Holden Caulfield and Dunstan Ramsey in The Catcher in the Rye

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In “The catcher in the rye”, Salinger portrays Holden Caulfield as a person who is alienated from the rest of the world. One issue that makes Holden unable to get along with the people around him is his hatred towards hypocrisy. His obsession to have erfct people around him makes it impossible to make friends. The world is hypocritical in nature because people don’t mostly walk their talk. For instance, when asked by Mr. Spencer why he left Elkton Hills he says that the primary reason was that he was surrounded by phonies. He says, “One of the biggest reasons I left Elkton Hills was because I was surrounded by phonies. That's all. They were coming in the goddam window. For instance, they had this headmaster, Mr. Haas, that was the phoniest bastard I ever met in my life.” (Salinger 2001) He says that he hated Mr. Haas because he would discriminate against some parents who were not smartly dressed. From Holden’s explanation, it is apparent that he is angered by things that do not concern him. He is always criticizing the people around him and does not see their good deeds. That is a good reason why the people around him do not want to be associated with him. He is in his own world and interprets things very differently.

Robertson Davies depicts Dunstan Ramsey as a lonely, reserved, and alienated person who spend most of his time performing chores that are considered monotonous. Many of the activities that Dunstan performed did not allow him to have friends. For instance, he loved reading a lot and that made him spend most of his free time alone. A perfect example is after being transferred to France he is devastated by the loss of his fellow soldiers who die and become injured in large numbers such that he results to reading the bible so as to soothe himself and this makes him alienated from the rest of the soldiers who have more interesting ways to pass time. In one instance he says, “Nobody—not even my mother—was to be trusted in a strange world that showed very little of itself on the surface.” (Davies 2015). Growing up, Dunstan did not trust many people because he thought that not many people are loyal. He preferred to spend more time alone was very secretive. He also believes that by people being good now does not mean that they will be good forever. He says, “I cannot remember a time when I did not take it as understood that everybody has at least two, if not twenty-two, sides to him.” (Davies 2015) Dunstan believed that people change all the time and that his only way to survive was to trust in himself and not the people around him.

Both Dunstan and Holden have tendencies that inhibit them from bonding and nurturing friendships. While Holden considers the people around him hypocritical and dishonest, Dunstan does not pursue friendship and spends most of his free time engaging in activities that are not social. Another common aspect between Holden and Dunstan is their lack of interest in forming friendships. Holden feels lonely sometimes but does not see the significance of having friends who are not “real” according to him. On the other hand, Dunstan requires friends but he fears being hurt by friends. His philosophy is that you should never trust anybody including your mother. These factors hold both from pursuing friendships. One difference between Holden and Dunstan is their character. Whereas Dunstan is polite and humble, Holden is proud and hateful. Holden can hate a person without any apparent reason but Dunstan does not harbor any hate even against people who are against him.

Another reason why Holden is alienated from his peers is his approach to life. He seems unconcerned with his life because nothing seems great to him. For instance, he is expelled from four schools but doesn’t seem remorseful about his actions. He thinks that he is always right and that other people hate him and that is why he spends most of his time alone. A good example is when Mr. Spencer asks him whether he has concerns for his future and his response is disheartening. He says, "Oh, I feel some concern for my future, all right. Sure. Sure, I do."I thought about it for a minute. "But not too much, I guess. Not too much, I guess."(Salinger 2001). It seems that Holden’s peers saw him as a joker and did not want to associate with him because he did not have control over his life. People always want to make friends with people who understand them and accept them for who they are. However, Holden does not appreciate the people around him and is always complaining. Therefore, it is impossible for him to get new friends or keep old friends.

Dunstan’s alienation is also as a result of is his association with Mary Dempster, a lady who the community had ostracized. His close relationship with Mrs. Dempster causes the other students not to befriend him because they view people who associate with her as outcasts. The hate against Mrs. Dempsters by her community is depicted by Dunstan’s words when he talks about their departure. Dunstan says, “He left the church without any prospects, a crazy and disgraced wife, a delicate child, and six dollars in cash.” (Davies 2015). In later parts of “Fifth Business”, Dunstan became extremely devoted towards studying sainthood because he believed that Mrs. Dempster is a saint who was sent to guide his life. He spends a lot of time studying what sainthood entails such that he does not bond with the people around him. He says, “Now I should be able to see what a saint was really like and perhaps make a study of one without the apparatus of Rome, which I had no power to invoke. The idea possessed me that it might lie in my power to make a serious contribution to the psychology of religion.” (Davies 2015). Dunstan’s obsession with Mrs. Dempster also developed to love for her. The reason for loving her was because he felt guilty of causing the premature birth of Peter. Moreover, his age mates did not want to associate with him because he seemed weird and laid back.

