Holden Caulfield – Catcher In The Rye Essay

Essay – Holden Caulfield is the archetypal 20th Century anti-hero. Discuss.

Holden Caulfield is a typical anti-hero from the 20th century who features as the main character from the novel, Catcher In The Rye by J.D Salinger. The young teenage boy says that he wants to be the one who stands at the bottom of the cliff and catch the children that are playing in the Rye that may run off the edge accidently. This is a dream, not reality however it indicates that Holden is desperate to preserve childhood. Holden is an anti-hero because he lacks heroic qualities. In the novel, he often refers to himself as a yellow character. He wants to hit someone but he won’t because he is too much of a coward and he knows this. Holden talks negatively about most people, often referring to them as “phonies.” Phonies are people whose surface behavior distort or disguise their inner feelings. Holden can be a phony himself and believes if he puts society down, then he can’t be disappointed. He does however, cherish family, more so his siblings rather than his parents. He is very lonely and tends to push people away. Holden has been suspended from four schools. He underachieves, has a habit of being able to lie easily and has a fragile, mental state that ends up leading to a breakdown where he ends up in an asylum.

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The first half of Catcher In The Rye focuses on Holden living at a boarding school called Pencey. He has flunked school, meaning that the school has asked him to leave because he only just passed English and failed his other five subjects. He speaks of his room mates in a different matter to that of his family. The main two boys he describes are; Ackley – “a pimply classmate with poor hygiene who constantly barges into the room,” and Stradlater – who is an enemy of Ackleys. Stradlater is “handsome” and is generally one of Holden’s closest mates. However Holden does pick out Stradlater’s flaws when he says that Stradlater is “self absorbed.” Despite their flaws, Holden is genuine with them and acts kind to them. He describes these two boys very harshly, pointing out the flaws in a very critical matter, which gives the impression to the audience that they are terrible, however they are probably very normal teenage boys.

When he has been suspended from Pencey, he decides to leave early before the term break and leaves to Manhatten to see it himself but he gets caught up in a mass of negativity along the way. He tries to act older than he is especially wit women and smoking, drinking and dancing at night in hotel rooms.

Holden has an older brother, D.B. and a younger brother and sister, Allie and Phoebe. Allie passed away due to leukemia and the reader is made aware how much Holden really misses him. Throughout the novel, it becomes increasingly clear that Allie’s death was one of the most traumatic experiences of Holden’s life and may have largely contributed his current psychological breakdown. Phoebe is a young ten-year-old girl who cherishes Holden. Their relationship is like that of a young girl infatuated with her brother. She is prepared to give up school and her role in the school play when he writes a note telling her to visit him at the museum before he heads out west and never comes home. She tells him that she will go with him and he refuses because he doesn’t want her to flunk school like he has. Although she is young, she listens to Holden and this is a quality Holden admires most. Holden particularly notices no flaws in his older brother and younger sister. They are his stable role models. On the other hand, we see that Holden always finds a fault in people and sometimes fells sorry for them.

Two scenarios in Catcher In The Rye highlight Holden’s ability to look deeply into things. For example when he is in a taxi he asks the taxi driver “Where do all the ducks go in the winter when the lake freezes over?” The taxi driver replies, “ Who cares, what about the fish? They just get frozen there all winter.” This is symbolic for when school and society freeze Holden out like the ducks are frozen out. The frozen fish are the people stuck in society. Holden often makes comments that surprise the reader because they are not the usual comments a careless teenage boy would make. Another scenario is when he is talking about the museum and how nothing ever changes in it, the sculptures and fossils all stay the same. The only things that change are the people who visit it. Holden is strange in the way that he picks up on these things “ Whether someone has grown another foot or has braces or has cancer we have changed.” When he visits Phoebe’s Primary school he notices some graffiti written on a wall that says “Fuck you.”

Holden is sickened by this and later notices it written in the museum as well. He says that he doesn’t want someone to write ‘Fuck you’ on his tombstone. The words ‘Fuck you make him ‘depressed’ as do many things in the adult world and he can’t bare the truth of the adult world that has good, bad and evil in it. In chapter 26 Holden finally accepts himself and realizes you can’t control everything and that there could be a future for him if he applies himself. He hates people who judge others on their looks but he contradicts this when he is always commenting on gorgeous girls. Holden is hunting for meaning. He wears a red hunting hat, which is symbolic for this.

Holden is the archetypal 20th Century anti-hero because he does not have the qualities of a hero; instead he is negative, cowardly and contradicting. He is a lost cause and a lonely boy. Throughout the novel he stays the same and doesn’t change by the end of the novel. Holden Caulfield does have some good in him, however his judgemental personality and mental state cause him to be an anti hero.