Characterisation: behaviour, attitudes and opinions? • • • • Holden Caulfield, a 16 year old teenage boy is described as being skinny for his age, with grey hairs on one side of his head. Throughout the book, Holden expresses his various attitudes and values on a number of things like personal characteristics or judgemental opinions from a solitary and defensive perspective. These impressions define Holden as a character and give us an indirect commentary to other characters. When Holden observes his surrounding commenting critically on people and society in general, it becomes obvious that Holden often contradicts his thoughts and opinions. Holden often filters his speech in order to please those around him, yet he thinks the complete opposite in his head e.g. when Holden is talking to Ernest’s mother on the train and lying about how he is one of the most “popular boys in school”, while in reality he believes he is doubtless “the biggest bastard”. In particular he repeatedly explains how much he hates “phonies” such as his brother D.B. who sold out to Hollywood, D.B.s ex-girlfriend and even Stradlater, a shallow and “secret slob”. In saying this however, Holden is often recognised as a phony himself such as when he gives himself the identity of Rudolf Shmidt on the train or when he refuses sexual opportunities despite always thinking, questioning and desiring sex e.g. lying to Sunny the prostitute about having a “clavichord injury” to avoid having sex. He also contradicts himself by having a strong desire for innocence and an immature mind, yet undertakes adult activities e.g. drinking & smoking. • • Through his personal insecurities and rough past (such Allie’s death, flunking a number of schools and losing valued relationships) Holden explores self hatred/disappointment and in turn presents a phony persona to hide his flaws. He even admits that he probably “wouldn’t sock a guy in the face” because he is a coward and fears confrontation. This phony exterior contrasts against many of his attitudes, especially how he “hates phonies”, because he is one himself. Holden’s 16 year old hormones also explain his curiosity and immature behaviour. He uses slang language and vulgar words such as “crumby”, “lousy”, “sunuvabitch” and “bastard”, as has been kicked out of Pencey Prep for failure to apply himself in class, emphasizing his teenage carelessness and unmotivated attitude. His spontaneous behaviour, unrealistic approach to life and naiveté also highlight his childishness e.g. when he asks Sally to run away into the woods with him and escape society. • • As an unexperienced and developing teenage boy, he is often exploring the concept of sex, constantly asking his peers personal questions and becoming aroused. Despite this, however, Holden has a mature approach to his moral values and believes that sex should be a mutual act of love rather than a casual act of pleasure. Alternatively, his blatant and rude remarks, are very immature e.g. when he asks Luce about his sex life- “do you like that? Her being Chinese?” showing his lack of manners and inability to want to be or act like an adult. He is also curious about other insignificant aspects of life such at the ducks at Central Park and the idea of “the catcher in the rye”, and constantly rambles on about irrelevant details e.g. “being yellow”. Because of Holden’s troubled past and insecurities, He loathes the idea of adulthood, growing up, responsibility and reality, because he himself wants to escape into an effortless world of purity and happiness, to leave behind self hatred and revulsion for his life. This is again supported by Holden’s solitary journeys and experiences where his reserved yet socially sophisticated character hides his very defensive and subverted inner thoughts and personality. His red hunting hat is also a significant motif used as a defence mechanism against the world and represents Holden shying away from the pain of reality and as a source of protection and comfort. • • For this reason, Holden wants to be “the catcher in the rye” saving children from the darkness of reality e.g. when he lies to Earnest’s mother to prevent upsetting her, and how he wishes he had saved Allie. He tries to remain a child in order to avoid reality, hence his reason for hating adulthood. He does not get along with adults because they are too serious and depressing and tell Holden to grow up. Holden would rather ignore facing reality and dislikes their lectures that make him feel ashamed of himself. Holden is clearly alienated from the world, evident by his solo journeys and desperation for companionship. This, as well as bad memories & experiences lead Holden down a dark path of depression and negativity e.g. the death of Allie, the suicide of a Pencey student, the writing “Fuck You” written on walls, and flunking out of school. His depression and alienation results in his constant judgment of those around him and his desperation for company e.g. when he asks the ‘sore’ taxi driver to accompany him for drinks, even though he was rude and didn’t like him very much. He also procrastinates and contemplates calling Phoebe, Jane or his parents, to inform them about leaving Pencey or in