What does the Red Hunting Hat Symbolize in ‘The Catcher in the Rye’

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“Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody” (Salinger 234). In the novel The Catcher in the Rye, the main character, Holden, mentions his red hunting hat a couple of times throughout the novel, but this actually develops a plot for the story. The red hunting hat symbolizes different emotions Holden has only when he is wearing the hat. Holden usually wears the hat when he feels vulnerable or hopeless, and he also wears the hat when he feels embarrassed, which usually happens.

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Also, throughout the novel, Holden only lets one other person wear his red hunting hat, which is Phoebe, his little sister whom he has a special connection with. This all relates to the theme of finding light in the darkness, where his little sister symbolizes the good in all of the negative emotions he feels only when wearing the hat.


The Hat as a Symbol of Vulnerability and Hopelessness

At the beginning of the novel, Holden tells us that he comes back from New York, where his sister and parents live, after losing all of his team’s fencing equipment; then he sees a red hunting hat on sale for a dollar, so he then decides to buy it. He may have bought the hat because he was feeling vulnerable and hopeless at the time. For example, it says, “It was this red hunting hat, with one of those very, very long peaks. I saw it in the window of the sports store when we got out of the subway, just after I noticed I’d lost all the goddamn foils” (21). This proves that maybe after losing everything, he decided to buy the hat to make him feel better about himself. To conclude, one of the emotions Holden feels when wearing the hat is vulnerable and helpless.

In the novel, Holden usually seems embarrassed to wear his red hunting hat, which is another emotion Holden feels when wearing his hat. For example, at the beginning of chapter 13, he says, ‘…I took my red hunting hat and put it on—I didn’t give a damn how I looked (99). Then again, he says something similar at the end of chapter 16 he says “I took my old hunting hat out and put it on. I knew I wouldn’t meet anybody that knew me (136). This shows he never really liked to wear his hat in public, but he wears it anyway. It’s confusing because the hat has become an important part of how he sees himself as a person, but he doesn’t like to reveal it to others. To sum it up, this also demonstrates another emotion Holden feels when he wears the hat.

The Connection with Phoebe and Positive Emotions

To add on, Phoebe was the only other person except for Holden to wear the hat. The hat is an important part of how he expresses himself, and he enjoys it when Phoebe wears it. Holden shows his true self when he is with Phoebe. Phoebe and Holden have a special connection with each other which demonstrates the happy emotions that Holden feels when wearing the hat. For example, the book says, “She always listens when you tell her something. And the funny part is she knows, half the time, what the hell are you talking about. She really does. I kept talking about old Pencey. I sort of felt like it” (185). This shows that Holden really trusts her and can tell her about things he doesn’t even like to talk about. So letting her wear the hat also shows that he is really comfortable with her. To summarize, there are also happy emotions that Holden feels when wearing his special red hunting hat.


In conclusion, the hat usually shows up when something important or something meaningful is going on. The emotions that Holden feels while wearing the hat showcase his true self. The emotions he feels are mostly depressing emotions like feeling vulnerable and helpless and also embarrassed, but he also has happy emotions when he is with his little sister, who helps him find light in the darkness. This means finding at least a little bit of good or hope, even when there is a lot of hate or darkness.


  1. Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. Little, Brown and Company, 1951.



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What Does the Red Hunting Hat Symbolize in ‘The Catcher in the Rye'. (2023, Aug 18). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/what-does-the-red-hunting-hat-symbolize-in-the-catcher-in-the-rye/