Humanitarian / Literature Essay


Holden’s Red Hunting Hat in The Catcher in the Rye

Holden’s red hunting hat in the "Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger shows the nonconformity and the acknowledgment of solitude in objects that represent comfort. In the novel, "The Catcher in the Rye", Holden can be seen as the character who sought an intentional alienation from people because he has failed in previous relationships.

Further, Holden’s red hunting hat in "the Catcher in the Rye" symbolizes his individuality and the recognition of his identity formation. He doesn’t just zone out on people, he reconciles with himself and appreciates himself each time he wears the hat.

"The Catcher in the Rye", written in the first-person narrative technique, opened with the tone of a boy who confessed about his lousy childhood and his busy parents. Although he doesn’t want to talk about this, it gives the reader an insight into how lonely he could have been as a child. Lonely kids would often seek mediums for expression of their longing for love and affection.

However, the medium to express this could become an addiction. This explains why the idea of “passage”, that is, smoking and drinking, the idea of sex and teenage-adult life interests the 16-year-old Holden throughout the book.

The importance of Holden’s red hunting hat is established when he first bought the hat. It was in his fourth prep school after he had failed in other schools, and he is about to fail in Pencey Prep school in Agerstown, Pennsylvania too. He had already failed 4 courses out of 5, and he had been given a notice of expulsion.

This establishes why Holden sees himself as different and strange. However, the immediate cause before he saw the hunting hat and bought it for a buck is the disappointment of the Pencey prep team with him.

He is the manager for the team and while going for a fencing match in New York, he forgot the fencing equipment on the subway. This made the whole team hate him. He confessed that “the whole team ostracized me the whole way back on the train.”

He bought the red hunting hat with one of those very long peaks which he'd saw in a sports store after his realization that he lost the foils his team should play with. The red hunting hat is one of the most regarded symbols in the 2oth century American literature. This makes it very inseparable with our knowledge of the person of Holden Caulfied.

Holden Caulfied only wears this hat when he is alone. The first time he wears it, it was when he was alone in his room. Wearing it made him feel very comfortable, and he feels less isolated from it. He further believes that he looks extraordinarily wonderful while wearing the hat which gives us an insight into the hat's capability to make an individual appreciate himself the way others may not.

In his dormitory, or sanatorium, Stradlater, his roommate has a date with Jane Gallagher who was a girl Holden had dated before. A girl who he still admires. With Stradlater intending to take her on a date, Holden is irritated by Stradler’s tease of having sex with Jane. Although Holden had asked if Stradlater made any sexual attempts yet.

Holden flies at Stradlater with rage and annoyance after being teased by him. Holden was overpowered and pinned down while Stradlater bloodies his nose. After this event, Stradlater went out while Holden wrote a composition Stradlater had requested of him as a means to alienate himself.

To do this, he wore all the clothes he felt comfortable in his pajamas and bathrobe, including his red hunting hat, and while writing the composition, he is reminded of his brother Allie, and he wrote about the period of his death.

It is important to add here that the color red of the hunting hat is the color of Allie and Phoebe’s hair, both who are his siblings. This shows that although he receives mental health treatment from a hospital, and although he tries consciously to alienate himself, he still seeks a connection with his family. Hence, the red hunting hat also symbolizes a sealed relationship with the identity of the family.

After he wrote Stradlater’s composition, he left Pencey for New York in an attempt to go to his house on a Wednesday. It is cold in New York City, he brought out his red hunting hat with its earlaps, and he wore it without “giving a damn” about how he looks. This establishes a kind of rebellion. That the hat gave him a kind of boldness he cannot explain nor seek to understand.

More so, the red hunting hat appears as his form of protection from the world. He wears this hat while walking on the road where he knows he won’t bump into anyone he knows. This simply explains that he doesn’t want to be seen by people when he wears the hat. It is a means of self-escape from the people that could either judge him when they recognize him or define him hastily.

When he eventually visited his sister, Phoebe, in their apartment, he handed over his hunting hat and told her he would be leaving. He’d added that he gave her the hat to protect her from the world, to ensure that he isn’t seen.

Apart from the alienation symbol the hat represents, in this context, it represents a familial legacy and bonding which keeps the memory of another relative alive. With Holden’s intended exit, Phoebe would need to be protected, and she would need something to serve as a constant reminder of his brother whom she loves. That red hunting hat would serve this purpose.

However, with Holden’s refusal to take Phoebe in a run-away with him, Phoebe follows him to the street and “practically chucked” his red hunting hat right at his face. She turned her back at him and it made him speechless and numb. This act shows obstinacy to not be willing to depart from family and the red hunting hat serving as a medium of this expression of obstinacy.

Holden eventually picked the hat and wore it while he paid for a ticket for Phoebe to ride on a carousel. It was cold but the hat kept him warm as he watched her roll with the carousel in the rain. He was so happy that he began to cry.

Throughout the book, the red hunting hat serves as a means of purposeful isolation from people; a form of rebellion through being unconcerned about being lovable with the hat or otherwise; a form of protection and individuality which was formed in his identity.

The red hunting hat symbolizes his inability to shed his teenage immaturity although he held mature conversations with adults. Here, he doesn’t want to grow older because adulthood irritates and scares him.

Holden Coalfield is an important character in this book and the hat which was associated with him is a fundamental basis on the understanding of the character, and inevitablyHolden’s Red Hunting Hat in The Catcher in the Rye, the comprehension of the book.

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