Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger is the story of Holden Caulfield, a 16 year old boy wandering the streets of New York with time to spare after being expelled from the prestigious Pencey High school. Not wanting to return home and shame his parents after yet another failure, Holden visits old acquaintances in the city, looking for companionship in what he sees as a contemptible and phoney world. Catcher in the Rye is a good example of how the interrelation of characters is the main focus of a novel as it creates a better insight into the lives of not just the main character but also the sub characters. Through their relationships we can see why our society has evolved in the way it has because the act of merely talking to another person humanizes the text so that it can be compared to reality.
The first person Holden visits on his long list of acquaintances is his old history teacher, Mr Spencer or, Old Spencer. Spencer tries to make Holden take responsibility for his actions and realise that his performance now is affecting his future but while Holden feels sorry for his ailing teacher and even admits that he acts “…like I’m about thirteen,” he refuses to accept that “Life is a game that one plays according to the rules”. The dialogue between Holden and his teacher is necessary to the telling of Holden’s story because it insinuates that he is an immature adolescent, indulging his every whim. However Holden’s recalcitrant behaviour is explained in Chapter 6 where, through the introduction of new characters we see the reason for Holden’s reluctance to join the adult world.
Stradlater, Holden’s room mate, goes out on a date with Jane who used to be Holden’s neighbour and this has a big impact on him because it takes him back to his childhood when things were less complicated. Holden reminisces about Jane and her habits and almost in the same line of thought he thinks about Allie, his younger brother who died of Leukaemia. Holden “…likes writing about…” Allie and his baseball mitt and remembers how Jane always “…put all her kings in the back row…” when playing checkers. This demonstrates that he treasures his childhood memories and desperately wants to prolong Jane’s childhood as long as possible. Because of Allie’s death Holden has been forced into the adult world and is bitter about the responsibility that this places on him. He has created a negative view of what it means to be an adult. This can be seen in how Holden is in constant conflict with his room mate, who feigns maturity in order to attract girls. Holden is worried that Stradlater’s will rob Jane of her sense of innocence. It is only later on that Holden finally acquires enough courage to face the symbol of his stolen childhood.
The anger and frustration that Holden feels at the adult world finally comes to a head when Maurice confronts him about the money he allegedly owes for hiring the prostitute. Holden tries to stand his ground against the bigger man, shakily hanging onto the conviction that “…I don’t owe you a cent…” In Holden’s mind, Maurice has come to symbolise everything that he sees is wrong with society and the adult world. Maurice, a man trying to make a living in New York has, to Holden, become synonymous with Allie’s killer and the stealer of Holden’s childhood. Holden finally has something concrete he can blame his confusion about life on.
The interrelation between characters is the main focus of a novel as it helps to reveal the characters weaknesses which are in effect flaws in our society. By focusing on the communication between characters, the novel highlights the different character traits in each individual. Without Mr Spencer we would not have seen Holden’s rejection of responsibility clearly and without Stradlater we might have been under the impression that Holden was rejecting adulthood for purely selfish reasons. If Holden had not met Maurice he would not have found a character on which to vent his frustration at the adult world. All the characters that Holden met on his journey had an impact on him in either a positive or negative way. As the author, Salinger decided how each of the characters he created in his story would act and this gave them a purpose in the novel. From the examples above we can see how he has used the characters to bring out traits in Holden’s personality that would otherwise not have been seen. In effect the interaction between characters with different personalities creates the story and in doing so this becomes the main focus of a novel.