Holden Caulfield and the Red Hunting Hat

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A Cheap Ol’ Red Hat

Holden Caulfield has a dominating dilemma throughout The Catcher in the Rye, his need for companionship and his longing for isolation. Adding to this confusion, he is caught between wanting to preserve the innocence of a child and wanting the independence of an adult. A cheap and simple red hunting hat, with no significance to anyone else but him, is the symbol for these conflicts. The hat is inseparable from J.D. Salinger’s portrait of Holden for a good reason: it is a symbol of his uniqueness and individuality. The hat is a bizarre visual that stands out because it is not part of the fashion at the time. It shows that Holden desires to be different from everyone around him. At the same time, he is very self-conscious about the hat, always mentioning the hat when wearing it, and then, he often doesn’t wear the hat if he is going to be around people he knows. The hat’s significant color, red, is the color of his siblings, Allie and Phoebe’s hair. Perhaps Holden associates it with the innocence and decency he believes his brother and sister represent for him and when wearing the hat, it becomes a way to connect with these qualities. He never directly comments on the hat’s significance other than to mention its unusual appearance, but as always, Holden’s character is never direct. The presence of the hat symbolizes the main conflict in the book: Holden’s need for isolation versus his need for companionship. The first time Holden wears the hat is in front of his next-door roommate, Ackley. As Holden puts on the hat, he expects to be isolated or ostracized. Ackley points out, “That’s a deer shooting hat.” Holden quips: “Like hell it is! This is a people-shooting hat. I shoot people in this hat” (22). Without knowing it, Holden gives away a truth about how he is really feeling without any lies for the first time in the novel. Through lying and deception, he maintains self-protection and alienates himself; Holden is just as guilty of phoniness...
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