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
[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."
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.