While Holden is alienated for his lack of focus, Dunstan is alienated because of his vulnerabilities. Dunstan’s guilt makes him obsessed with Mrs. Dempster to an extent of falling in love with her whereas Holden is full of himself and does not want to look vulnerable to authority. Dunstan’s isolation from peers seems justified whereas Holden’s isolation is not necessary. Dunstan is alienated by people who are stereotypical while Holden isolates himself because of his ill behaviors. Another contrast between Dunstan and Holden is the result of their alienation. While Dunstan seems to be better off without many friends, Holden’s life is crumbling because he lacks a support system. However, both of them are negatively affected by their alienation from friends. Both Holden and Dunstan use isolation as a way of protecting themselves from being hurt by the people around them. For Dunstan, he believes that the only person that he can trust is himself because he cannot disappoint himself. On the other hand, Holden believes that the people around him are not genuine and therefore befriending them will only cause him more harm than good. However, both of them need friends in order to have fruitful and productive lives.


Dunstan is dominated by guilt to an extent of making decisions that negatively affect his life. He takes the blame of Percy and becomes obsessed with making it up to Mrs. Dempster by doing whatever he can to make her life better even if his life becomes a mess. Dunstan was brought up in a strict religious family that maintained that one should always do what scriptures say. This caused him to live a life of fear and guilt that whatever mistakes one makes there are negative consequences. After Percy accidentally hits Mary with a snowball he intendant to hit Dunstan with, Dunstan began blaming himself for not preventing the snowball from hitting Mary. “He stood barefoot and in his nightshirt beside the stovepipe upstairs, guilt-ridden and often nauseated…” (Davies 2015). The guilt that Dunstan acquired from this incidence caused him to feel as if he is a criminal and therefore he decides to devote his life to Mary Dempster. For instance, when Mary was admitted to a mental hospital, Dunstan visited her frequently. “Dunstan visited Mrs. Dempster forty Saturdays every year and at Easter, Christmas and on her birthday” (Davies 2015). he goes to the extent of committing himself to look after Mary until her last day.

Holden displays guilt about many aspects of his life. For instance, his brother’s death causes him to be guilty. In the night that Allie died, Holden broke all the window panes in the garage of their home. Allie was eleven and Holden was thirteen what all this took place. Later on, Holden feels guilty about the death of Allie because he feels that his bad behavior caused Allie who was suffering from leukemia to lose his life. In one instance, he feels guilty of the death of Allie when he remembers that a long time ago he failed to include her in a BB gun game. Holden also considers himself as the only dumb person in his family because he commits a lot of mistakes. To make up for these mistakes, Holden begins to treat Allie as an exceptional child and describes him with the sweetest words. He says, “Allie was the nicest, sweetest, most intelligent, and the most endearing child one would ever meet.” He also glorifies Allie by saying that he is a saint and by saying that, “…it wasn’t just that he was the most intelligent member in the family. He was also the nicest …. God, he was a nice kid, though” (Salinger 2001). He does all of these to come to terms with Allie’s demise.

Both Dunstan and Holden display a lot of guilt for mistakes that they have committed or the ones that they perceive to have committed. While Dunstan’s guilt is primarily caused by his upbringing in a religious family, Holden’s guilt is primarily due to his distorted behavior. Although both characters blame themselves for mistakes that they did not commit, all of them respond by adopting a similar defense mechanism. Dunstan deals with his guilt of Mary’s premature labor by deciding to protect her for the rest of her life whereas Holden deals with the guilt of his brother’s death by portraying him as the best child that one would have. All these are ways of reducing the guilt that they have. Both Holden and Dunstan idolize the people who are the source of their guilt by treating them as saints. For instance, Holden considers Allie his guardian angel who protects him from worldly problems. A perfect example of this is when walking up Fifth Avenue and he was gripped by fear that he would be attacked. He says, “Every time I’d get to the end of a block I’d make believe I was talking to my brother Allie. I’d say to him, ‘Allie, don’t let me disappear. Allie don’t let me disappear. And then when I’d reach the other side of the street without disappearing I’d thank him.” (Salinger 2001). Praying to Allie depicts the sainthood depiction of Allie by Holden. Dunstan also makes Mrs. Dempster his saint and even conducts a research on sainthood.

