Symbolism in The Catcher in the Rye Holden’s Red Hunting Hat – NOTES When one first reads The Catcher in the Rye, one might be surprised by the unusual red hunting hat that Holden chooses to wear. It is ironic that Holden criticizes Mr. Spencer for being the kind of old guy that “can get a big bang out of buying a [Navajo] blanket,” and yet, just a few chapters later, he admits that he himself gets “a big bang out of that hat. ” At least on this level, the hat hints that Holden has the same characteristics he criticizes in others.
Holden tells us (towards the beginning of Chapter Three) that he bought the hat in New York that morning after he left all the fencing equipment on the subway and angered the entire fencing team. It is obvious that Holden is feeling particularly vulnerable and insecure at the time, though Holden would never admit to this. The hat comforts him when he is feeling insecure and troubled. It is important to consider when Holden is comfortable wearing the hat, and when he is simply not secure or needy enough to wear it.
He puts the hat on at significant moments – writing the composition about Allie’s baseball mitt, staring at himself in the mirror and pretending to be fearless after Stradlater punches him, yelling “Sleep tight, ya morons” down the corridor of the dormitory. He takes it off when he’s on the train, going to a bar, in hotel lobbies, and for other pursuits that take him out in the public eye. While he is enthusiastic about the hat in private, he is reluctant to don the hat in public.
The reader is given hints to this at the start of Chapter Thirteen (“I took my red hunting hat […] and put it on – I didn’t give a damn how I looked”), the end of Chapter Sixteen (“I took my old hunting hat out […] and put it on. I knew I wouldn’t meet anybody that knew me”), and the start of Chapter Twenty-One (“I’d already taken off my hunting hat, so as not to look suspicious”). Despite his embarrassment, the hunting hat becomes an important part of the way Holden sees himself. He admits it’s “corny,” but he “like[s] how it look[s]. ” It’s a people shooting hat, he declares.
When he’s wearing it, he can be as insular and invincible as he wishes. That is why it’s so significant when Phoebe puts it on his head at the end of the novel; not only is she giving back to Holden, but she is demonstrating that she loves and accepts him as the individual that he is – strange red hunting hat and all. Some literary critics claim that the colour of the hat is important, for both Allie and Phoebe had red hair. The red hunting hat serves an important function in the novel in that it helps to develop the theme of alienation and how Holden feels so disconnected not only from society, but from himself.