The Changing Perspective of Holden Caulfield

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Submitted: March 26, 2011

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Submitted: March 26, 2011



The Changing Perspective of Holden Caulfield

A literary analysis essay on The Catcher In The Rye  by J.D. Salinger




People change. It’s just apart of the world that we live in. It’s also a very large part of the book  The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger. The main character in The Catcher In the Rye learns many lessons the hard way, and he is especially shaped through the experiences of a few days of freedom.

In the beginning of the book Holden Caulfield introduces himself as a particular type of person. There are a few character traits he has that he talks about quite clearly, and a couple that he doesn’t mention specifically, but implies.

 The first way we can get to know Holden a bit better is by examining the way he talks about getting kicked out of Pency Prep. After telling the reader the gist of what was going on at the time he says: “I forgot to tell you about that. They kicked me out. I wasn't supposed to come

back after Christmas vacation on account of I was flunking four subjects and not applying

myself and all. They gave me frequent warning to start applying myself--especially

around midterms, when my parents came up for a conference with old Thurmer--but I

didn't do it. So I got the ax.” (2) By him admitting that he “forgot” to tell his audience, he shows how much he cares about Pency, basically not at all.  He shows the reader that he doesn’t put much stock in Pency, and he also shows his immaturity and irresponsibility.

Another trait Holden poses is the hatred of all things “phony.” He  makes his opinion clear throughout the entire book, here are a couple examples: “Grand. There's a word I really hate. It's a phony. I could puke every time I hear it.” (6) “I didn't feel like going into the whole thing with him. He wouldn't have understood it anyway. It wasn't up his alley at all. One of the biggest reasons I left Elkton Hills was because I was surrounded by phonies. That's all. They were coming in the goddam window. For instance, they had this headmaster, Mr. Haas, that was the phoniest bastard I ever met in my life. Ten times worse than old Thurmer. On Sundays, for instance, old Haas went around shaking hands with everybody's parents when they drove up to school. He'd be charming as hell and all. Except if some boy had little old funny-looking parents. You should've seen the way he did with my roommate's parents. I mean if a boy's mother was sort of fat or corny-looking or something, and if somebody's father was one of those guys that wear those suits with very big shoulders and corny black-and-white shoes, then old

Hans would just shake hands with them and give them a phony smile and then he'd go  talk, for maybe a half an hour, with somebody else's parents. I can't stand that stuff. It drives me crazy. It makes me so depressed I go crazy. I hated that goddam Elkton Hills. “ (8)  In his essay, “The Praises and Criticisms of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye,”  Eric concurs: “One of the most intriguing points in Holden's character, related to his prolonged inability to communicate, is Holden's intention to become a deaf-mute. So repulsed is he by the phoniness around him that he wishes not to communicate with anyone, and in a passage filled with personal insight he contemplates a retreat within himself: ‘I figured that I could get a job at a filling station somewhere, putting gas and oil in people's cars. I didn't care what kind of job it was, though. Just so people didn't know me and I didn't know anybody. I thought what I'd do was, I'd pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes. That way I wouldn't have to have any goddam stupid useless conversation with anybody. If anybody wanted to tell me something, they'd have to write it on a piece of paper and shove it over to me. They'd get bored as hell doing that after a while, and then I'd be through with having conversations for the rest of my life. Everybody'd think I was just a poor deaf-mute bastard and they'd leave me alone . . . I'd cook all my own food, and later on, if I wanted to get married or something, I'd meet this beautiful girl that was also a deaf-mute and we'd get married. She'd come and live in my cabin with me, and if she wanted to say anything to me, she'd have to write it on a piece of paper, like everybody else’” 

Being a compulsive liar is also a trait that Holden freely admits:I'm the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It's awful. If I'm on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I'm going, I'm liable to say I'm going to the opera. It's terrible. So when I told old Spencer I had to go to the gym and get my equipment and stuff, that was a sheer lie. I don't even keep my goddam

equipment in the gym.” (9) Another example of this trait is when he’s on the train headed to New York, and he has a conversation with Mrs. Morrow.Then I started reading this timetable I had in my pocket. Just to stop lying. Once I get started, I can go on for hours if I feel like it. No kidding. Hours.” (32)

So those are the three most prominent character traits, at least what comes out the clearest, but at the end of the book? Well let’s take a look…

First of all, in the beginning, he doesn’t care about school at all, and talks about it a lethargic and apathetic tone. In the end he does change, albeit not very much. Here’s what I mean. “I could probably tell you what I did after I went home, and how I got sick and all, and what school I'm supposed to go to next fall, after I get out of here, but I don't feel like it. I really don't. That stuff doesn't interest me too

much right now. A lot of people, especially this one psychoanalyst guy they have here, keeps asking me if I'm going apply myself when I go back to school next September. It's such a stupid question, in my opinion. I mean how do you know what you're going to do till you do it? The answer is, you don't. I think I am, but how do I know? I swear it's a stupid question.”(114) He still talks about it with an apathetic tone, however the change is that he “thinks” he’s going to apply himself. Before he simply dismissed the advice and encouragement that he received. Now he is actually admitting that he hopes to make an effort.

The next area we’re going to look at is his hatred of all things “phony.” This part of him doesn’t change hardly at all. He still hates all things phony. He paints a picture in his head of a cabin out west where he’s separated from everyone: “I'd ask them all to visit me sometime if they wanted to, but I wouldn't insist or anything. What I'd do, I'd let old Phoebe come out and visit me in the summertime and on Christmas vacation and Easter vacation. And I'd let D.B. come out and visit me for a while if he wanted a nice, quiet place for his writing, but he couldn't write any movies in my cabin, only stories and books. I'd have this rule that nobody could do anything phony when they visited me. If anybody tried to do anything phony, they couldn't stay.” In fact the word “phony” is used 35 times throughout the book!

Lastly, the trait of dishonesty, this is really the place where he changed the most. After he tells his little sister Phoebe that he is leaving he goes on a walk with her because she’s mad at him. When they get to the carousel this conversation ensues: “When the ride was over she got off her horse and came over to me. "You ride once, too, this time," she said.  "No, I'll just watch ya. I think I'll just watch," I said. I gave her some more of her dough. "Here. Get some more tickets."  She took the dough off me. "I'm not mad at you any more," she said.  "I know. Hurry up--the thing's gonna start again." Then all of a sudden she gave me a kiss. Then she held her hand out, and said, "It's raining. It's starting to rain."  "I know."  Then what she did--it damn near killed me--she reached in my coat pocket and took out my red hunting hat and put it on my head.  "Don't you want it?" I said.  "You can wear it a while."  "Okay. Hurry up, though, now. You're gonna miss your ride. You won't get your own horse or anything."  She kept hanging around, though.  "Did you mean it what you said? You really aren't going away anywhere? Are you really going home afterwards?" she asked me.  "Yeah," I said. I meant it, too. I wasn't lying to her. I really did go home afterwards.” (114)

We’ve all experienced change at some point or another. Often change takes time, however, J.D. Salinger’s main character in The Catcher In The Rye, Holden Caulfield, undergoes major changes in just the few days that he’s free from both school and his parents.  He learns (some) responsibility, he remains aghast at all things phony, and he stops compulsively lying.









Works Cited:

Salinger, J.D.. The Catcher in the Rye. New York: Back Bay Books, 2001. Print.

Lomazoff, Eric . "The Praises and Criticisms of J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye." LEVITY. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 June 2010. <>.

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