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• HOLDEN CAULFIELD
Holden is the sixteen-year-old son of wealthy parents who live near Central Park in New York City. He is telling the story from a rest home or hospital near Hollywood. Holden has just flunked out of his third prep school, an event he tries without success to feel badly about. Because of his age, school should be the most important institution in his life, but Holden has no use for it. Although he's intelligent and fairly well read, school represents repression to him; it stands for the "phony" standards and values he hates.
Holden is sensitive, probably too sensitive for his own good, and he suffers from an almost uncontrollable urge to protect people he sees as vulnerable. He is attracted to the weak and the frail, and he "feels sorry for" losers of all kinds, even those who cause him pain, discomfort, or trouble. But the main focus of Holden's protective instinct is children, whom he sees as symbols of goodness and innocence, and whom he would like to shield against corruption.
One sign of corruption in Holden's worldview is the process of growing up, since it removes us from the perfect innocence of childhood. He has a daydream about children who never grow up, who remain in that perfect world forever, and his own problems of facing the real world are linked to that daydream.
Holden is essentially a loner, but not because he dislikes people. His loneliness arises from the fact that no one seems to share his view of the world, no one understands what's going on in his head. His poor academic record is one indication of his failure to deal with this problem, a problem that builds to a climax in the course of the novel.
• PHOEBE CAULFIELD
Phoebe is Holden's ten-year-old sister, a bright and articulate girl who sometimes talks to Holden as though she were older than he. She's one of the few people he feels great affection for, and he talks about her with obvious delight. She's the personification of Holden's idealized view of childhood, and she seems actually to possess all the wonderful qualities Holden ascribes to her. The problem for Holden is that she's a real person, not an idealization, and she's already showing signs of the process of growing up. Phoebe appears in person very late in the book, but she plays a central role in Holden's thoughts, and has much influence on what happens to him at the 2end of the novel.
• ALLIE CAULFIELD
Allie was Holden's younger brother. He died in 1946, three years before the events in the novel. As with Phoebe, Holden has idealized the brother he loved very much; unlike Phoebe, Allie's personality is frozen in memory, and he'll never face the corruption of growing up. Holden talks about Allie in the same loving terms he uses for Phoebe, and he even talks to his dead brother in moments of stress.
• D. B. CAULFIELD
D. B. is Holden's older brother, another family character we never see, although Holden mentions him often. In the book's opening paragraph Holden tells us that D. B. is a writer of short stories who's now "out in Hollywood... being a prostitute"- that is, not being an honest writer.
• MRS. CAULFIELD
Holden's mother makes a brief appearance late in the book, but we never see her together with her son. She appears to be a high-strung woman, a condition Holden relates to Allie's death. She seems not to be very interested in Phoebe's activities, and the same is probably true of Holden's.
• MR. CAULFIELD
We never see Mr. Caulfield, and we know very little about him. He's a successful corporation lawyer. His interest in Holden's welfare extends at least far enough for him to have discussed the matter recently with one of Holden's former teachers.
• JANE GALLAGHER
Jane is a girl Holden spent the summer with eighteen months before the start of the story. Though she's about two years older than he is, her shyness and insecurity awakened Holden's protective instincts. She symbolizes innocence in Holden's mind, as Phoebe and Allie do. Holden hasn't seen Jane since that summer, but he remembers her fondly as the shy girl who kept all her kings in the back row when they played checkers. Although she never appears in the book, she helps precipitate the book's first crisis, when Holden's womanizing roommate has a date with her. Holden talks about contacting her throughout the book, but he never does.
• WARD STRADLATER
Stradlater, Holden's roommate at school, is likable and outgoing, handsome, athletic, and very attractive to girls. He's not sensitive to people's feelings, and in Holden's mind he represents a class of successful people who live by false values and take advantage of others. Holden becomes very upset when he learns that Stradlater has a date with Jane Gallagher, and the situation ends in a fist fight.