878 Words (Times New Roman, size 12 double-spaced)
J.D. Salinger’s bildungsroman novel, ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ is narrated by Holden Caulfield, the 16 year old protagonist and is deeply confused, dissatisfied and a self-declared loner. The novel focuses on a two day period following Holden’s most recent expulsion, from Pencey Prep, and it tracks his actions in New York City. ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ is a frame story, in flashback form, as Holden addresses readers directly, from a sanatorium after an emotional crash, stemming from his struggle to meet traditional, family and class expectations. Through Holden’s movements, thoughts and interactions Salinger conveys characterisation, thus engaging readers effectively. The prominent theme of the novel is the ‘pain of growing up’ and learning to live in adult society as is, rather than living in a society Holden would prefer to. The pivotal moment is Holden’s ‘moral epiphany’ and the incorporation of this engages readers to the character of Holden Caulfield.
Salinger presents Holden as miserable, angry and dissatisfied, and he copes with these emotions by blaming exterior people and happenings and categorically labelling them ‘phony’. His judgemental character is seen, “If somebody knows a lot about the theatre, takes you quite a while to find out whether they’re really stupid or not.” This displays Holden’s detestation for people pretending to be what they are not, creating irony as Holden expends so much energy searching for phoniness in others; he is oblivious to his own, deceitful actions. Holden is a compulsive liar who drinks and smokes as he attempts to trick himself into believing he is an adult. Salinger created ‘phoniness’ as Holden’s catch-phrase for all superficial, hypocritical and pretentious aspects of the ‘corrupted’ world he loathes, which provides Holden the excuse withdraw into cynical isolation.
Moreover, Salinger’s characterisation of Holden’s self-alienation and loneliness provides explanation for his habit of labelling everything as ‘phony’ and explains his failure to connect intimately/sexually in human relations. Salinger demonstrates Holden’s attempts to lose his virginity as he craves human affection and companionship, but he fails to be intimate as he, ‘doesn’t understand sex.’ To Holden, physical and emotional relationships are complex, unpredictable and can change. Holden’s opposition for change is revealed at the Museum of Natural History: “In that museum everything stayed right where it was…Nobody’d be different. The only thing different would be you”. This shows Holden would prefer the world to be silent and frozen, predictable and unchanging and shows the contrast between Holden’s disillusioned, idealistic relationships compared to real life where people are impulsive and challenging. Holden feels excluded from and victimised by the world and generally ‘trapped on the other side of life’. Holden’s alienation is his defence mechanism and his way to distance himself from hurt. Holden’s alienation is the source of what little stability he has in life, however Salinger also presents it as the cause of much of his pain.
Holden resents and is frightened by the adult world, resisting entry to it, for fears of losing his sense of identity and becoming, ‘lost in the crowd’ in an inauthentic world. When asked by Phoebe (his younger sister and only true friend) his plan for life he replies, “…I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. I’d just be the catcher in the rye”. This reveals his ardent, fantasy childhood and his desire to be the protector of innocence. His cynical, oversimplified view of others is based around his belief children are guiltless and simple, while adults are insincere and duplicitous. Holden knows this dream is ‘crazy’ and it reflects his belief in purity and uncorrupted youth, showing the naivety of his mind. It alludes Holden