spite of his loneliness. • • Holden Caulfield can also be considered a hypochondriac where he exaggerates his experiences or emotions e.g. when he’s walking in the street and thinks he will most probably get cancer and die. His extreme paranoia, and homophobia, also leads him to believe Mr. Antollini is a pervert after waking up to him stroking his forehead in the dark. His paranoia and outlook of adults in such a way, may have also been derived from his previous experiences in the past e.g. “that stuff‘s happened to me about twenty times since I was a kid” implying that Holden may have had a history of sexual harassment. His negative focus on Jane Gallagher’s “booze hound” father also suggests Holden’s disrespect and suspicion of such people. Holden trivialises these insignificant circumstances but also casually brushes off large and significant events at ease in a way that supports the idea of refusing to accept reality, take responsibility or deal with his past. An example of this would be Allies death, where Holden casually states his brother’s death yet later mentions that he feels partly responsible or guilty for the tragic event. These factors of his past and present emotions that are hidden by self hatred for his phony exterior hide his insecurities and develop Holden’s judgmental opinions, perfectionist ways and spontaneous actions. Through his inner thoughts and exterior behaviour he explores morality and discovers his desire to save others from the troubled life he lives by being “the catcher in the rye”. What influences him as a person? • • • • • The character Holden is created by many people and events in his life just like a house is built with bricks. He is made to feel completely powerless of what happens around and towards him, thinking he has no point in this life. He has witness and suffered two major trauma’s in his life, the first being the death of his brother Allie whom he now regrets not spending enough time with and admirers dearly, another is the suicide of one of his school mates. These have both affected him and made him to the boy he is today. His little sister Phoebe is the sweet world of innocence which Holden craves, because that’s where him and Allie where together, happily. Phoebe influences Holden attitude towards leaving home, being reluctant to change and growing up to maturity. Holden describes all his siblings Allie, Phoebe and D.B to be highly intelligent and all overachievers in their own individual ways. He is self-conscious and very insecure due to comparing himself to his siblings and his parent’s disappointment each time he fails a school (failed four). Happy Childhood memories such as frequent trips to the museum with his primary school influences him to want a non-changing world where ‘nothing ever moves’ he believes life is easier and a lot simpler that way. Allie is a major part of Holden’s life even though his dead, his reaction on the night of Allie’s death (breaking all the garage windows and physically damaging himself) shows his grief and irritation. He still keeps Allie’s baseball mitt with him when he goes away to boarding school to keep him close and wishes he would have spend more time with him. Grief is a large part of Holden’s character and is the starting area where he goes down the road of mental illness. Relationships: parents, adults and women • • • Holden Caulfield is a judgemental and naive teenage boy, caught up with his feelings of depression and his hormones. Holden’s alienation from the world, suggests his reluctance to create close relationships with the people around him. His inability to face up to reality and accept change emphasises how he distances himself from his parents, adults and women, who are symbols of maturity and the coming of age. Holden tries to avoid growing up, and longs for the innocence of his childhood. He constantly focuses on the negative aspects of adulthood, and dislikes how they only speak about depressing topics such as sex, jobs or money. This is why Holden has such a close relationship with children, especially his younger sister Phoebe. He gains comfort and reassurance when he interacts with Phoebe and enjoys talking to her about insignificant childish matters. He opens up in a way in which his constricted personality would never allow for others, revealing his true colours. He admires how children are so naive and innocent, therefore wanting to be “the catcher in the rye”, saving children from danger and the troubles he himself has/is experiencing as he faces the reality of growing up. He even admits to not liking adults much, and reinforces this when he watches Phoebe sleep, stating that kids “look alright” when they sleep whereas adults “look lousy”. • • • • Overall Holden is quite polite and sophisticated towards the elderly and adults to please and impress them; however his inner thoughts reveal how he truly feels. When in company of an adult, such as Mr Spencer, Mr Antollini and his parents, we see how Holden feels pressured to face reality, causing him to become depressed or ashamed of himself. When Mr Spencer lectures Holden about flunking four of his subjects we see how uninterested and frustrated he becomes, “beginning to sort