The Catcher in the Rye

by: J. D. Salinger

Protagonist

Holden Caulfield is the protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye. He is also the novel’s narrator, which means that he tells his coming-of-age story from his own perspective. Holden desperately seeks connection, and the book is a chronicle of his many failed attempts to connect with his peers, older adults, and his younger sister, Phoebe. As the protagonist, Holden incites the action by reaching out to friends, acquaintances, and strangers in numerous attempts to achieve his goal of connection. Yet at every turn in the novel he fails to cultivate meaningful relationships due to his lack of maturity. The only person he achieves his connection with is Phoebe, who is younger than him and with whom he already has a close relationship. Holden is unable to form new, close relationships with anyone his own age or any adult figures. Because he so often stands in his own way of achieving what he wants, Holden can also be considered the antagonist of the novel.

Protagonists of stories usually change as a result of their quest to achieve what they want, but whether Holden is changed by his weekend in New York is open to interpretation. The novel ends with Holden preparing to leave the facility where he has been recovering from an unspecified illness and go to a new school. He says that he “sort of misses” all the people he’s described in his story, indicating that he may be softening his disdain for other people and developing the empathy necessary to form genuine relationships. On the other hand, we can also interpret his admission that he misses everyone as indication that his desire for connection remains as strong as at the beginning of the book, yet he is no more prepared to achieve it than he was before. His apparent contempt for the psychoanalyst who asks if he’s going to apply himself as “stupid” suggests Holden remains judgmental and contemptuous of adults, indicating he still lacks the maturity necessary to achieve his goal.