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Evaluation Of Holden Caulfield in Catcher In The Rye By J.D. Salinger

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It’s interesting that this book has been censored in many schools, I suppose people are scared away by all the goddamns. However, when examined by a keen eye, J.D. Salinger’s little window into the life of a certain adolescent, is an untapped well, brimming with educational merit beyond what those ignorant institutions are capable of appreciating. This fiction reveals more truth about the world than an individual’s reality can often supply. Holden’s story communicates an important perspective on idealistic world views, his evolution as a character through the happenings of every tick in a pocket watch, and how this “Catcher in the Rye” possesses a plethora of societal commentary whose relevance has not diminished.

Holden seems to view the world through a lens clouded by idealism, he is unable to see clearly because his expectations for perfection obtrude into his acceptance of reality. Throughout the novel, Holden chases an impossible dream; to be the Catcher in the Rye, saving innocent children from the corruption and “phoniness” that comes with adulthood. When Holden sees some profanity scratched into a display at the museum he is irate. He goes on to think, “If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn't rub out even half the ‘Fuck you’ signs in the world. It’s impossible” (202). Reality may as well have spit on his idealistic illusions as he watches his dreams of the unscathed youth finally dissolve. This is when recognizes he will never achieve this utopia he has been chasing. Holdens idealistic expectations of the world are never met, and his optimism is the essential factor that leads to his perceived pessimism. Furthermore, Holden, when visiting the Museum of Natural History, finds himself getting wrapped up in the nostalgia of his past experiences exploring the institution. He claims, the best thing though, in that museum was that everything stayed right where it was” (121). Holden wishes that everything in life could be placed inside glass cages and preserved. His sentimental love of the museum is rather tragic as it symbolizes his hopeless fantasizing, and his inability to deal with the real world. Every time he returns to the museum, he is disturbed because he has changed while the displays have not and in this instance, he cannot so much as venture inside. Holden is unwilling to confront his own problems, protecting himself with a shell of cynical comments and avoidant behaviors. Later on, after Holden endures a long afternoon with Sally, he can no longer tolerate the lack of depth in their conversation. His stream of consciousness that follows may appear to be merely the jaded ramblings of a kid yearning for meaningful human interaction. However, this idealized fantasy he comes up with conveys his cockeyed optimism. He says, “Here is my idea. How would you like to get the hell out of here? We could drive up to Massachusetts and Vermont” (131). His attempt to convince Sally, his shallow, eager socialite, antithesis, of this idealized fantasy, shows his increasing distance from reality. He hates the world in which he resides, and though he really doesn’t care for Sally, his intruding dreams of what could be, get in the way of what is realistic. His desperate visions for an escape show that he cannot, or will not, deal with the complexity that inevitably accompanies real life, and this little cabin in the woods represents the simple, manageable version of life that Holden craves. Holden is constantly hoping his idealized reality will match up with his less-than-perfect existence, however, this merely increases his dissatisfaction with life.

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Holden’s inability to accept reality would seem to ensure that his curatorial development should remain stagnant. However, Holden does encounter events that compel change. Beginning with the climax of his wandering adventures. Holden, unable to deal with the world around him, decides to leave and to meet Phoebe to return the money she lent him. When confronted by her insatiable posits to join him on his trip he is so dismayed his response is a scant, “No. Shut up” (206). Phoebe’s demands impel Holden to face the effects his actions have on those he cares for. He understands that he cannot take her away from the real world; her play; her friends; her life. He clearly sees what his idealistic fantasies could become if he allowed their continuance. He is finally forced to stare down the barrel of the gun he has loaded. Although he dreads her growing up and he now acknowledges that children have to grow up at some point, that they cannot, in fact, remain innocent. Adulthood and all the phoniness it brings is all a part of life, and being a member of society. Another important change Holden undergoes is his journey from cynic to skeptic. All through the novel, Holden’s outlook is shrouded by a jaded and sardonic attitude. This is especially apparent during many a judgemental interaction with whomever he happened to be with. This pessimistic outlook is primarily a result of his great expectations, and not until the conclusion is he finally accepting of innocence being inherently fleeting. His optimism is gone and in that, his attitude is all the more positive. Without this idealism, his predisposition for the cynical is changed to one of cautious skepticism. When discussing his putting in effort in school, Holden suggests, “I think I am, but how do I know?” (213). This deeply contradicts his past bleak and hopeless manner. Instead, holden is merely unsure and skeptical about the future. Thus, displaying his development as a character as his final words suggest that he has rid the impenetrable barrier of cynicism that he hid behind for so long. Lastly, the lecture Holden received from Mr. Antolini notes another of Holden’s shifts in ideals. Mr. Antolini states, “The mark of an immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one” (188). Holden could relate this to James Castle, the boy who died so as to not compromise his beliefs. Holden admired him because of the lengths he went to in order to avoid being phony. Now Mr. Antolini impels him to think more deeply. Is that something really worth dying for it? If James had simply acquiesced to the bullies' demands he likely would have lived, and maybe lived for a greater cause. All in all, Holden’s development throughout the novel is like the constant rushing flow of a river, in that, it stays the same only by changing. Holden is, in essence, the same person we met on page one, but he has had many a realization whether he is aware of them or not.

