The Portrayal Of Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs In The Character Of Holden Caulfield

Abraham Maslow’s groundbreaking 1943 paper outlined a hierarchy of needs that each person should meet. This is key to understanding motivation. Maslow observed only high-intelligence and well-rounded characters to see a common set of needs that each person needed to fulfill in order for them to reach their highest potential, also known to be self actualization. The levels are Physiological, (food and water), Safety, Shelter, Love, Safety, Security, Love, and Esteem. This is the highest level of Self Realization. If a person does not fulfill their previous level, they cannot progress to another level. To take an example, self-actualization from love needs is impossible without fulfilling one’s Esteem need. Maslow discovered that there was a higher level of Self Actualization than previously thought. This is Transcendence. Transcendence can be described as the ability or the willingness to show others the path to Self Actualization and assist them in achieving it. These needs were also classified by Maslow into Growth needs and Deficiency. Lack of food or water is a sign that you have a deficiency. To reach emotional maturity, growth is essential. These needs can be interrupted by trauma events like death or the loss of a loved. (McLeod). This fascinating peek into the human soul is not only common in real life, but also in literature. J.D. The Catcher in the Rye is a novel by J.D.

Holden Caulfield, protagonist, is in a quite despairing position at the beginning of this novel. Holden is first seen “standing up on Thomsen Hill”, where “practically all the school was there except [him]” (Salinger 3,). Holden has become completely isolated and is unable for society to accept him. Holden has a depressing outlook on his life because he experienced the death of Allie, his brother. Holden slept in the garage and broke all the windows “just for the fun of it”. (Salinger 39). Holden cannot go on with his life because he is so traumatized. This is an obvious example of the deep scars Allie’s loss has left in Holden’s mind. Holden is, in part, at the bottom hierarchy of hierarchy because he can only eat and drink water due to childhood traumas. Because he can’t communicate with other people, he has no sense or love for himself. A young brother died and he now fears for his safety and the loss of all the things that he loves. Because he can not focus on anything above his basic needs for food and water, he is kicked from boarding schools. Holden describes himself as “miserable” (Salinger, 98). He can’t focus on anything higher than his basic human needs of food and water. This is an excellent example of Maslow’s Hierarchy at work. Holden feels more secure in New York as he develops emotional intelligence. Holden is steadily moving up in the hierarchy of needs but he’s constantly being degraded while striving to get higher. He tried to achieve the level of love & belonging by hiring prostitutes, but it only ended bitterly when he was beaten up again and brought back to his previous state. Holden’s experience with this prostitute left him so emotionally drained that he believed he was going to die. It was like I was underwater. “The problem is that I couldn’t breathe” (Salinger 103). Our protagonist is reduced to the lowest level of the hierarchy. He even struggles with breathing, which is a basic human need.

It is common to see Holden take two steps back in order to make a leap forward throughout the novel. Salinger wants to convey to the reader that emotional intelligence can only be gained by putting in a lot of effort. Holden eventually gets back on his feet with the emotional intelligence. Sally helps him to feel a connection with Sally, which he realizes he does not require. He is even able to attain the self-esteem needed and feel a bit more confident in his own abilities. He is close to emotional maturity, but in the wrong direction. However, he finds it difficult to be emotionally mature when he becomes dependent on Mr. Antolini for his security. Holden wakes up after a peaceful sleep to be greeted by Mr. Antolini, who “petting or patting” him on his goddam head. Holden’s emotional state is significantly lower and he is more disturbed.

These huge losses and gains are not for nothing. Holden eventually gets back on his feet and realizes that children cannot be saved from adulthood. He notices that “all of the kids kept trying grabbing for the silver ring,” and old Phoebe too. This realization brings Holden to the top of self realization. Maslow finally realized transcendence, which is helping others to self-actualize, was the highest tier of his pyramid. Holden is effectively placed in an asylum by Salinger and then having the book written by him. By writing the book, he is himself, telling others his story and helping them to self actualize.

The drawings of J.D. Through the illustrations of J.D. Holden is subject to many stages in Maslow’s Hierarchy. However, he eventually reaches the peak of transcendence during his virtual trip through New York. Holden Caulfield represents something that everyone can relate too. This is the struggle for meaning in life. He rises up from despair and pain to help others. Holden could be found in the society he used to hate and help others achieve their life goals.


  • rosssaunders

    Ross Saunders is an educational blogger and professor, who has written extensively on topics such as education reform, online learning, and assessment. He has also spoken on the topic at various conferences and universities.

rosssaunders Written by:

Ross Saunders is an educational blogger and professor, who has written extensively on topics such as education reform, online learning, and assessment. He has also spoken on the topic at various conferences and universities.

Comments are closed.