Who is Holden Caulfield?
Many adolescents struggle with finding who they are and how they fit into this world.
According to Lewis Judd's “The Normal Psychological Development of the American Adolescent,”
adolescents develop a sense of self-concept through the means of experimentation, daydreams, and in
actual or physical activities. Holden Caulfield, in The Catcher in the Rye, is one such example.
Troubled by the early death of his brother, Allie, and with no one to guide him through adolescence, he
finds himself lost. Holden struggles the most with his sense of identity, which is displayed through his
interactions with peers and strangers, his thoughts about himself, and his contradictions.
Holden often plays around with his identity while around other people. The article states that,
“Young people cannot be expected to know automatically what kind of person they want to be as
adults, without being able to experimentally function in a number of personality and vocational roles”
(Judd, 467). Holden expresses his experimentations verbally, switching in and out of different
personalities. He does not like to give his real name to strangers, but instead makes one up. He goes by
the alias Rudolph Schmidt when he speaks to a classmate's mother on the train and then becomes Jim
Steele in the Lavender Room and when he is with Sunny, a prostitute Holden hires to keep him
company. He also likes to change his identity around peers. While he and Ackley are in the room, and
everyone else is down at the football game, Holden does an act. “What I did was, I pulled the old peak
of my hunting hat around to the front, then pulled it way down over my eyes. That way, I couldn't see a
goddam thing. 'I think I'm going blind,' I said in this very hoarse voice. 'Mother darling, everything's
getting so dark in here.' … 'Mother darling, why won't you give me your hand?' I was only horsing
around, naturally” (Salinger, 21-22). Although Holden says that he only does these things because
he is bored, or “just for the hell of it,” but his actions give insight to his thoughts and feelings. When
Allie dies, Holden reacts violently and breaks all the windows in the garage. This is the darkness that enters his life. His parents want to get him psychoanalyzed, which shows that they care, yet Holden
feels as if his parents do not notice him and do not care about him. Pretending to be blind and helpless
and calling out for help symbolizes Holden's need to be shown affection from his parents, which he
felt he has never received. Because of this, Holden does not have an adult figure to help him get
How Holden views himself and what he wants to be changes with the situation. The article
states that, “Day-dreaming is a pleasant, popular pastime and during adolescence it is purposeful in
that it brings relief from outside pressures and allows for the mental rehearsal of the present and future
roles the adolescent may play” (Judd, 468). In one instance, Holden recalls losing his gloves and
imagines himself not being such a yellow, or cowardly, guy. In his fantasy, he would call out the
person who stole them and sock the guy, but in reality, he doesn't have the guts, the strength, or care to
do it. Many of his daydreams are unrealistic. When Phoebe asks him wants to do as a job, Holden
responds by saying, “Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field
of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around-nobody big, I mean-except me. And I'm
standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to
go over the cliff ... I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just
be the catcher in the rye. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd...