. Holden also mentions that his older brother, D.B is a phony after he leaves him and goes to Hollywood to write screenplays instead of staying with his writing career. He describes anything and everything that he does not like as phony. Spencer had described Holden's parents as grand people and Holden says that the word grand is phony because he does not believe his parents are grand and thinks his parents are phonies as well. Holden describes D.B. as a phony because he had left his writing books career to go to Hollywood away from him to write screenplays.

Holden is calling him phony because he is essentially selling out for adulthood. As Holden is also the younger brother of D.B., Holden has to compete against him as "his pace - setter for achievement has achieved much success in society. Holden's striving for superiority is going to be under pressure, as he competes with is older brother."(Irving 82). D.B. went from writing child books, to moving into Hollywood to write screenplays to make money and transition fully into being an adult. Holden has also looked at D.B as "another catcher in the rye to show him how it [protecting others' childhood] is done" (Baumbach 462). Holden has wanted this from D.B., but he ends up failing Holden when he moves into adulthood, looking for career and money. Holden labels anyone and anything that fails him or he does not view as a "catcher" or influences children in the wrong fashion as phony.

Throughout this novel, Holden is on the look for an older "catcher" to show him the way and how to succeed. Two possible people that he viewsed as a catcher were D.B. and Mr. Antolini. He viewed D.B. as a catcher for a long time until he failed him. When Holden was younger, D.B. would write children book that Holden actually liked. He looked up to D.B. as he developed books for children. Holden started to call D.B a phony when he gave up this career. D.B went to Hollywood to write screenplays instead of children books. D.B. left his childhood and matured and stopped doing things for children. As D.B. does id this, he failed Holden as being the catcher. Holden now looks at him as a phony and a prostitute in Hollywood. D.B. lost his innocence and became a failed catcher in the rye. Holden also looksed at Mr.Antolini as a catcher as well. Mr. Antolini used to teach Holden in Eenglish which is Holden's favorite subject. Holden thought of Mr.Antolini as a catcher because he agreed with Holden when D.B. was leaving for Hollywood: "when D.B. went to Hollywood, Mr. Antolini phoned him up and told him not to go. He went anyway, though. Mr.Antolini said that anybody that could write like D.B. had no business going out to Hollywood. That's exactly what I said, practically" (Salinger 200).

Holden thinks Mr.Antolini is a catcher because he sees the D.B. situation the same as he does. Mr. Antolini thinks he should stay home and continue to write books for children because he is very talented at it. Holden thinks the same thing and he thinks Mr.Antolini wants to do things to give children and show them all the good. Holden ends up going to Mr.Antolini's house to sleep when he is traveling through the streets of New York. When Holden falls asleep on the couch, he wakes up from Mr. Antolini rubbing his head while he was sleeping. This creeps Holden out so he leaves Mr. Antolini's house and doesn'tidn't go back. Mr.Antolini has now become a failed catcher to Holden. Holden thinks Mr.Antolini was trying to come onto him while he was sleeping and he no longer sees Mr.Antolini as a catcher. Holden claims that he wants to be left along throughout his journey but is always trying to contact someone, anyone to be with him.

Holden is alone for most of his journey through New York and though he claims he wants to be aloneg,. He makes several attempts to call people to accompany him. He calls Sally, Carl Luce, Jane, etc. He calls Sally and goes out to eat with her. When Sally hasd to leave, Holden was trying to get her to not leave. Even though Holden had called her a phony, he still does not want her to leave because he wants to be with anyone at the moment. He then calls Jane, his good friend that he likes a lot. He called her house number and waited for someone to answer. Jane's mom was the one that picked up the phone and when Holden heard that it wasn't Jane, he hung up the phone. He tries to call her again later but no one picks up the phone. He then calls his old buddy Carl Luce. They both gowent out to get something to eat and drink. While they were out, Holden kept talking to Carl about sex and what it is like. He also asks him about his personal life with his significant other.

