Holden Caulfield Character Examination

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 12th grade November 2001

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Character Examination Holden Caulfield is a figment of author J.D Salinger's imagination, Holden is the exception to all rules, and the rule to all exceptions. He is in an unclassifiable category, and his physical traits give no clue on how to enravel this enigmatic young man. Holden is caring but cold, timid yet bold, passive but aggressive; these are three of perhaps hundreds of antonyms describing his psyche. Holden is the protagonist in J.D Salinger's only acclaimed novel The Catcher in the Rye. The story centers around the adolescence of this rebel with and without a cause's life. It is narrated from the point of view of a cynic, with most secondary characters being valueless, trite yuppies with little integrity or worth. Holden's internal voyage is triggered by his expulsion from Pencey, a boarding school in upstate New York.

Holden Caulfield is a tall, solidly built teenager. Holden has short dirty blond hair which he wears in a crew cut.

He has a pale complexion and has a tendency of getting red in the face. Salinger does not concentrate on the physical traits of his protagonist but rather he thoroughly describes all facets of his psyche. What struck me as odd about Salinger's style is that with many secondary and supporting characters in the novel, he paints a very detailed physical analysis from head to toe. Perhaps Salinger made this decision in order to show the reader the complexity of Holden as a human, and that while supporting characters can be brought into the story by external traits, Holden's complex character transcends mere physical description.

Holden Caulfield is a cynic by nature and is a self proclaimed judge of others. Holden has no respect for other people's positive traits, and he adamantly believes that people put on a façade, play a part and have no self worth or moral barometer.

It can be said that Holden is a bipolar character, for example; Holden is naïve yet cynical simultaneously. One might say that it is impossible to be naïve and cynical at the same time but with Holden it is evident on a regular basis. Holden is definitely cynical, Holden makes impetuous accusations and rash generalizations of people and often he is mistaken in his judgment because he shows no form of acceptance to the positive value of the human spirit. Holden is also naïve, not in the pure sense of the word but Holden is naïve of himself and his thoughts. Holden has strong deep-rooted beliefs of the world being against him and the world being out to get him, but he is mistaken. Holden Caulfield radical belief of his own beliefs makes him naïve and gullible. The sad part of Holden's terrible attitude towards life, is that to some extent he himself is a fraud, by becoming an arrogant disbeliever of human worth, he is, in his mind justifying his own mistakes and moral flaws.

Holden has feelings of insecurity and a fear of loneliness and alienation, his fear plays a large role in his actions during his time in Manhattan. From the moment of his departure from Pencey, Holden was trying to call his old girlfriends; at first he called his old friend Jane Gallagher. After striking out, he was lonely and his way of dealing with his rejection was hopping from bar to bar and from nightclub to nightclub. After Holden recovered from his misadventure with Jane, he called another acquaintance named Sally. Sally and Holden ended up meeting up for a matinee, but Holden, spotted a lunt (phony) and it made him wreck the date. Holden is fickle and impatient, this is exemplified by his hopping from hangout to hangout at night in New York. Holden would make potentially dangerous decisions on impulse. He was not methodical or prudent at all, his impulsiveness could be labeled as recklessness. An example of the dangers of his impetuousness is when after a tough night, he hired a prostitute from the elevator man, Maurice. Holden didn't even think about the consequences of his actions and in the end Holden was in a dangerous situation with Maurice. Holden Caulfield's secondary characteristics are what make the plot of the novel so interesting to the reader.

Holden Caulfield is a truly fascinating character. In writing this essay, the complexity and the inconsistency of his character traits became more and more evident to me. Holden is a great example of many negative qualities often associated with teenagers such as, impulsiveness, recklessness and various other negative traits not affiliated with teenagers such as cynicism, and a lack of faith. Holden is the most intriguing character I have encountered in my literary experience. In two years from now when rereading Salinger's novel The Catcher In The Rye, I wonder how my thoughts and opinions of Holden Caulfield will change. With further insight to Holden's complex character, I may well appreciate him more and more.