The Catcher in the Rye has served as a resonant expression of alienation for adolescent readers who consider themselves at odds with the norms and institutions of society, with Holden’s character being a kind of literary model for such a nonconformist. A confused teenager is any teenager, who experiences the identity struggle of being stuck in the limbo between childhood and adult life. This theme is shown through Holden’s incessant critiquing of the phony, expressing his deep-seated desire for identity and authenticity. This is shown through how Holden interacts with women and his apparent fear of sexuality, when he says, “Sex is something I just don't understand. I swear to God I don't…I can even see how it might be quite a lot of fun, in a crummy way” (131). As a rite of passage into adulthood sex is not something he is willing to follow through with. He is fighting his inborn lust, because to him, any experience that is not entirely sincere is phony and destroys any sense of identity. In addition, Holden not only wishes to escape the constricting, corrupting influence of society but also to discover some unprecedented form of community or intimacy. This is so universal a theme it should go without saying, but it is only human to want other human interaction. His N.Y.C escapades depict him chasing any company he can find, from a prostitute to Sally, to Carl Luce. Holdens talk with Mr. Antolini puts it perfectly when he instructs, “Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement” (189). This encourages Holden to continue their academic pursuits because it provides him with a promising endgame. This notion offers Holden a way of connecting to people who feel and experience the same things he does, and maybe the Catcher in the Rye is meant to be the “something” that Holden has to pass on. A final theme present is Holden’s educational apathy. Salinger does a remarkable job in depicting an extremely bright individual who, going against societal expectations, is not charmed by the listless academia found rigorous private institutions. Nonetheless, Mr. Antolini has sage council for Holden and he explains, “Educated and scholarly men if they're brilliant and creative, to begin with, they tend to leave infinitely more valuable records behind them than men do who are merely brilliant and creative” (189). His old teacher seems to have genuine respect for learning, he does not berate Holden but speaks to him like an equal. He insinuates that sure, there is something to be said for innate brilliance, but only when combined with scholarly pursuits can real contributions take place. This gives Holden a new perspective: education is of inherent value in itself, and that may be to fight the system only serves to his disadvantage. All in all, Holden’s encounters promote global principles that many run into during their lifetime.

Holden is a highly layered character, and to make a distinction as black and white as him being good or bad diminishes his humanity. Caulfield is a stubborn idealist but does experience mind-altering changes throughout his particular human experience, and his story brings to light universally recognizable themes. It makes sense schools banned this book. It’s for the same reason most people think Holden is nothing more than an angsty little shit, it’s the same reason that the man who decided to murder John Lennon had this book in his pocket. Most are unable to look past what someone does, to why they do it. Ignorance is lazy, it’s not bliss, it’s just irresponsible.

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Evaluation Of Holden Caulfield in Catcher In The Rye By J.D. Salinger. (2021, August 04). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from
“Evaluation Of Holden Caulfield in Catcher In The Rye By J.D. Salinger.” Edubirdie, 04 Aug. 2021,
Evaluation Of Holden Caulfield in Catcher In The Rye By J.D. Salinger. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 5 Mar. 2024].
Evaluation Of Holden Caulfield in Catcher In The Rye By J.D. Salinger [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Aug 04 [cited 2024 Mar 5]. Available from:
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