Not even in 1950s, New York City was this bustling amazing place with people everywhere. There were actually already 8 million people in this city, at the time that Holden would have been there. Now the story of Catcher in the Rye is virtually a revolving door, of all these people that Holden interacts with. So in this episode, we’re going to talk about first, the major characters, then the minor characters. And last we’re going to talk about flat and round characters, what that means, and why it’s important. Now there’s not 8 million people in Catcher in Rye, but there are a lot, and we’ve got a lot to do. So let’s get going.
So we all know that Holden is the main character, the protagonist in this book. If you don’t feel like you’ve got a pretty good handle on him, I’ve got to suggest going back and doing a little bit of rereading. There are major characters, and there are minor characters in this book. I want to go over most of them with you, because they all have some kind of reason. There is a specific purpose that each of these characters is used in the novel. Let’s start with first the major character.
Major characters include Holden’s siblings. There are three of them. Two of them are alive, and one of them who is deceased. Let’s start with Phoebe, we might say is his favorite sibling. Phoebe is his younger sister. She is skinny with red hair. She’s 10 years old. She’s really smart. When you read the things she says, and her observations she’s very precautious. She’s also very perceptive. She knows her brother really well. She has great insight into things. She’s creative, and she’s also very, very loyal to her brother.
This is D.B. What’s interesting is that, we really don’t see D.B in the story. He doesn’t actually appear, but we hear him talked about all the time. He’s his older brother. He lives in Hollywood. He’s a screenwriter. His brother, Holden has got a really large concern that he’s becoming a phony. He talked about him being a great writer, but that when he went to Hollywood, he turned into this phony. D.B. was also in the army, and he had experience in the war. If you think back to the things that I told you about Salinger, you might see some parallel here. Some of the things that D.B. stands for, it’s kind of interesting knowing how Salinger felt about Hollywood types.
The last sibling we’re going to talk about or the last of the three, is Allie. This is Holden’s younger brother. He died of Leukemia when Holden was 13 years old. He copied all these poems onto his baseball glove, so he would have something to do while he was out fielding balls, or waiting for them to come out of the sky at him. Holden still talks to him all the time. Allie is extremely significant in forming who Holden is today.
I’ve used a graphic organizer here. You can look at these three siblings. I would say that they’re probably the most significant of the characters that we see other than Holden himself.
Now what about their parents? Here is a quote. This is again from Holden’s perspective, “My father’s quite wealthy...He’s a corporation lawyer...he’s always investing money in shows on Broadway. They always flop, though, and it drives my mother crazy when he does it. She hasn’t felt too healthy since my brother Allie died. She’s very nervous.” We only see his mum one time. It’s when he’s hiding in their apartment, and she goes to check on Phoebe. We never actually see the dad, but there are little things like this scattered throughout the book.
Remember it’s completely intentional. These characters and the way they are. It’s never accidental. They’re very distant. That’s important because obviously, there’s a distance between Holden and his parents. We don’t really even see them interact at all. There are little snippets here, and a snippet there. We see people who might be caring, but they’re very far away from where Holden is. Maybe not physically, but definitely mentally and emotionally.
So those are the major characters. Let’s move on to some of the minor characters. The ones with smaller roles, but not really less important ones.
There are dozens of minor characters that figure in Catcher in the Rye. There’s cab drivers, people that Holden passes in the street. We’re not going to get that detailed, but let’s run down some of the minor characters and talk about them a little bit, so that if your teacher throws out a name in class, you’re not the only going, who is that?
School people. Let’s talk first about teachers. Mr. Spencer, as you remember him, that’s the very beginning of the book. This is one of his Pencey Prep teachers. He actually really like him. He’s a history teacher. Holden says he talks too much, but he really enjoys him, and he feels bad about the fact that he’s getting kicked out of school. So he goes to say goodbye to him.
Mr. Antolini was a teacher at his old school. He actually lives in Manhattan now. This is who he goes to visit near the end of the book, and causes the freak out that he has when he’s in his apartment, and kind of doesn’t know what Mr. Antolini is doing when he pats him on the head. That’s significant, because it’s someone that he trusts, but he has really mixed emotions about what’s going on.
Mr. Vinson is the speech teacher, ironically, as I say his name wrong. He’s the speech teacher, the debate teacher at Pencey Prep. He’s the one who’s always going no digressions which completely freaks out Holden which makes sense, because he digresses all the time.
Here are some classmates. These are all Pencey guys. Ackley always make me think of acne. Ackley is this gross, pimply, nasty guy with poor hygiene. He’s cutting his toe nails on the bed. He grosses Holden out, but they do spend time together. You get the feeling that both of them are lonely, and that’s why they’ve been drawn to each other.
Stradlater is his roommate. This guy is the BMOC, he’s the big man on campus. He’s a big stud and he like Strad’s way through the book. Holden again uses him when he’s lonely. We get the feeling he does things to please him sometimes, like he writes his essay for him. They’re not great friends, but again, when Holden’s feeling alone, he is a person who’s there even if he doesn’t really connect with him.
James Castle. This is one that you might be scratching your head about. Who is James Castle? Can you remember? He is actually a character that we don’t see actually interacting in the book. We see a flashback. Holden tells us about James Castle, who is a classmate, who committed suicide by jumping out the window, when he was getting bullied. So that’s pretty significant as well and we’ll talk about that when we get to catching and holding, and falling and all the symbolism stuff.
