Holden is the speaker and the subjective voice in Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. The character is complex and dynamic, yet one of the first aspects that stand out based on how Holden speaks and interacts with the world is the alienation illustrated in his behavior. The teenage boy distances himself from other people and from reality itself, becoming isolated and hostile towards those around him. Alienation is suggested in multiple episodes and symbols within the novel, including his appearance, his interactions with other characters, and his disregard for reality.
Symbols and Characters
An illustration of alienation is the clothes that the boy chooses to wear, which is how he expresses his views on himself in society. Holden is seen wearing “a red hunting hat with long peaks (Salinger 30). The choice is not surprising since it highlights the character’s aspiration to be different and not become a member of the society that he considers phony. The color in itself is unusual, which refers to Holden’s lack of desire to conform to norms and remain unique. However, the fact that he wears a hunting hat suggests the character’s view of himself as someone in an attacking position. Hunters are loners whose goals are to catch the prey, while Holden is alone because he feels like he has to attack his whole environment. After all, it does not accept him for who he is.
Another illustration of alienation is the way Holden views his brother. He despises his choice of becoming a Hollywood screenwriter, praising his “this terrific book of short stories” which were meant for children (Salinger 9). Holden does not accept that his brother lives in an adult world in which he is motivated by money. Instead, he is only satisfied when people remain childish in following their dreams while being fully intellectually independent and free of obligations. This, again, illustrates alienation from the real world and an acceptance of one in which responsibilities are replaced with dreams and personal desires. Separation is also present in Holder’s relationship with his sister. He does not call her because “Phoebe is just a little kid” who would not pick up the phone in the morning (Salinger 94). In this case, he cherishes her childhood yet still distances himself from her for the sake of letting her be carefree and young.
Holden’s interest in change in nature is another illustration of a disregard for the world. Namely, he went to the lake to see if the ducks were there during the winter, but he “didn’t see a single one” (Salinger 207). Instead of accepting the fact that ducks respond to a change in season by seeking warmer weather, Holden was looking for them in their usual spot, which exemplifies his own life. Holden’s maturity is close, yet he is not ready to move towards it, choosing to remain in his old stop and expecting the world to freeze with him. As everything around him moves on, he alienates and decides to disregard others, as this is how Holden himself feels.
Holden’s alienation is evident in how he interacts with his friends and family, sees the world around him, and imagines his life. Instead of accepting the environment for what it is and presenting it as dynamic and everchanging, Holden almost separates himself from reality, being alone in his world where he is a child surrounded by other naïve and carefree children. The alienation allows him to live his imaginary dream yet suppresses his ability to adequately respond to his surroundings and the relative maturity that he avoids by distancing himself from reality.
Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. Hachette Book Group, 1951.