Nearly everyone experiences the loss of a loved one in their lifetime. And, this traumatizing experience can have adverse effects on adolescents, as seen through the life of Holden Caulfield. The Catcher in the Rye portrays the long-term consequences of such traumatizing events and living a life filled with the lingering effects of grief. Grief is a process with 5 stages; denial, depression, bargaining, anger, and acceptance, and Holden portrays nearly every stage. In The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, the use of the baseball mitt, red hunting hat, and the carousel contribute to the source of Holden’s lifelong psychological struggles and his evolution through the grief process.
Allie’s baseball mitt symbolizes Holden’s struggle with the denial of his death. The Catcher in the Rye revolves around Holden’s grief for the loss of his brother, Allie, and his inability to accept the reality of it. Holden cannot come to terms with death because he constantly questions why he was not the one to die. The mitt symbolizes the everlasting connection that Holden holds onto with Allie. Holden secures the mitt with his life, but takes it to pencey and writes “down the poems that were written on it” (Salinger 38). At Pencey, Holden’s roommate, Stradlater, asks him to write an essay for him. Instead of writing on a broad topic, Holden writes about the baseball mitt, a topic unique to himself. As it was known that Holden did little to no homework at school, it is more than likely that this was the first time he wrote about his trauma, as well as the first time he expressed his emotions to others. Holden’s bond with the baseball glove exhibits aspects of denial, thus portraying the lasting effects of experiencing scarring events as a young child.
The red hunting hat symbolizes Holden’s anger stemming from his grief over the loss of his brother, Allie. Holden refers to the hat as “a people shooting hat” (Salinger 161). The hat symbolizes Holden’s distaste for people and society. Holden hears from both his sister and Mr. Antolini that he hates people more than he likes them. The hat places Holden into the stage of anger within the grief process, as he consistently uses it for inexcusable hatred. Holden has an inflated ego since he always feels that it is other’s who cause problems when that is nearly ever the case. The red hunting hat gives Holden a sense of entitlement, which is gasoline to the fire of his underlying anger. Additionally, Holden says ‘my hunting hat really gave me quite a lot of protection, in a way, but I got soaked anyway” (Salinger 213). The hat still represents Holden’s lasting connection with Allie and feels that it will give him a sense of protection. Although people generally move through stages of grief sequentially, Holden experiences multiple at the same time. His experience with both anger and denial simultaneously put him into quite an unstable mental circumstance. But, towards the end of the novel, it is the red hunting hat that leads to Holden’s acceptance of Allie’s death. Holden realizes that Phoebe is destined to become exactly like himself, and he finally witnesses his life put into a different perspective. He realizes the hat will preserve Phoebe’s “innocence”, and therefore comes to terms with the death of Allie. His eternal grief is supported by his emotional distress as a minor, and it creates a completely unique case throughout his lifetime.
The carousel represents the final point of acceptance for Holden. When Holden sees Phoebe on the carousel, he realizes that he has no purpose in being the “catcher in the rye”. When Phoebe is reaching for the gold ring, Holden remarked, “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. If they fall off, they fall off, but it’s bad if you say anything to them’ (Salinger 211). Holden had spent his time throughout the entire novel trying to make decisions for other people, whether it be his plan for Sally to live with him in a cabin or his exaggerated remarks of Ernest Morrow. Watching his sister, Phoebe, on the carousel, made Holden realizes that it’s human nature for individuals to make original decisions for themselves. Furthermore, the carousel represents Holden’s final acceptance of Allie’s death.
To conclude, it is extremely difficult for people to deal with the death of a loved one. For adolescents, this experience can cause psychological trauma and extend the grief process. In the Catcher in the Rye, Holden experiences difficulty with accepting the death of his younger brother, Allie. Through the utilization of symbolism such as the baseball mitt, red hunting hat, and carousel, J.D. Salinger expresses the evolution of Holden’s grief and progression through the stages of denial, anger, and ultimately acceptance.