Holden Caulfield is lazy. He is stubborn. He is immature. He is unfocused. He is untruthful. He is dangerously short-sighted and he is lost in his own world or unrealistic expectations. My teenage self totally relates to all this.
Despite the book being written “in Holden’s own words”, as a reader I know he is lying in all those pages. His surface response to a situation was hiding a much deeper, emotional response. He is desperately lonely (he even goes so far as ask his cab drivers to join him for a drink). He is extremely sensitive and longs for an emotional (rather than just a physical) commitment (he mentions several times his need to “be in love” in order to be physical and his experience with the prostitute certainly bears this out). Despite being unable to process it correctly, he is full of compassion and has a deep capacity for love, which he shows most notably for his sister.
Taking all of the good and the bad together, I was left with the feeling that Holden is an adolescent on the cusp of adulthood who is afraid of the loss of his childhood and the responsibility and commitment that he sees as required to make it in the “adult” world. He is compassionate, intelligent and deeply emotional and yet is unable (or unwilling) to focus that energy on those steps that he sees as leading him away from his “happy memories of childhood” and closer to the “scary world of the adult.”
Basically, he is like Peter Pan. He doesn’t want to grow up! He rather wants to protect others from losing the innocence of childhood.