The narrator and protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden is the son of a wealthy New York family who moves from boarding school to boarding school after being repeatedly expelled. Although he displays a number of typical teenage characteristics, his adolescent foibles become increasingly disturbing throughout the novel, revealing a self-destructive side. Holden, it seems, has been particularly devastated by the death of his brother Allie, who he considered the perfect child. This has thrown him into an existential crisis of sorts; he is unable to find joy in life or to cope with his loss. Ultimately on the brink, he capitulates to convention and comes back home, though there is little sense that he has found even the basic ingredients for happiness.
Phoebe, Holden's nine-year-old younger sister, is more mature and intelligent than her age implies. She realizes the extent of her brother's misanthropy and unhappiness. Holden appreciates every minute detail of Phoebe's existence, it appears, including her stories about "Hazle Weatherfield, Girl Detective." Holden treats Phoebe with more respect and kindness than he treats any other character in the story. Phoebe, for her part, recognizes how tenuous Holden's grasp on reality is. Unlike her parents, she knows he is struggling, and she simply wants to be there for him. In the end, it is her willingness to go to the ends of the earth with him that wakes Holden up to the impossibility of his self-destructive impulses. He succumbs to this reality because he cannot bear to see Phoebe suffer.
Holden's younger brother, Allie died from leukemia. Holden often reminisces about Allie, particularly about his baseball mitt, which Holden uses as the subject for Stradlater's essay. Holden adored Allie, but when Allie died, Holden lost his capacity to truly love without fear. The idea of putting his heart on the line for someone who might disappear has become Holden's crucible--and the consequences of shutting down have left him numb.
Holden's former English teacher at Elkton Hills, Mr. Antolini now teaches at NYU. He allows Holden to stay with him and his wife after Holden leaves his home. He tells Holden that Holden is headed for a fall and that he envisions Holden dying nobly for an unworthy cause. When Holden awakens to find Mr. Antolini touching his head, he interprets it as a homosexual advance and quickly leaves the house. Holden says afterward that this type of perverse advance seems a regularity in his life.
Vain, self-centered, and arrogant--nevertheless a "secret slob"--Stradlater is Holden's roommate at Pencey Prep. He asks Holden to write an English essay for him, but he gets angry after finding the essay too off-topic. Holden gets into a fight with Stradlater after he suspects that Stradlater seduced Jane Gallagher, with whom Holden is in love. At his core, Holden seems to want to be Stradlater and thus to command power over men and women alike.
One of the most intelligent people Holden knows, Carl was a student at Whooton when Holden attended. Carl then went to Columbia. He meets Holden at the Wicker Bar, where he chastises Holden for his immature behavior and recommends that he get psychiatric help.
A boorish, obnoxious student at Pencey, Ackley lives in a dorm room connected to the one where Holden lives. He is socially inept and physically disgusting; his complexion is poor and Holden suspects that he never brushes his teeth.
Holden goes out on a date with Sally, whose pretentious mannerisms ultimately drive Holden to insult her. Despite his contempt for her, Holden asks her to run away with him to New England, where they would live in a cabin in the wilderness together. After he insults Sally, however, she breaks ties with him, and Holden oddly feels relieved about that.
Holden's history teacher at Pencey, Mr. Spencer discusses Holden's expulsion with him before he leaves the school He advises Holden to find direction in his life.
The elevator man at the Edmond Hotel who is also a pimp, Maurice assaults Holden after he refuses to pay a ten-dollar fee to the prostitute he has arranged for Holden. Maurice told Holden the charge would only be five dollars, but he later cheats him on the price--pummeling Holden after the boy argues for the original price.
A prostitute whom Holden hires for the evening but then rejects. Sunny demands a ten-dollar payment, but Holden had been led to believe that the charge would only be five.
Bernice is a blonde woman from Seattle whom Holden meets at the Lavender Room. Holden dances with Bernice but grows to dislike her because she displays too much enjoyment for being a tourist in New York City.
Faith is a former burlesque stripper and supposed prostitute. Holden calls Faith late at night to set up a date, but she refuses to go.
Lillian is one of D.B.'s old girlfriends. Holden meets her at Ernie's and promptly leaves to avoid her and her new boyfriend.
The wife of Mr. Antolini, Lillian is an older woman who married Mr. Antolini because they shared similar intellectual interests.
Holden argues with Horwitz, a cab driver, on his way to Ernie's.
Stradlater's date for the evening, Jane was a close friend of Holden several summers before. Holden frequently reminisces about spending time with her. Jane is one of the few people whom Holden speaks about in entirely positive terms; he is in love with her.
Holden's older brother, D.B. is a war veteran who is currently a screenwriter in Hollywood.
The daughter of the Pencey headmaster, Selma is a nice girl, but Holden considers her unattractive because she does not treat her father with enough respect.
The headmaster of Pencey, Dr. Thurmer gives Holden advice that "life is a game" when he expels Holden from the school.
Mr. Haas is the Headmaster of Elkton Hills who, according to Holden, ignores "funny-looking" parents of Elkton students in favor of more elite parents.
Ossenburger is a wealthy undertaker and Pencey graduate who gives a speech to the Pencey student body in which he exalts his relationship with Jesus.
Holden recounts that Edgar, a Pencey student, farted during the speech by Ossenburger.
An English teacher at Pencey, Mr. Hartzell is the only teacher who did not fail Holden during the previous semester.
Mal Brossard accompanies Holden and Ackley into the city to see a movie the night before Holden leaves Pencey.
According to Holden, Ernest is "the biggest bastard that ever went to Pencey." Holden meets his mother on the train to New York and lies about how popular and respected Ernest is at school.
Rudolf is the janitor at Pencey. Holden uses his name as a pseudonym when he talks to Mrs. Morrow on the train to New York.
Holden remembers how he and this student at Elkton Hills got drunk together.
Dick is one of Holden's former roommates at Elkton Hills. Holden remembers him primarily because he had delapidated suitcases.
Al Pike is a former boyfriend of Jane Gallagher. Holden decries him as an arrogant student at Choate who presumably suffers from an "inferiority complex."
Holden tells a story about how James Castle, a student at Elkton Hills, committed suicide by jumping out of his window after an argument.
According to Holden, James Castle committed suicide after an argument with Phil.
The Catcher in the Rye Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Catcher in the Rye is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Holden has to confront the mystery of the book's title. Holden wonders just who is the catcher in the rye? Holden overhears a child singing,"If a body catch a body coming through the rye." I think that Holden speculates who the catcher in the rye...