Holden was always fantasizing about sex throughout his journey through New York. He was always thinking, talking or asking about sex. When Holden met with Carl Luce, he kept going on about Carl's sex life and asking him questions like " How's your sex life?" (Salinger 160). Holden also asked "Who're you going around with now?" (Salinger 161). Holden kept going on with questions like these even though it was getting on Carl's nerves. Holden also met a man named Maurice in an elevator shaft. While going up in the elevator, Holden bought a prostitute for the night to have sex with and get experience with it. The prostitutes name was Sunny. When Sunny got to his room, they talked for a while. Sunny asked him if they were going to do something soon to get it done and over with. Holden had chickened out of doing anything with her. Everytime Holden coames close to having sex, he would shut it down and not do it, yet he was always thinking about it and wondering how it felt. Anytime he was with other guys, he was always asking them about sex and got on their nerves and made it hard for him to have any friends.

Holden has made multiple attempts to try and talk to other people and make friends. Holden has a very hard time making any friends:. "His efforts to connect with any stereotypical kid his age result in abject failure." (Privitera 204). The main reason for Holden not connecting with anyone his age is because he thinks they are all phony for maturing and growing into the adult world. While everyone around Holden is maturing and getting into adulthood, Holden is fighting against maturing and trying to remain a child. Anyone that matures is described as phony to Holden. Therefore, making it hard to even connect with them on the same level. He is always asking immature questions like a child would to other people his age which would get on their nerves and push them away from Holden. The only people that Holden could connect with was his younger sister Phoebe, his old friend Jane, and his dead brother Allie.

Holden has developed many relationships with people throughout the novel. Some of the key relationships he has developed are between Stradlater, Jane, Phoebe, and Allie. Some of these people connect more to Holden while others are just there for a brief moment. Jane is a pretty serious relationship that Holden once had with her. Allie and Phoebe are the biggest relationships to Holden as they are the only two that can connect with Holden anytime during the novel. Stradlater was only in Holden's life for a brief moment but had sparked Holden to thinking about Jane again.

Stradlater was Holden's roommate at Pencey Prep school, the school he getswas most recently kicked out from. Holden had mixed emotions about him and was calling him a phony at one point and the next he was calling him a good guy. Stradlater was always going on dates with girls and doing the thing with them in a car. Stradlater's most recent date was with a girl named Jane. Holden had forgotten about her until he had said he was going on a date with her. This makes Holden mad because he had liked Jane for a long time and used to be really good friends with her. When Stradlater gets back from his date with Jane, Holden begins to question him about the date. He asks him "What'd you do? Giver her the time in Ed Banky's goddamn car?" (Salinger 49). After he had asked this, Stradlater wouldn't tell him and Holden started to punch him. Holden was so in love with Jane he tried to beat up Stradlater for giving her the time.

Jane was Holden's old sweetheart. Holden had talked about when they used to hang out with each other that they'd play chess and she'd keep all of her king in the back row. As Holden walks around New York, he was Jane on his mind and tries to call her a couple of times. When he finally calls her, this is where he starts to mature a little bit and tries to get with her. When the phone picks up, it was Jane's mother and he had lost all hope and confidence. He hung up the phone right away without saying a word. After this has happened, Holden begins to return back to his original static self.

Allie was the younger brother of Holden. Holden had loved Allie so much because he was older than him and Allie would listen to him and do the things Holden would do. Holden felt like he was showing the right way about things to Allie. Holden had lost something very important to him on the passing of his brother Allie. "Holden's innocence died with his brother Allie," (Privitera 204). Once Allie had died, "lying and avoidance have become the norm in his life, rather than the innocent invincibility of childhood." (Privitera 204). Holden's life started to collapse with his brother's death.

Holden had remained this way through the whole novel and only showed a little sign of maturing, but soon returns back to his normal self. Holden's thoughts and relationships had plunged him into a whole without escaping. With his brothers death, he felt that he needed to help all children from falling down the wrong path to adult corruption. Holden had become a liar with no second thoughts about it once Allie had died. Holden continues to have these same thoughts throughout the novel and continues to lie all the time. Holden is a static character throughout the whole novel and has not endured any change from where he started.


Updated: Dec 12, 2023
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Character Development of Holden Caulfield. (2019, Dec 01). Retrieved from

Character Development of Holden Caulfield essay
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