Clinton W. Trowbridge


CHARACTER AND
DETAIL IN
THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

Once we recognize that J. D. Salinger's depiction of Holden Caulfield as symbolizing the plight of the idealist in the modern world provides the primary structural framework of The Catcher in the Rye, we can see every other aspect of this concise, symbolically compressed novel as reinforcing that design. Whether we look at the significance of the briefly drawn but highly individualized minor characters or at the use of concrete details, whether we consider the major or the minor emphases, we recognize each in turn as symbolic extensions of the protagonist. Thus The Catcher in the Rye stands on every count as one of the masterpieces of symbolist fiction.

By utilizing many of his secondary characters so purposively, as exaggerated or distorted forms of Holden himself, Salinger succeeds in rendering the character of his "hero" more objectively than he could otherwise. In fact, it is largely this technique that makes Holden the extraordinarily "round" character that he is. We see him not merely from the highly limited first person point of view, but also in a series of dramatic self-portraits.

Some of the characters, like Stradlater and Carl Luce, dramatize Holden's man-of-the-world image of himself. The paradoxical attitude that he adopts toward these—he both admires and despises them—is resolved when we realize that these are really attitudes that he has adopted toward images of himself. Others, like Antolini, Allie, Phoebe, and, to some extent, Mr. Spencer, are Catcher figures, symbols, that is, of Holden in his imagined role of protector of innocence and goodness. 1 James Castle represents the apparent inflexibility of Holden's idealism and thus dramatizes for us the fearful image that Antolini has of Holden—that of his dying nobly for some highly unworthy cause. Not only does Holden say he admires Castle's behavior, but he and Castle are symbolically identified through Holden's sweater. But the genuineness of Holden's admiration is tested and found to be wanting when he refuses to jump out of the window after the Maurice

____________________
From Cimarron Review No. 4 ( June 1968): 5-11.

-74-

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Holden Caulfield
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Major Literary Characters *
  • Holden Caulfield *
  • Contents *
  • The Analysis of Character ix
  • Editor's Note xv
  • Introduction i
  • Critical Extracts 5
  • Critical Essays 41
  • The Language of the Catcher in the Rye 41
  • Huck Finn and Holden Caulfield: the Situation of the Hero 50
  • On J. D. Salinger's Novel 58
  • The Saint as a Young Man 64
  • Character and Detail in the Catcher in the Rye 74
  • Allie and Phoebe 80
  • The Catcher in the Rye 87
  • "Don't Ever Tell Anybody Anything" 105
  • Against Obscenity 114
  • In Memoriam: Allie Caulfield 132
  • Adlerian Theory and the Catcher in the Rye 144
  • Holden and the Cold War 153
  • Contributors 166
  • Bibliography 169
  • Acknowledgments 173
  • Index 177
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