The guilt that both Dunstan and Holden have causes them to have similar behaviors. One result of their guilt is alienating themselves from the other people. Holden withdraws himself from the people around him because sometimes he feels unworthy of being a friend to someone. Moreover, the guilt in him causes him to find flaws in everything. Holden sees everyone around him as a hypocrite and does not see anyone who he can relate to. Moreover, he believes that making himself look right will make him better than others thus do away with the bad guilt that he harbors. Dunstan is also withdrawn from others. He makes Mary’s life his priority and sees the people around him as enemies who are not up to good. Both Holden and Dunstan engage in these behaviors to try to heal from the agony that guilt is causing to them.

Fractured Versions of Oneself

Holden seems to have a problem finding himself because he lets his past dictate him. Despite his having parents who can take him to good schools, Holden is not settled. He moves from one school to another due to his mistakes and does not seem to understand that he is his own problem. He has fractured his self because he does not know his purpose. Moreover, Holden is no longer able to steer his life in the right direction because he allows external factors such as the people around him to take over his life. Another aspect of a fractured version of Holden’s self is that he cannot live a productive life due to his stagnant young life. He is not able to have a successful adult life because the mistakes that he has been making haunt him. He alienates himself so much such that his loneliness causes him to seek attention from people who cannot assist him. For instance, he once approaches a hat-check girl after feeling extremely lonely. This scene makes the reader understand the extent to which his self has been fractured by his isolated life. He says, “When I finally got down off the radiator and went out to the hat-check room, I was crying and all. I don't know why, but I was. I guess it was because I was feeling so damn depressed and lonesome. Then, when I went out to the checkroom […]  .” (Salinger 2001). The hat-check girl was very nice. […] I sort of tried to make a date with her.” The only thing that prevents Holden from advancing is himself. If at all he decides to abandon the self that is encouraging him to do whatever it pleases, he will be able to become a better person. However, in the end, Holden comes back to his senses and returns to New York to begin his life all over again.

Dunstan’s early life makes him lose touch with self. His strict parents who impose religious beliefs on him cause him to live a life full of miseries because he has to follow rules that were set a long time ago. For instance, he accepts to bear the blame of causing Mary to have a premature birth which affects him for the rest of his life. The conflict with his self goes on after he goes to war and reads his pocket bible a lot. Dunstan’s obsession with Mrs. Dempster fractures his self because it impedes him from having a normal life. He puts a lot of efforts in trying to understand the life of Mary as a saint such that he loses the meaning of life.  Although he uses the bible to cope with the harsh events and occurrences in the war, Dunstan regains himself. The gaining of his life is depicted by him falling in love with Diana. By Dunstan accepting to love Diana it becomes apparent that he has understood who he is and is ready to live his life to the fullest. His survival through the war that caused many lives to be lost signifies his rebirth. While in the process of healing Dunstan says, “I felt that everything was good, that my spirit was wholly my own, and that though all was strange nothing was evil” (Davies 2015).  This depicts the healing that his “self” underwent after rediscovering himself.

Both Dunstan and Holden are portrayed as people who have a fractured version of themselves in the beginning. At the beginning of both works, both of them seem to lack an adequate understanding of themselves which causes them to hurt the people around them a lot. For instance, Holden fails to have successful relationships with the people around him because he has the wrong understanding of himself. He fails to understand that he is a human being and that everyone can be phony. Dunstan, on the other hand, loses self by letting guilt take over his life. He adores Mrs. Mary such that he loses his sense of reasoning. However, it is great to understand that as both stories end, both Dunstan and Holden understand who they are and then begin to develop their self for a greater future.

Works Cited

Davies, Robertson. Fifth business. McClelland & Stewart, 2015.

Salinger, Jerome D. "The Catcher in the Rye [1951]."Boston, MA et al (2001).

November 24, 2023



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