The protagonist in a novel is the main character. Readers can feel sympathy or have a lack of sympathy for the protagonist in the novel. In the novel, The Catcher In the Rye by J. D. Salinger, Salinger creates an unsympathetic protagonist named Holden Caulfield. Readers are unsympathetic toward Holden because he grasped onto Allie’s death, frequently makes poor decisions and constantly criticizes minor characters without getting to know them.
The trait of holding on to the past displays the unsympathetic character trait of Holden Caulfield in two moments through Holden’s journey; having Allie’s baseball mitt nd wanting his life to stay the way it was in the past. For example, Holden’s roommate, Stradlater asked Holden to write his composition for him. When Holden was writing the composition for Stradlater he comments, “I happened to have it with me [Allie’s baseball mitt], in my suitcase, so I got it out and copied down the poems that were written on it” (39).
The fact of holding onto the mitt and the symbol of mitt shows the desperation of Holden to hold on to the past. This desperation impacts Holden Caulfield’s emotional state as he remembers his life when Allie was alive. Readers do not feel sympathy for Holden because he is causing himself unneeded harm by holding on to his brother’s baseball mitt. Another moment when Holden displays the trait of holding on to his past was when he was observing the glass cases at the Museum of Natural History.
As Holden was reminiscing about the museum he states,”Certain things they should stay the way they are” (122). As Holden grew up from elementary school to high school, the glass cases in the museum stayed the same. Using allusion the reader can infer that Holden wishes his life was the same way; that he lived in the past, a time when his brother Allie was alive. Holden’s past is holding him back, he can not grow to be a more mature person. Readers find Holden unsympathetic because the reader knows that Holden must grow up and he has to accept it.
As Holden wrote about his brother’s baseball mitt and thinking about the glass cases, Holden Caulfield holds on to his brother, Allie which readers can not relate too. Readers unsympathetic toward Holden when he made the poor decisions of paying a prostitute for sex and staying late at the bar after Carl Luce, Holden’s student advisor left the Wicker Bar. For example, just as Holden came back from drinking at the Wicker Bar, he talked to Maurice, the elevator operator and agreed to pay Sunny, a prostitute for sex.
After Holden makes the decision he comments, “It was against my principles and all, I was so depressed, I didn’t think” (91). Holden has an internal conflict; between narrator Holden and in the moment Holden. Holden’s internal conflict shows he made a life changing decision without thinking about the consequences till much later in life. Holden is a virgin, therefore if he had sex with Sunny it would be the first time he had sex. Holden is an unsympathetic character in this moment because sex is a very ensitive subject and Holden made a choice without thinking about the consequences.
Therefore, readers have a lack of sympathy for Holden because Holden had to choice to respect himself but he chose not too. Another example is when Holden called Carl Luce, his former student advisor at Whooton school. Holden stayed late at the bar after Carl left. Then, Holden decided to walk to Central Park, “I walked all around the whole damn lake-l damn near fell in once, in fact” (154). The motif of falling displays Holden’s poor choice of drinking which could have been a life-changing moment. If Holden fell in the lake he would have died because he would have been to drunk to swim out.
In this case, Holden’s decision meant a difference between life and death for him. Hence, readers have a lack of sympathy for Holden because readers know that Holden’s choice of staying late at the bar, and almost falling into the lake would have affected him and his family. Drinking so much that he could not see straight and paying Sunny to have sex with him makes Holden an unsympathetic character for readers.
Holden Caulfield is an unsympathetic character because he is characterized as critical of others when Mr. Antolini pats him on the head and when Holden ‘called ‘Lillian Simmon’s boyfriend, “Commander Blob”. For instance, Holden is critical of his older brother’s old girlfriend’s boyfriend, an army guy. At the bar, Holden notices Lillian Simmon’s boyfriend, an army guy, ” His name was Commander Blob or something. He was one of those guys that think they are being a pansy if they don’t break around forty bones” (87). Using the hyperbole of breaking around forty bones the reader can clearly see Holden’s criticism towards an army guy who he named Commander Blob.
Holden believes Commander Blob” is just like any other army guy with no personality, who will be “pansy”,a coward if they do not squeeze a person’s hand hard enough; in reality Lillian Simmon’s boyfriend is a relatable person since he agrees with Holden in the idea that no one can stand Lillian. As a result, readers find Holden unsympathetic because society wants people to get to know them without judging them. Furthermore, Holden believes that Mr. Antolini, a teacher at Elkton Hills is gay solely because his wife is much older than him and he pats Holden on the head while he was sleeping.
When Holden was at Mr. Antolini’s house, Mr. Antolini offers Holden some brotherly advice, then while sleeping at Mr. Antolini’s house he wakes up to this disturbing situation, “What he [Mr. Antolini] was doing was, he was sitting on the floor right next to the couch… sort of petting me or patting me on the goddam head. Boy, I’ll betI jumped about a thousand feet” (192). The diction such as “petting me” and “jumped about a thousand feet” displays Holden’s character trait being critical toward others. At first thought, Holden accuses Mr. Antolini of making a move on him.
However, Mr. Antolini is the Caulfield family’s friend since Mr. Antolini goes out to lunch with Holden’s brother and dad. Therefore, Mr. Antolini cares for Holden like a brother and would not be making a move on him. Given this point, readers have a lack of sympathy for Holden because he is too quick to judge people’s actions without thinking them through. Holden’s criticism towards Lillian Simmons’s boyfriend and Mr. Antolini shows the unsympathetic character trait of criticizing others. Using the character traits of criticizing minor characters, grasping on to the past, continually making poor choices, Salinger creates the unsympathetic character of Holden in The
Catcher In The Rye. Holden Caulfield clings to the past when he took Allie’s baseball mitt out of his bag, and observed the glass cases at the Museum of Natural History. Likewise, Holden made the poor decisions of paying for sex and getting drunk. Also, it is no doubt, that Holden criticizes two characters Lillian Simmon’s boyfriend and Mr. Antolini. Salinger uses minor characters in the book such as Sunny and Lillian Simmon’s boyfriend, in order to develop the character traits of Holden. In life, the attitude and qualities of a person determine if a person is sympathetic or unsympathetic.