A Boy Undone Holden Caulfield is an outsider whose cynical views and attitudes completely disassociate him from the world. He isolates himself, but at the same time yearns for companionship. His idealistic view of what the world should be causes him to shield himself from intimacy and normal interaction. He desperately tries to find emotional satisfaction, but refuses to let anyone in. The root of Holden's disillusionment lies in the traumatic death of his brother Allie who symbolizes the innocence Holden does not want to grow out of and is the cause of his alienation. He is terrified of adulthood and its inherent hypocrisy and ugliness which diminish the beauty and innocence which Allie's short life represented. He had a strong connection with Allie and feels reluctant to connect with anyone else for fear of more pain. His constant internal torment and overwhelming loneliness inevitably lead to his breakdown.
One can easily see very early on that Holden is disassociated and an outsider.
He does not go to his school football game and is being kicked out. According to Holden everyone are a bunch of "phonies." When he goes to say goodbye to his teacher, "Old Spencer" lectures him about the future saying, "Life is a game, boy. life is a game one plays according to the rules." Holden replies, "Yes, sir. I know it is. I know it." However, he thinks to himself, "Game, my ass. Some game. If you get on the side where all the hot-shots are, then it's a game, all right-I'll admit that. But if you get on the other side, where there aren't any hot-shots, then what's a game about it? Nothing. No game" (Salinger 8). This clearly shows his lack of communication towards adults and his avoidance of confrontation. He does not want to hear about the future because he avoids everything that has to do with growing up. One can also see further isolation when he identifies with those on the "other side" of the game. Holden's fear of the future and facing his problems is the result of his brother's death. He has never dealt with Allie's death so how can he even begin to deal with the future? He wants to stay innocent as Allie was when he died. By avoiding the future, Holden believes he is holding on to the memory of his "innocent" brother.
Holden attributes his anger to the fact that the world is filled with "phonies." However, in reality it is because he has not dealt with the pain of losing Allie. Therefore, he lashes out at the world and instead of dealing with his loss, shuts everyone out. He does not talk about his emotions or Allie's death. He says that he slept in the garage the night he died and broke all the windows "just for the hell of it" (Salinger 39). It is obvious his brother's death was traumatic for him, and he did not break the windows "just for the hell of it" (Salinger 39), but he says this in order to hide his emotions and feelings. This is an example of how Allie's death is the cause of Holden hiding his pain and not dealing with this traumatic experience in his life.
Holden hides his emotions and tries to avoid adult confrontation, but at the same time yearns for compassion and acceptance. At this stage in his life he needs more then anything, to feel accepted and loved. However, because Allie's death causes him to hide his feelings he has also shut out the world. He desperately searches for companionship, but intimacy and interaction are what he fears the most. The first instance where one can see this is when he does Stradlater's paper even though he is mad that he is taking out Jane, for whom he cares deeply. However, he seeks acceptance and does it anyways. Another instance of this is when he invites Sunny, the prostitute to the room. This is an obvious desperate act which shows just how badly he seeks companionship. However, when he gets her to the room, he throws her out and does not do anything. This is because of his fear of intimacy and getting close to people. Also he fears adulthood, and to have relations with a prostitute is not something an innocent child would engage in. He was close to Allie, but Allie left him now he feels afraid to let anyone close to him in fear they may disappoint him as well. Holden has constructed a divide between the childhood which he sees as innocent and good and adulthood which he finds superficial and evil. He rationalizes his loneliness by pretending that every adult around him is phony and annoying.
Holden is constantly making it seem like he does not need anyone, yet he is always out looking for interaction and his thoughts are always of other people. Despite his independent nature, he demonstrates how badly he needs companionship. He mentions many people, but rarely ever mentions himself. He avoids his own internal problems such as Allie by focusing on the outside world. His focus on other people shows his need for compassion, love, and interaction. Another example of how Holden is longing for compassion is what is known about Jane. Holden obviously has very strong feelings for her, and in the story Holden describes a deep emotional connection between the two of them. One can see this when he tells of her step-dad's intrusion and how much pain and sadness Jane felt. Holden was filled with compassion and helped her get through it. Now he's in a similar situation struggling with a pain he cannot talk about and he desperately needs that same deep connection again, the same connection he felt with his young brother.
Throughout the book Holden also mentions his younger sister Phoebe. She is also one of the few people with whom Holden feels a connection. This is seen when he arrives in her bedroom in chapter 21 and he is greeted with her, "flinging her arms around his neck" (Salinger 161). She is one of the few people Holden does not criticize. To Holden, Phoebe is young and like Jane, still innocent. He clings to her because she is pure and he wishes he could be in her state, uncorrupted by the world and his bad experiences. One can also see a transformation in Holden when he is around his young sister. He begins to talk about Allie, something he does not do with anyone. This also shows the connection he has with Phoebe. An example of Holden's connection and openness with his sister is when he says to her, "I like Allie, and I like doing what I'm doing right now, sitting here with you, and talking and thinking about stuff" (Salinger 171). He opens up to Phoebe because in a way he can relate Phoebe to Allie. This meaning that Phoebe represents the idea of innocence that Holden is trying to hold on to. Also when he visits Phoebe in the apartment, she asks him what he wants to do with his life. Holden responds by saying "I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff-I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and al." (Salinger 153). This is one of the most profound examples of Holden's obsession with protecting childhood innocence. He not only wants to protect young Phoebe, but his goal is to protect everyone who is innocent. His fantasy reflects his belief in an uncorrupted, pure world, and his desire to protect childhood innocence. However, it also shows us more disconnection from reality.
Holden is not in touch with reality. The death of his beloved brother is the root of this dissociation and his torment. He feels lonely, but at the same time cannot connect with people because his fear of abandonment. The only person he does have a healthy relationship with is his sister Phoebe. This is because it is the closest thing he has to Allie. His brother died young when he was innocent, and free from the evils of the corrupted world. Therefore, Holden's main goal throughout the novel is to preserve innocence and purity. However, his fantasy of an "evil free" world is so unrealistic he falls deeper and deeper into isolation and withdraws deeper into his cynicism making it impossible to get the intimacy and interaction which he desperately needs.