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An Analysis of J.D. Salinger's 'The Catcher in the Rye'

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Literature
Wordcount: 1461 words Published: 21st Sep 2021

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“The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger is known to be one of the greatest and most controversial novels ever written.  Throughout the novel, Holden Caulfield’s negativity stops him from trying to fit in society, because he is too narrow minded to the world around him. By the end of the novel he learns to take charge of his life and to accept others too.

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From the beginning of the novel the reader sees Holden isolating himself from the remainder of the school by sitting on the rivals’ side of the school. This is very representative because in each circumstance that Holden experiences, he will do the contrary of the society’s expectations. “The whole school except for [Holden] was there” (Salinger 5) and therefore the reader is introduced to Holden’s estrangement and negative attitude towards the world.

His early interactions with the reader give the impression that he is disappointed with his past and believes that he will have a drab future. He says to Mr. Spencer in their meeting that he feels “some concern for [his] future… but not too much” (Salinger 20). In spite of approaching adulthood, he has similar perspectives on the future with that of a child who simply has a hint of what they may accomplish later on. This demeanor prevents Holden from planning for the future and address his issues in a way a grown-up would. Holden just has a slight view of the world around him and can’t appear to acknowledge any piece of reality aside from what exists in his very own little world. He has a ton of indignation harbored in his life that originates from family issues. This pessimism keeps him from participating in any social exercises with anybody.

Holden sits alone, works alone, and can’t stand it when Ackley is even in the room. This negativity and model of “phonies” keeps Holden from stepping into the real world and taking responsibilities for his actions. He claims that everyone is a phony, and he doesn’t want to accept their lifestyle. One specific expression of Holden’s view on others is when he talks about how Jane plays checkers and “how that kind of stuff doesn’t interest most people”. This shows that Holden is isolated from the rest of the world early in the novel and sets the stage for his character development. Stradlater even tells him that he always seems to “do everything backasswards” (Salinger 53). This attitude of isolation sets Holden apart from the rest of the world that he views as “phonies.” This view is essentially what sends Holden on his search and eventually changes his attitude after his adventures. He decides that he has had enough of Pencey and the phonies, and he leaves for New York to take on the world in what he believed would be a vacation. As the reader discovers in the beginning of the book, the source of Holden’s negativity lies in him and his inability to acknowledge others and societal standards, and this will stop him from escaping his troubles and confusion as he travels through New York City.

Holden enters New York with a profound and engrained negativity and seclusion with respect to common and societal issues. This demonstrates to be a noteworthy impediment for him on a considerable lot of his undertakings in the big city and will eventually make him change his attitude toward the world. The first thing that Holden notices about the Hotel is that “[it] was lousy with perverts” (Salinger 81). He immediately takes the negative stance on a situation and this prevents him from taking advantage of the situation and developing as a person. This attitude is what almost drives Holden to the grave. As his adventures in New York continue he pushes people further and further away in the idea that they are all phonies and Holden is the only one that’s correct.

This thought is flawed, and that is one of the key messages that Salinger wants the reader to comprehend. This negativity is constantly driving others away just like Sally Hayes when he asks her to run off with him. Even Holden mentions that in the middle of their conversation, he “was beginning to hate her” (Salinger 172). Salinger discourages this behavior through Holden by demonstrating that this behavior doesn’t even permit Holden to achieve the easiest of tasks. He isn’t even capable of having sex with the prostitute he had already paid for because he just wanted to talk, regardless of his insinuations of being a sex maniac.

Through everything that happens in New York, Holden is slowly becoming a realistic man. His emotional and physical breakdown seem to agree as Holden realizes that he is no longer a child and accept the world of “phony” adults or die.

Mr. Antolini is one of the most important characters in Holden’s journey, and truly has one of the most important influences in Holden’s change. As Holden’s time alone is coming to an end, he is becoming very ill and emotionally drained. His negativity has led him to the edge, and it is this changes that Holden is forced to admit that will eventually bring Holden back. Holden doesn’t want to let go of his love for kids and his opinions that adults are the enemy, even while going through a breakdown. In his weakened state, he walks through Phoebe’s school and removes the curse words from the walls for fear that the adults will corrupt the young.

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Holden has thrown everything he has against the world, but with no success, society has continued while Holden is at the brink of an emotional, spiritual, and physical breakdown. At this point in the novel, Holden is ready to die for what he believes in, but Holden’s hero Mr. Antolini arrives to offer him a great piece of advice in a way that makes Holden feel like an adult.

Antolini tells Holden “Something else an academic education will do for you. If you go along with it any considerable distance, it’ll begin to give you an idea what size mind you have. What it’ll fit and, maybe, what it won’t. After a while, you’ll have an idea what kind of thoughts your particular size mind should be wearing. For one thing, it may save you an extraordinary amount of time trying on ideas that don’t suit you, aren’t becoming to you. You’ll begin to know your true measurements and dress your mind accordingly.” (Salinger 245) although Holden doesn’t take this into consideration right away it but eventually it shapes Holden into a different character that does not take a gander at the world with a shroud of pessimism, and a two-sided direction to each issue, but as a grown-up with an open mind that understands responsibilities, problems and people.

Holden set out on his adventure as a pessimist, and gradually matured and picked up knowledge about this odd world we live in. His negativity held him back for most of the story but as it carries on and Holden recovers, he basically becomes a new person after adventuring though what is considered to be very traumatic experiences. Holden learns that negativity or judgment of “phonies” is childlike behavior, and that true maturity relies with accepting change. This is the change and knowledge that he takes from his confusing journey.

Work Cited

  • Aiman.A. “Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger – Review.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 21 June 2012, www.theguardian.com/books/2012/jun/21/review-salinger-catcher-rye.
  • Burger, Nash K. “Books of the Times.” The New York Times, The New York Times, archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/98/09/13/specials/salinger-rye02.html?module=inline.
  • Costello, Donald P. “The Language of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’.” American Speech, 1 Oct. 1959, www.jstor.org/stable/454038?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents.
  • Lohnes, Kate. “The Catcher in the Rye.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 26 July 2018, www.britannica.com/topic/The-Catcher-in-the-Rye.
  • Salinger, J.D. “The Catcher in the Rye” Little, Brown and Company, 1951
  • Seng, Peter J. “The Fallen Idol: The Immature World of Holden Caulfield.” Studylib.net, studylib.net/doc/14298311/the-fallen-idol–the-immature-world-of-holden-caulfield.
  • “100 Years of JD Salinger: The World’s Most Famous Literary Hermit.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 1 Jan. 2019, www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/jd-salinger-life-catcher-in-rye-books-anniversary-franny-zooey-raise-high-roof-beam-john-lennon-a8699026.html.


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