The Catcher in the Rye

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Holden's Red Hunting Hat Symbol Icon
Holden's red hunting hat is a symbol of his alienation. It protects him, and makes him feel unique, but also singles him out as strange, which in turn reinforces his alienation. The hat is also a symbol of Holden's attachment to childhood—it's the kind of goofy accessory that a proper adult wouldn't wear.

Holden's Red Hunting Hat Quotes in The Catcher in the Rye

The The Catcher in the Rye quotes below all refer to the symbol of Holden's Red Hunting Hat. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Phoniness Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Little, Brown edition of The Catcher in the Rye published in 2001.
Chapter 3 Quotes
[Ackley] took another look at my hat while he was cleaning them. "Up home we wear a hat like that to shoot deer in, for Chrissake," he said. "That's a deer shooting hat."
"Like hell it is." I took it off and looked at it. I sort of closed one eye, like I was taking aim at it. "This is a people shooting hat," I said. "I shoot people in this hat."
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker), Robert Ackley (speaker)
Related Symbols: Holden's Red Hunting Hat
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

As Holden sits in his room reading, his neighbor Ackley arrives and teases him for wearing the hunting hat. In response, Holden adopts an aggressive and morbid personality.

Holden’s red hat plays an important symbolic role throughout the text—as an image of both independence and of ridicule. Here, it is primarily the second, for Ackley claims Holden is out of place for wearing a hunting hat in the dorm room. This disconnect stresses how Holden refuses to conform to the structured setting of his school: his clothing belongs in a freer, more rural setting. When anti-conformism makes him an object of derision for Ackley, Holden becomes oddly morbid: that the hat becomes “a people shooting hat” might be a mere jest, but when Holden reiterates, “I shoot people in this hat” the tone grows more serious. Lighthearted as the scene might appear, it also carries a dark humor that Holden would be willing to harm other humans—treating them as flippantly as he would a deer. The hat thus symbolizes Holden’s misanthropic status both due to its physical appearance and to the way he turns it into a sardonic threat.

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Chapter 7 Quotes
When I was all set to go, when I had my bags and all, I stood for a while next to the stairs and took a last look down the goddam corridor. I was sort of crying. I don't know why. I put my red hunting hat on, and turned the peak around to the back, the way I liked it, and then I yelled at the top of my goddam voice, "Sleep tight, ya morons!" I'll bet I woke up every bastard on the whole floor. Then I got the hell out.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker)
Related Symbols: Holden's Red Hunting Hat
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

Holden decides to depart Pencey and leave for New York City. As he leaves, he experiences a round of intense emotions, followed by an aggressive renunciation of all those who remain.

Salinger makes this passage a parody of departure narratives: The packing of bags, the moment of reflection, and the crying are all aspects of classic departures. Yet when Holden does not know why he is crying, he subtly denies that his emotional responses are due to this normal emotional arc. Perhaps he does feel some sadness at leaving a comfortable environment, but the emotion seems to stem more from his disillusionment and frustration with this supposedly phony society.

Holden more assertively renounces that society through his use of the red hunting hat: He wears it as a form of self-affirmation, as an indication that he is hunting humans, and as a reminder that he can behave “the way I liked.” That renunciation of normal social codes comes to a climax when he yells into the hallway—parodying the farewell phrase of “sleep tight” by actually rudely awakening everyone. In this moment, Holden shows himself not just to be mentally distant from and critical of those around him, but also willing to openly renounce and mock those he deems phony.

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Holden's Red Hunting Hat Symbol Timeline in The Catcher in the Rye

The timeline below shows where the symbol Holden's Red Hunting Hat appears in The Catcher in the Rye. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
Phoniness Theme Icon
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Alone in his room, Holden reads Isaac Dinesen's Out of Africa while wearing his new red hunting cap . But Robert Ackley, Holden's neighbor, barges in. Ackley is repulsive, with bad skin and... (full context)
Chapter 6
Phoniness Theme Icon
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
After Stradlater leaves, Holden puts on his red hunting hat and looks at his face in the mirror. He thinks the blood makes him look... (full context)
Chapter 25
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
...which makes her furious. He starts to feel faint again. When she angrily returns his hunting hat, he promises not to go away at all. She remains angry, even when he offers... (full context)
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
...the same song it played when he was a kid. Phoebe gives Holden back his red hunting hat and he puts it on as rain starts to fall. The hat protects him, and... (full context)