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Character Analysis of Holden Caulfield (‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D. Salinger)

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In J.D. Salinger's ‘The Catcher in the Rye’, a first-person narrative told through the lens of Holden Caulfield, we are introduced to an abnormal teenager who has not found his place in the world and suffers from mental illness. He dives into the journey of his departure from Pencey Prep last year when he got kicked out. Holden displays errant behavior that's very concerning and showcases his mental instability. He unfolds his complex character through his changing emotions from when he's alone and with other people as well as when he is dealing with his depression, anxiety, and his risky uncaring behavior.

The symptoms of depression include a persistent feeling of sadness, low self-esteem, feeling inadequate, a decrease in the ability to make decisions, as well as absolutely not wanting to attend school or work, and more. In the beginning, Holden talks about being on Thomsen Hill watching a football game from far away because he's on his way to say goodbye to his history teacher, due to being kicked out. During his conversation with his teacher, he confirms being kicked out of 3 prior schools, this being the fourth, and failing all subjects except English (6, 11). In this moment and throughout the novel, he shows little interest in doing anything with school, careers, jobs or future schooling. Any normal teenager dislikes attending school. We hate getting up in the morning and doing homework, class work, and other assignments, but not enough to be fully kicked out of 4 schools from of lack of effort. Only abnormal teens with depression, social anxiety, and high aggression would do this. Holden has depression and never actually deals with his grief and unstable emotions. Firstly, his self-depreciation. “I'm the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It's awful” (44). “I mean I'm not going to be a g-damn surgeon or a violinist or anything anyway” (75). “I'm the only dumb one in the family… I'm the only really dumb one” (172). “I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something”. All of these are examples of low expectations for himself and how he doesn't believe that he is either capable or deserving of anything greater. He hasn't dealt with his brother's passing and being shipped off to schools, being separated from his family doesn't help lessen his depression and in fact, feeds into it. Then he very openly states that he is depressed and lonely multiple times after major and minor occurrences: “One of the biggest reasons I left Elkton Hills was I was surrounded by phonies… I can't stand that stuff. It drives me crazy. It makes me so depressed I go crazy” (17). I think the reason he hates lying and liars so much is because of how when his brother passed away at his funeral so many family members that he didn't even know showed up to ‘pay their respects’ and basically dishonored Allie. He hated visiting his brother's grave because the Allie he knew wasn't gloomy, he was a kid, a kind smart and loving kid, surrounded by death. It was disgraceful and so inauthentically Allie that he couldn't stomach it and thus he hates liars even while being one himself. He hates the person he has become and indulges in the innocence of being a child and the innocence of his little sister Phoebe. It's also ironic how he calls his young sister old, Salinger uses juxtaposition to further show how much he really can't stand letting go of innocence.

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Holden has stated many times the feeling of persistent sadness he has, he also spends a lot of time alone and seeking company, because he doesn’t like being alone. He gets to the point where he is so alone that all he thinks about are people who paid attention to him, calling people to stay in contact as well as seeking to talk to and pick up strangers. He copes with the fact that his brother is dead, he is separated from his parents and siblings and has no friends by intoxicating himself and smoking. He has emotional breakdowns and confesses to being depressed many times, for example: “It was even more depressing out in the street… I got so lonesome and rotten…” (56). “I was too depressed to care” (68). “I felt like getting the hell out of the place. It was too depressing” (90). “I damn near got my coat back and went back to the hotel, but it was too early and I didn't feel like being all alone” (95). “I felt much more depressed than sexy” (106). Then his very peculiar interaction with the prostitute in pages 105-110 shines a very interesting spotlight on his interactions with other people that be perceives as also sad. He feels so much empathy for her, “I thought of her going in a store and buying it… it made me feel sad as hell - I don't know why exactly”, he chooses to talk with her instead of having sex and tries to talk to her even though she's clearly not into it, he displays a sort of desperation to be heard, saved even, he turns to anyone who will listen, even pay them for it. Holden is sort of like an abandoned child, hopeful and yet so sad. He shows his immense vulnerability by crying and wanting to cry when he's alone, he feels such an agonizing loneliness that it wholesomely consumes him.


All in all, Holden needs help, which he seems to be getting at the end of his story, Holden isn't like most normal teenagers, even those that are depressed, he falls into the category of suicide-prone and if he hadn't made any contact with his little sister he might’ve, he has thought about it.

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Character Analysis of Holden Caulfield (‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D. Salinger). (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from
“Character Analysis of Holden Caulfield (‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D. Salinger).” Edubirdie, 15 Dec. 2022,
Character Analysis of Holden Caulfield (‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D. Salinger). [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 5 Mar. 2024].
Character Analysis of Holden Caulfield (‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D. Salinger) [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 15 [cited 2024 Mar 5]. Available from:
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