Comfort of the Red Hunting Hat
The novel The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger explores the pain of growing up through the experiences of Holden Caulfield, a sixteen year old boy who has just flunked out of school and thinks he has nowhere to go. Holden feels detached and has no one to listen to him. Salinger starts off the novel with Holden buying a red hunting hat. This hat has a big peak and funny looking earlaps. Holden doesn't wear the hat in front of people because he thinks he looks crazy in it, but he wears it when he is alone because it comforts him. The red hunting hat symbolizes Holden's feelings of loneliness and alienation.
Holden tries to fit into society but fails miserably. He is the manager of the fencing team at Pencey prep. On the way to a fencing match in New York City Holden leaves the fencing equipment on the subway. The whole team hates him for this, The whole team ostracized me the whole way back on the train. It was pretty funny, in a way.(3) He didn't know how to cope with being so lonely and left out of everything. Instead of trying to work thing out with the team, because they don't like him he tries to act cool like he doesn't care. Later on while he is sitting in his room he talks about the hat he bought. It was this red hunting hat, with one of those very, very long peaks. I bought it just after I noticed I'd lost all the goddam foils.(17) Holden buys the hat after he lost the foils and when the members of the team ostracize him. He is alone in his room when he first puts the hat on and seems to be alone most of the time he wears it. The hat comforts him and makes him feel less lonely. Instead of being at the football game he just sits in his room watching everyone have fun.
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Holden only feels comfortable wearing his hunting hat when he is alone. He isn't comfortable wearing the hat in front of other people, but he says he thinks he looks good in the hat. The way I wore it, I swung the old peak around to the back-very corny, I'll admit, but I liked it that way. I looked good in it that way.(18) He doesn't care how he looks in private but he won't wear it in public because it is funny looking. Holden pushes other people away from him. Holden is trying to write a composition for Stradladter because he begged Holden to do it since he had a date, but Ackley, Holden's acquaintance wouldn't leave his dorm and keeps bugging him. Holden is not wearing his hat while Ackley is in the room, but once he gets him to leave he puts on all his comfortable clothes including his hat. After he left, I put on my pajamas and bathrobe and my old hunting hat, and started writing the composition.(37) He alienates himself from Ackley by using the composition as an excuse to get him to leave. Holden doesn't seem to be very comfortable around other people because he has never had a good relationship with anyone in his life, that's why he alienates himself from everyone. His hat is only worn when he is alone after he alienates people from spending time in his room.
When Holden leaves Pencey for New York City it is the middle of the night, it is freezing cold out. My ears were nice and warm though. That hat I bought had earlaps in it, and I put them on-I didn't give a damn how I looked. Nobody was around anyway. Everybody was in the sack.(53) He is wearing his hat when he is all alone, but he makes himself alone. Holden didn't need to leave Pencey so late at night. He alienates himself from everyone else. When he says Nobody was around anyway (53) shows how alone he really is. The hat comforts him very much though he seems to wear the hat when he is cold and when a people are lonely and alienated people are out in the cold. But it was freezing cold, and I took my red hunting hat out of my pocket and put it on-I didn't give a damn how I looked.(88)
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The red hunting hat is Holden's protection from the world. He puts it on when he is walking through the cold to keep him warm. He also wears the hat when he is walking down the street because he won't run into anyone he knows. I took my old hunting hat out of my pocket while I walked, and put it on. I knew I wouldn't meet anybody that knew me, and it was pretty damp out.(122) He wears the hat when he knows that he won't run into anyone that he knows. He alienates himself from other people and doesn't want to be seen in the hat. Holden goes to see Phoebe and see how she is doing. When Holden sees Phoebe he gives her his hunting hat. Then I took my hunting hat out of my coat pocket and gave it to her.(180) He does this so the hat can protect her from the world. He knows it will do Phoebe more good than him; he wants to alienate her from people that will eventually end up hurting her.
When Holden goes to talk to Phoebe he alienates himself even more. He tells Phoebe that he is going out west to live. He leaves her a note to meet him at the museum. When she says that she wants to go with him and live out west he says no. Can I go with you? No. Shut up.(206) Holden tries to calm her down after she gets very upset over not being able to go out west with him. She gives him back his hunting hat which shows that he is going to go out west alone. All she did was, she took off my red hunting hat hat-the one I gave her- and practically chucked it right in my face.(207) Holden is alienating himself from the only person that he has a relationship with when he will not let Phoebe go out west with him.
Holden's hat was his only protection from the people and world around him. He has no one to listen or talk to him. He has alienated himself from everyone. When he takes Phoebe to the park to go on the merry go round it starts to rain. Phoebe puts his hunting hat on him to protect him from the rain. It was the only thing that could protect him. He is so alone in life and his only protection from the world is his red hunting hat. 'Then what she did-it damn near killed me-she reached in my coat pocket and took out my red hunting hat and put it on my head.(212) He just sat there in the rain watching Phoebe having fun. Him sitting in the rain shows that again he is out in the world alone. My hunting hat really gave me quite a lot of protection in a way, but I got soaked anyway.(212-213) Holden is being protected by the hat but is still getting wet is saying that he has his hat but still is not fully protected from the world; he still has to deal with life.
In the novel Holden goes through many life experiences that help him grow as a person. His red hunting hat is always by his side though. He alienates himself from every person in the book, even his little sister Phoebe who is the only person that accepts Holden for who he is. Holden only wears his hat when he is alone. He thinks it looks crazy on him, but yet he doesn't care if no one sees it because it is very comfortable. It is his protection from the world that he is lacking from friends and family. Holden makes people leave his room because he wants to be alone since he doesn't know how to deal with a relationship. His hunting hat represents his loneliness and alienation because Holden only wears the hat when he is alone. He wears the hat when he knows no one he knows will see him and alienates himself from the world in doing so.