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The Morally Ambiguous Holden Caulfield Essay

1229 words - 5 pages

In the novel The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger develops Holden Caulfield as a morally ambiguous character. Throughout the book, Salinger speaks as Holden and introduces him as a callous and subjective individual. However, the author permits the reader to be within Holden’s mind, giving the audience an alternative perspective of Holden’s true character. Without the obscurity of Holden’s personality, the work would lack a crucial element. As the protagonist, Holden serves as an equivocal adolescent that is relatable for the reader.
The term “phony” reoccurs over the course of the novel; Salinger informs the reader, “you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever… sickened by human behavior.”(189) Initially, Holden is portrayed as an extremely judgmental individual; however, the reader cannot help but ignore the underlying truth to what Holden observes around him. Overall, Holden is disgusted by the superficial and hypocritical world that is evolving around him. Holden Caulfield encounters numerous “phony” people. Many of his acquaintances have traits that make them easily capable of being labeled as pretentious, much like Ward Stradlater and Carl Luce. Yet, there are other individuals that the common reader would not consider “phony”, for instance the actors of the play. He describes the actor as doing more showing-off than real acting, and makes them appear conceited. Additionally, when he is conversing with other viewers, he also believes they are superficial in the way they are discussing the play. By Holden’s quick perceptions of people, Salinger presents Holden as a hypocritical, disapproving villain. Alternatively, Holden describes people for what they really are and wishes that the world could be a much simpler and less materialistic place, ultimately allowing him to be portrayed as a respectable person.
Within his writing, Salinger includes Holden’s sexual desires as an additional feature that makes Holden a more dramatic, morally ambiguous character. Holden Caulfield is a sexually aroused sixteen year old boy, whom loves women, but he admits “Sex is something I just don't understand.”(63) The first demonstration is when Stradlater takes Holden’s childhood love, Jane, out for a date. Holden worries that Stradlater will use Jane because “only very sexy stuff interested him.” (32) Holden continually talks about women and tries to take advantage of opportunities to have relations with women, much like Sally Hayes and the prostitute Sunny. Holden seems corrupt by acquiring a prostitute, Sunny, for the evening; however, his moral essentials arise, and he decides against any physical activity with her. Holden believes “if you don't really like a girl, you shouldn't horse around with her at all,” (62) in turn he decides to have a conversation with Sunny. Although, Holden and the other woman, Sally Hayes, do fool around, Holden believes she is a “stupid”.(105) In this particular situation Holden’s intentions and actions disguise...

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