The next thing I want to talk about, is all of Holden’s women. Let’s talk about chicks. Holden loves women. It may not seem like it, but let’s look at this quotation. “That’s the thing about girls. Every time they do something pretty, even if they’re not much to look at, or even if they’re sort of stupid, you fall half in love with them, and then you never know where the hell you are. Girls. Jesus Christ. They can drive you crazy. They really can.” I think this is bizarrely heart-warming. He has this feeling towards women that even if they’re stupid, or they’re annoying or whatever, he still has love for them. We see this with all these different women that he interacts with in the story.
First, there’s Jane Gallagher. We don’t really see her, but we hear all about her. She is essentially Holden’s ideal. I kind of think that she would end up being his soul mate if there was a Happy-Go-Lucky sequel to this book.
Sally Hayes. This is the very phony girl that he goes out. They go to see the Lance on Broadway. They go ice-skating together. She invites him over for Christmas. It sounds like they have something serious going on, but he thinks she’s a phony and very shallow. We get the feeling again that he really just wants companionship, even if he’s not connecting with them on the right level.
Do you remember who Sunny is? Sunny is the prostitute in the hotel. Sunny comes up, because she’s been hired. Holden freaks out. He doesn’t want to do anything with her. It’s a very odd, awkward scene where he’s like I’ll pay you anyway, it doesn’t matter, and she’s like what’s going on?
Faith is not mentioned for very long at all. She’s similar to Sunny. I’d call Faith a good time girl, a sure thing if you will. Remember he got her name from an old classmate. He calls her up, and asks if she wants to hang out. She’s like argh it’s the middle of the night. Again we see Holden’s real struggle and yearning for companionship, and connection with people.
That’s also mirrored with these last three women; Bernice, Marty, and Laverne. Do you remember them at all? You might not remember them by name, but they’re the three girls in the night club. He buys them drinks. He dances with them. He does comments on how they’re kind of annoying, and things don’t really work out the way he wants them to. Again they’re companionship for him. There’s three of them. He spends time talking to them, and going out and dancing on the dance floor.
So we see a theme with all these women, and even with the men that we talked about. That Holden is really searching for companionship at equality level, but he never really finds it.
That was almost exhausting, because there are a lot of characters in this book. We got through them. Now we’re going to go a little bit deeper with them. We’re going to discuss flat and round characters. Let’s begin by discussing what a flat character is.
A flat character only really has one or two sides to their personality. They can be summed up in one or two sentences. Maybe they’re a stereotype like a jerk captain of the football team, that kind of thing. They lack surprise in their actions. They lack complexity. They’re pretty shallow.
They can sometimes be a caricature. Like when I said captain of the football team, we get this idea of what that person’s supposed to be like. Usually, they’re created intentionally by the author. It’s usually not just an accident. Sometimes they’re just used to help move the plot along.
On the other hand, round characters. These are people hopefully like you, and I. They’re life-like, multi-dimensional. They have a fully developed personality. They’re not always just one thing all the time. They’re complex, and they’re unpredictable. These are the ones I want to hang out with I think.
So can we take these ideas of flat and round characters and classify some of the people that we meet in Catcher and the Rye. Let’s check it out. So round characters. Can you think of characters who are complex? Who have different sides to their personality? Who aren’t just flat and the same all the time? Very good. The obvious choice first of all Holden. Mr. Moodswing himself. We see him all the time changing how he feels. He loves someone then he’s disgusted by someone. He is very complex person. He’s extremely unpredictable. We really don’t know what’s going to happen with him most of the time.
Who else could be described as a round character? What about Phoebe? If you think about it, she’s a 10 year old girl. She’s pretty dug on complex for 10 years old. She doesn’t really fit a stereotype or fit a mould. She feels different things. She’s just not the little sister. She’s a very complex individual.
I can think of maybe two more people that maybe round characters. Can you think of any? What about Jane Gallagher? Remember, she’s Holden kind of dream girl. Although we don’t really see here, he talks about her in flashback scenes. Do you remember the scene where they’re on the porch and playing checkers? She cries and he has this feeling that something’s going on with her stepdad and it’s this weird atmosphere? this is definitely showing another side of her personality. She’s not a good time girl. She’s not a phony who’s just interested in appearances. Remember we said that Holden and Jane seem like they could be soul mates, so they’re very similar, and they’re definitely both round.
Now there’s one more person that I could think of that is interesting and bizarre, and you’re really left wondering what happened. Can you think of who I’m talking about? What about James Castle? This is the classmate from Pencey who committed suicide. I don’t think that anyone really predicted that James would jump out of a window. That’s pretty intense. That’s not something that’s expected. I would definitely qualify him as a round character as well.
Flat characters. Here is an easy one. Everyone else in this book is really a flat character. We don’t see too much outside of these little encapsulated pieces of their personality. They don't have a lot going on. You’ve got to think about Holden's word phony. That practically everyone he meets is phony at some point.
So it’s always made me wonder a little bit if this book was written from different perspective, maybe people would be different. The characters would be different. Holden hates phony so much I wonder if that colors his interpretation, and thus our interpretation of what every single person is like. So maybe there would be some people who would not be flat, and maybe round, but because Holden is the one telling the story that’s what we have to believe.
In case you were busy obsessing about the girl who totally owned you in the hallway today, here is the gist of what you missed in this episode. We talked all about people. The characters of Catcher in the Rye. We did major characters, minor characters and divided them up into flat and round characters. Now in my next episode, we’re going to talk about allusions. That’s with an a. We’re going to find out, we're going to get into the root of the mystery of what exactly a 'Catcher in the Rye' really is.