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Main Characters

Holden Caulfield

Holden Caulfield can be said to be truly the only character in The Catcher in the Rye. Since Holden is both the main character and the narrator of the novel, everything the audience learns is filtered through Holden's consciousness. We only know of Holden what Holden himself chooses to tell us, and what he chooses to report of what others say about him. We are told that Holden is sixteen, thin, wears his hair in a crewcut, doesn't eat much, smokes too much, and is somewhat out of shape. We can also conclude that Holden is thoughtful, sensitive in his treatment of others, and that his family is quite rich. It's also evident that Holden is friendly, but seems subject to bouts of severe loneliness (witness how many times Holden invites people to join him for a drink, including cab drivers). Holden feels most comfortable relating to children, especially his younger siblings Allie and Phoebe. Only children have the honesty and lack of prejudices that the idealistic Holden expects of the world. Grown-ups inevitably disappoint and show themselves to be hypocrites, like his older brother D.B., prostituting his talent in Hollywood, or his former teacher, Mr. Antolini, a drunk stuck in a loveless marriage. Holden associates aging with hypocrisy and death, and this explains his appreciation of the innocence of children and also his own resistance to becoming an adult.

The plot of Catcher revolves entirely around Holden - the action of the novel is Holden's adventures while unchaperoned for three days, and other characters are only important inasmuch as they are important to Holden. What is most interesting about the novel, however, is what we learn of Holden's psychology through the course of the story. The two people Holden says he likes are Thomas Hardy (chapter 3) and his younger brother Allie Caulfield (chapter 22). Both, significantly, are dead. Allie has died of leukemia, and Holden has witnessed the death of a classmate as well. Holden's parents are distant and seemingly unconcerned with their children: instead of getting parental attention he is shipped off to boarding school after boarding school, and when ten-year-old Phoebe admits to smoking a cigarette her mother hardly bothers to scold her. Holden sees his purpose as protecting children from a world that does its best to ignore them. He sees himself as "the catcher in the rye," saving kids from the unknown. Eventually, Holden realizes that he cannot protect children from the adult world, that they must grow up, and learn by making their own mistakes. Eventually, we hope, perhaps he will realize that he too must enter the adult world.

Phoebe Caulfield

Phoebe is ten years old, with red hair she wears short in the summer and long in the winter, skinny (Holden calls her "roller-skate skinny"), sensitive, affectionate, and mature for her age, but very emotional. Phoebe goes to the same elementary school in New York City as Holden did; in her spare time she writes stories about her alter ego, a girl detective named Hazle Weatherfield, and skates in the park. In Holden's descriptions she is almost a prodigy, but in her reported conversations she seems simply to be an intelligent and sensitive little sister.

Ackley & Stradlater

Ackley and Stradlater are the two schoolmates of Holden who receive the most attention, and are in many ways flip sides of the same coin. Robert Ackley is a tall, pimply, slouching, slovenly kid ("a virgin if I ever saw one," Holden says) who is always hanging around Holden's room, but who instantly disappears whenever Holden's roommate, Ward Stradlater, shows up. Stradlater is the same height as Holden, but is much stronger, more confident, and less thoughtful. He is also arrogant, lazy, and successful with women. Holden himself is somewhere between these two extremes, and tries to mediate between Ackley and Stradlater. J.D. Salinger seems to use this dislikable pair as character foils for Holden, presenting Holden as the happy medium.

Browse all book notes

Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4 and 5
Chapter 6 and 7
Chapter 8 and 9
Chapter 10 and 11
Chapter 12 and 13
Chapter 14 and 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17 and 18
Chapter 19 and 20
Chapter 21 and 22
Chapter 23 and 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26


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