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Holden Caulfield is the main character of J. D. Salinger's renowned coming-of-age novel, The Catcher in the Rye (1951). He is both an antihero, a protagonist with qualities at odds with the stereotypically "heroic" image, and an everyman, whose experiences are to some degree "universal," at least in his respective culture. Caulfield also appears in some of Salinger's short stories, though he is most well known as the narrator of The Catcher in the Rye.
At the time of events in the book, most of which span two days, Holden Caulfield is 16 years old. The novel takes place just before winter break, and he has been kicked out of his preparatory school. He leaves school a day early and spends two days in New York without telling anyone where he is, though he secretly meets with his little sister twice throughout the novel. At the end of the novel, Caulfield decides to hitchhike west, and it is implied that he is telling the story from a mental institution in California.
Caulfield is an unreliable narrator, a literary device in which the narrator is contradictory and the reader cannot take his or her words at face value. Throughout Catcher in the Rye, he rails against "phoniness" and what he sees as threats against innocence, personified by his younger sister Phoebe, but he is hardly a model character in either of these respects. His moral standards are impossibly high, but he does not apply them to himself. Throughout the novel, he emerges as an alienated, disillusioned, and cynical character.
Holden Caulfield is both one of the most memorable characters in American fiction and one of the most controversial. As an anti-hero, he is similar to Travis Bickle in the 1976 film Taxi Driver. Both of these characters served as an inspiration for famous assassins, and The Catcher in the Rye has often been banned because of the fear that it glorifies delinquency and a deranged personality. Many people have been inspired by the character in a more positive sense, however, and he is referenced in innumerable artistic works, from literature to television, rock music, and cartoons.