The Catcher in the Rye

Holden’s Red Hunting Hat Symbol Icon

Holden’s red hunting hat is a symbol of his self-identification and alienation. More specifically, it’s a manifestation of the fact that he often purposefully isolates himself from people, going out of his way to separate himself from his peers and superiors. Throughout the novel, he wears the hat in strange contexts, clearly unafraid to stand out. Although it’s a hunting hat, he wears it indoors and in the city, where there’s no chance that he’ll be going on a hunting expedition. He does this because he feels as if the hat protects him, making him feel unique and thereby helping him define himself. A young man struggling to figure out who he is and where he fits in the world, he imbues the hat with meaning beyond its intended function, using it as a way to aid his identity formation. At the same time, though, the hat also singles him out as strange and, in doing so, reinforces the idea that he can’t quite seem to blend in with the rest of the world. He gives the hat to his younger sister, Phoebe, before he plans to leave New York for a new life, a gesture that indicates both that  he considers Phoebe to be one of the few people who understands him for all his quirks. Phoebe ultimately gives the hat back, however—in the same way that Holden can’t bring himself to follow the various social codes that make up everyday life, it seems that he cannot rid himself of his strange hat. In this regard, then, the hat also becomes a symbol of his inability to shed his immaturity and his childish reluctance to embrace adulthood.

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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Little, Brown edition of The Catcher in the Rye published in 2001.
Chapter 3 Quotes

[Ackley] took another look at my hat […]. "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, Robert Ackley
Related Symbols: Holden’s Red Hunting Hat
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:
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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), Ward Stradlater
Related Symbols: Holden’s Red Hunting Hat
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:
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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
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Alone in his room, Holden reads while wearing his new red hunting cap , which he bought while in New York City with the fencing team. He thinks... (full context)
Chapter 6
Phoniness Theme Icon
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
After Stradlater leaves, Holden puts on his red hunting hat and looks at his face in the mirror, thinking that the blood on his face... (full context)
Chapter 9
Phoniness Theme Icon
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Women and Sex Theme Icon
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Before Holden checks in to a room in the Edmont, he takes off his hunting hat because he doesn’t want anyone to think he’s crazy, though he notes that this is... (full context)
Chapter 23
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
...him feel better, he thanks her but says he has to leave, taking off his hunting hat and giving it to her.  (full context)
Chapter 25
Phoniness Theme Icon
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
...becomes angry at him for not letting her join him. Frustrated, she takes off his hunting hat , which she has been wearing, and thrusts it into his arms. (full context)
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
...the carousel, Holden encourages her to take another ride. Before she does, though, she takes the hunting hat (which Holden put in his pocket) and places it on her brother’s head. She then... (full context)