The Catcher in the Rye creates an existentialist out of Holden Caulfield by giving him a strong personal opinion, a different sense of view, and isolation. Holden’s individuality and his different way of thinking creates within him an Existentialist that refuses to accept weakness but holds sympathy for the weak and vulnerable. The basis for these beliefs lies within the most commonly identifiable theme of existentialism, which states that the philosophy stresses the concrete individual existence along with the individual freedom and choice. It also stands on the idea of moral individualism, in which one must choose his own way without the aid of universal, objective standards. His views also coincide with those of many famous people who have shared the same ideas, including Pascal, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche. The Catcher in the Rye demonstrates existentialism by having the main character, Holden Caulfield, isolate himself from a world full of "phonies," and maintaining individuality.
With such views in mind, Holden begins alone in the story, and he stays as such throughout the entire story. He establishes concrete individual existence as he abandons school and goes to live in New York by himself. He understands that life must not be lived as a game, although he agrees with Mr. Spencer in order not to sound inferior to him. A Danish philosopher and existentialist, Soren Kierkegaard, once wrote, "I must find a truth that is true for me… the idea for which I can live or die." Holden stays true to this statement as he leads a life, not as a phony, but as himself, leading a solitary life in order to stand up for what he believes in, even if he stands alone. Holden seeks the truth that, when the ultimate motive becomes uncovered, remains to be free of corruption. Even the good things in life, the good and honest acts, can be contaminated due to the wrong motive.
Holden’s motives pertain to those of Pascal, a 17th-Century French philosopher, who saw the human self as sort of a contradiction. Although Holden felt a need to isolate himself, he also had a need to love. He began to miss the people he knew, and this willingness to congregate with people contradicts his desire to stay apart. Kierkegaard believed that the individual must defy the norms of society for the sake of higher authority of a personally valid way of life. Holden defied the "phony" style of life, understanding the bigger, yet more lonely and depressing, side of life as preferable to him. Nietzsche focused on the pessimistic individual that opposes itself to the moral conformity of the majority. The constant criticism of Holden identifies him as pessimistic, and he certainly deviates from the conformity of the majority by neglecting all their views and living by himself by his own standards. Heidegger believed that each individual must choose a path they must follow with passionate conviction, being aware of the meaninglessness of life. This pessimistic view ties in with Nietzsche, and Holden follows his path by living his solitary life, refusing to mingle with the "phonies." All of these philosophers, including Sartre, who believed in human freedom, choice, and responsibility, emphasize the point of view that Holden held throughout his story.
Caulfield’s lifestyle reflects existentialism because he chose to live as an individual and to suffer rather than join the party of mindless "phonies." Although the costs are high, perhaps the ability to resist becoming a phony and finding the inner strength to choose one’s own lifestyle symbolizes the greatest strength a person could have, even though he may be marked a pessimist.