of hate him” and how “didn’t like him saying that...it was very depressing”. Holden’s irritation represents his reluctance to face the consequences of flunking & leaving Pency Prep. This is also evident when Mr Antollini tells Holden he is in for a “terrible fall” and he becomes increasingly uncomfortable and tired, and loses concentration. Holden’s feeling towards his parents becomes extremely obvious as the book progresses. Despite thinking that “they’re nice and all” he also thinks they are “touchy as hell” revealing why Holden fails to tell them that he was kicked out of Pencey. He is ashamed of his lack of application at school and is afraid to tell his parents because he predicts their reaction will make him depressed and angry. He avoids his parents and never seeks their advice or company, instead resorting to adults such as Mr. Antollini. Holden’s uncomfortable experiences and paranoia also adds to Holden’s dislike for adults. For example Holden feels uncomfortable, betrayed and victimised when he wakes to find Mr. Antollini stroking his forehead in the dark. He also disrespects Jane Gallagher’s “Booze hound” stepfather. These examples put a negative emphasis on adult behaviour, and put Holden in an awkward position on top of his depression. Holden also has awkward relationships with women. He contradicts himself when he is constantly thinking about, questioning and desiring sex, yet always passes the opportunity to do so. When hiring a prostitute, Sunny, we see how uncomfortable Holden feels leading him to lie about his “clavichord” injury where he was unable to participate in sexual activity. He is extremely nervous and doesn’t like the idea of sex without intimacy or passion. This is also evident when Holden becomes defensive of Jane Gallagher after Stradlater takes her on a date. Holden loathes the idea of Stradlater, a shallow jock, taking advantage of his innocent childhood friend. • • In a way, we see how Holden feels as if losing his virginity is like losing his youth and innocence, a transition into adulthood where his childhood is left behind. Holden’s experiences with Sally Hayes also show his lack of skill and immaturity. Despite ‘making out’ with her in the back seat of a taxi and proposing they elope into the woods, we see Holden’s inability to commit to her mentally, and how he insults her thoughtlessly, calling her a “royal pain in the ass”. His rather rude behaviour and rollercoaster relationship with Sally, also highlights how Holden distances himself from people, especially those who threaten to steal his (or the girls) youth & innocence. Holden’s attitudes towards school: • Holden's attitude toward school, in his own experience, is that of detest and hatred. In the book, he attends Pency Prep, an expensive all-boys boarding school, but it is evident that he has attended several similar schools before hand and had either flunked out or quit. As for the students, he believes all they are all "phoney". He says that "The more expensive a school is, the more crooks it has in it" (chapter 22), which shows his dislike for the students and his lack of appreciation for his socioeconomic background, which is wealthy and upper-class. Holden alienates himself from the other students, as they don't get on and he shows no emotional connection towards anyone except Phoebe, his deceased brother Allie and the student that killed himself at school. His roommate, Stradlater, is what we would classify as a "jock". Holden says he doesn't like him, as he is a phoney and a womanizer, which Holden detests. But Holden is two-faced, and not upfront about his feelings to people, which in turn makes himself a "phoney". His hate for other people is perhaps just him projecting his self-hatred onto everyone else. At the end of the book, he claims he is starting at a new school in September, as for whether or not he will try harder and not flunk out is up to the reader. How does Holden Caulfield deal with Change? • • • Holden Caulfield has trouble dealing with change, he is afraid of change as the change he has previously experienced has always been traumatic for him. Holden’s past experiences of change still haunt him, his experience with the death of his brother caused him to encounter a break down which resulted in the breaking of Holden’s hand “My hand still hurts me once in a while” shows that Holden has not, and cannot forget or get over the past change that haunts him. Holden’s constantly associates change with pain, hence his intense fear. Holden can no longer view change as good and so his way of dealing with it has evolved to simple avoidance “Certain things should stay the way they are”. Holden Avoid change by never allowing himself to succumb to the draw of his future, as he is about to change something of himself, he avoids via a sudden change of topic “Don’t you feel like...” Holden Caulfield will not admit to himself that he has a problem with change, Holden will always come up with an excuse, simply to ‘prove’ to himself that he had no fear “sexy was about the last thing I was feeling” Holden just couldn’t admit to himself that what he was truly feeling was a fear, he instead kept telling himself he was just depressed.