The hat replaces the foils and somewhat restores his castrated self.
The loss of the foils is countered by the gain of the hat; as such, his masculine potency is at least partially restored.
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).
They give guys the ax quite frequently at Pencey." The ax, a phallic symbol in itself, also signifies the act of cutting, and the anxiety initiated by that action would undoubtedly be linked to a fear of castration, the cutting of the all-important genitalia.
This castration is reenacted as Holden relates that he lost the team’s fencing foils on the subway.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.Interestingly, while the reader is interpreting Holden’s speech for psychological information, Holden himself is interpreting the speech of those around him.When discussing his Oral Expression class, Holden notes with disgust his teacher’s strategy to keep students on task by yelling "digression" whenever a student strayed from the main point: "The trouble with me is, I interest you most." By following his line of reasoning, the reader must unravel Holden’s own digressions and obsessions in order to determine their significance.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 buys the hat immediately after he has lost the fencing foils: "It was this red hunting hat, with one of those very, very long peaks.I saw it in the window of this sports store when we got out of the subway, just after I noticed I’d lost all the goddam foils." Interestingly, Freud performed a dream analysis involving a hat with a similar appearance, and he immediately associated the symbol as phallic: "No doubt the hat was a male genital organ, with its middle-piece sticking up and its two side-pieces hanging down" ( 361).