Holden’s most significant obsession is the loss, or feared loss, of his manhood, as his frequent digressions reveal.His metaphoric castration begins with his expulsion from school: "So I got the ax.Notably, Carl Strauch provides an in-depth structural analysis in his essay "Kings in the Back Row: Meaning through Structure." Similarly, James Bryan, in his essay "The Psychological Structure of The " not only reacts to Strauch’s work but also provides a thought-provoking interpretation as he construes the Holden/Phoebe relationship as one wrought with sexual tension.
Strauch points out that he wears the hat "backwards like a catcher" (10), an undoubtedly pointed correlation with the novel’s title as well as Holden’s view of himself as a savior.
Bryan interprets the hat as a symbol of Holden’s "aggressive and withdrawing tendencies" (1074).
Many view Holden as heroic in his confrontation with "phonies." An analysis of Holden’s prevalent psychological crises, however, provokes an alternative interpretation of the character.
Fortunately, some insightful work has been done examining the psychological structure of this text and reevaluating the character of Holden Caulfield.
Holden’s appropriation of the hat as compensation for his castration, then, conflates both ideas: the hat represents aggression and heroism, two traits implicit in his sense of manhood.
The timing of Holden’s hunting hat purchase is important.Indeed, Holden’s reinforcement of the aggression implicit in a hunting hat ("I shoot people in this hat") does seem to be counterbalanced by the tenderness when he eventually gives the hat to Phoebe ("She really likes those kinds of hats").Yet his tenderness is not selfless but instead is a result of his hero complex, his vision of himself as a catcher-savior.Holden is symbolically castrated early on in the novel as he is expelled from school ("I got the ax"), and again when he loses his fencing foils on the subway.As a result, Holden fetishizes his phallic replacement: the red hunting cap that will become his focus for the entirety of the novel.Symbolically castrated early in the novel as he is expelled from school (getting "the ax"), Holden becomes obsessed with his phallic replacement: his hunting cap.As exposed by his digressions, nervous habits, and fixations, Holden’s psychological state is one consumed by a loss, and his resulting actions are a reaction to that loss.To compensate for this castration anxiety, Holden develops a fetish for an object of clothing that represents his penis, his hunting hat.Holden’s obsession with this hat is clearly pivotal, yet the symbolic nature of the hat is controversial.Yet both Bryan and Strauch omit the psychological crisis that most informs Holden’s actions throughout the novel: his castration complex.The concept of the "castration complex," originally developed by Sigmund Freud as a literal fear of castration and later reinterpreted as a metaphoric sense or fear of loss by Jacques Lacan, clearly applies to Holden.