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Who is the Novel Character Holden Caulfield?

Updated on February 3, 2013
The Catcher in the Rye pub
The Catcher in the Rye pub | Source

Holden Caulfield Character Bio

Holden Caulfield is a bad mouthed 17 year old teen with a strong conviction against everything he deems "phony" in the world around him. He is the central figure in J.D. Salinger's controversial classic The Catcher in the Rye, which was published in 1951, and remains a prominent figure in American Literature today, decades later.

Caulfield is too tall for his age, full of cynicism, and has a few gray hairs despite acting a lot younger than his age. He is also a lot more intelligent than he recognizes, as he exhibits hidden smarts despite having failed many classes in the past. Still, his narration is filled with profanity and jaded language while revealing his unstable nature and changeability. He also struggles with his sexuality and loneliness as he recognizes his isolation from those around him.

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Lyrics for "Comin' Thro' the Rye" by Robert Burns

O, Jenny's a' weet, poor body,
Jenny's seldom dry:
She draigl't a' her petticoatie,
Comin thro' the rye!

Comin thro' the rye, poor body,
Comin thro' the rye,
She draigl't a' her petticoatie,
Comin thro' the rye!

Gin a body meet a body
Comin thro' the rye,
Gin a body kiss a body,
Need a body cry?


Gin a body meet a body
Comin thro' the glen,
Gin a body kiss a body,
Need the warl' ken?


Gin a body meet a body
Comin thro' the grain;
Gin a body kiss a body,
The thing's a body's ain.


Ilka lassie has her laddie,
Nane, they say, ha’e I
Yet all the lads they smile on me,
When comin' thro' the rye.

The Catcher in the Rye Summary

The Catcher in the Rye is a classic piece of literature that is widely read by teens and young adults today, even though it was intended for an older audience. Its free use of profanity, sexuality, and complex issues concerning identity and human connection make it a fascinating read but also opens it up to a wide range of criticism from those who hate to see it in the top lists for the greatest novels of the 20th century.

Salinger's novel comes from the point of view of Holden Caulfield as he recounts the year leading up to his current state in a hospital. It begins at Pencey Prep, where Caulfield is expelled just before Christmas. Instead of returning home like his parents would expect, he takes a train to New York City, where he plans to stay at a hotel until that Wednesday.

At the Edmont Hotel, Caulfield is confronted with situations that make him struggle with his sexuality. After spending time at a bar with some girls, he finds they cannot carry a conversation and becomes bored with them easily. On his way back to his room, he agrees to have a prostitute sent to his room but when she appears, he cannot see past her as a person and is unable to give up his virginity. The result is a punch in the stomach from her pimp, Maurice, and the loss of some money for her time.

Exhausted mentally and physically with all the alcohol and loneliness, Caulfield eventually calls his sister, Pheobe, who he trusts and loves more than anyone else. He even goes to visit her at their parents' apartment while they are gone and leaves once they return after a long conversation with Pheobe about what he is going to do with himself.

Part of his discussion with Pheobe explains the title of the book, The Catcher in the Rye. Caulfield misinterprets the song "Comin' Thro' the Rye" (lyrics are to the right) and deems himself the "catcher in the rye." He believes that as the catcher his responsibility is to save those children playing on the edge of the cliff that will get too close in their abandon and, in so doing, save them from their innocence.

His last visit is with a teacher from Pencey Prep that Caulfield admired the most, Mr. Antolini. Their meeting was also full of talk but included a lot of drinking, which lead to Caulfield passing out and being woken up by Antolini acting "flitty," making Caulfield uncomfortable so he leaves to go see Pheobe again.

Toward the end of his story, Caulfield decides he wants to live out the rest of his days in the west as a deaf-mute. Pheobe wants to go with him and, after some arguing, he agrees not to leave at all. He takes his sister to the Central Park Zoo and finds joy in watching Pheobe on the carousel in the rain.

The very end of the novel is the only place where Caulfield holds back in his story. He says he does not wish to mention the present day but alludes to being sick and in a mental hospital. He also says that he will be going to a school in September and wonders if he will apply himself this time. Caulfield says he misses his old classmates and even the pimp who punched him and warns his audience that telling their story to others will only make them miss those that were involved.

© 2012 Lisa


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    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 4 years ago from San Diego California

      I have read the book 3 times in the last 30 years and each time I discover new things. Holden Caulfield was an enigmatic figure. He claims to have a disdain for what he calls "phoniness," but then he brags about how well he can dance and what he can go around in on the golf course. I think that is why his character has become the iconic figure for "preppie" society, even though he claims to disavow this society. It is a novel of two completely opposed philosophies battling themselves out within one teenager's soul and I think that was the point.

    • LisaKoski profile image

      Lisa 5 years ago from WA

      It's a pub in Finchley. I've never been there but the photo caught my eye and I thought it was awesome. Here's a site with more info:

    • Blue Sidewinder profile image

      Evan Eulie 5 years ago

      Excellent hub. One of my favorite books. May I ask where the pub in the photo is located? That's pretty cool.