J.D Salinger ‘Catcher in the Rye theme

J.D Salinger gives his personal vision of the world successfully through his persona Holden Caulfield in the ‘Catcher in the Rye’.  Caulfield struggles with the background of New York to portray Salinger’s theme – you must live the world as it is, not as you would like it to be.  There by exposing Salinger’s vision on the world.

Salinger went through many of the experiences Holden went though.  Salinger much like Holden had a sister that he loved very much, in the novel Phoebe is the only person that Holden speaks highly of; both men also spent time in a mental institution; Holden is telling the story from inside a institution; they were both kicked out of prep school and most importantly they were both a recluse from society.  This is why Salinger uses Holden as his persona all though out the book.  The ‘catcher in they Rye’ is almost like an autobiography for Salinger. He is using Holden as his persona to let us, the reader, dive into his thought pattern and find out some of the thoughts that he kept locked up in there.

Salinger’s view of the world is lived out thought Holden – his persona. The novel is Holden’s steam of conscience as he is talking to a psychoanalyst “what would an psychoanalyst do…gets you to talk…for one thing he’d help you to recognise the patterns of your mind”. At the start of the novel it is addressed directly to us “if you really want to hear about it”. This gives us a sense of reality as though it is us that is the psychiatrist. We see the random thought patterns of Holden’s mind as he starts to feel more comfortable, Holden goes off on to many different tangents while he is talking. Salinger is using Holden as a type of easy way out to confess his view of the world.

This view is portrayed though two main aspects of the novel.  Firstly theme – you must live in a world as it is, not as you would like it to be.  Holden can’t seem to accept the world as it is and finds New York extremely “phoney”.  Holden has a great disliking for the movies, he finds them the phoniest of them all “I hate the movies like poison” and he cant believe that people actually make time to go to the there.  But actually Holden is the biggest phoney of them all.  He does everything he says about other phoneys.  Holden’s removal from the past schools he has enrolled in, the last one being Pency Prep suggests that he has unsuitable attitudes.  He extremely immature in the way that he talks “I’ve got a flit for you” this is what he says as he insults Luce in the bar.  He has met him even though he doesn’t like him that much, Holden insults him and sees that this ‘toilet humour’ is inappropriate but can seem to stop himself.  When Luce gets up to leave him he gives one last cry “Please I’m lonesome as hell”.  It’s the lack of love that Holden has that makes him so rejected from society.  It’s the lack of love that Salinger shows in the novel.

Holden spends three days in New York, in search of love. This is the second aspect – setting.  It is in this background of New York that we see a vast amount of people that Holden comes into contact with. Many different people from the old to the young (Mr Spencer and phoebe), to the ordinary and the bizarre (nuns and Horowitz) but even with this wide array of people Holden cannot find that love he is deprived of from his parents.  When Holden was younger his brother that he was very close to, Allie died.  Each member of the family didn’t know how to take this and all took the pain different ways.  Holden lashed out and broke all the windows in his garage and his mum and dad tried to put it to the back of their minds by working more.  Holden’s parents not knowing how to handle him sent him off too many different private schools but Holden continued to fail at each one.  It is this love that he is deprived from his parents that he tries to find in those three days in New York.


We could almost see New York as a character in the novel, with all of the museums, schools (Phoebe’s school and Pency), parks (Central Park), theatres bars and night clubs (Ernie’s).  It makes it become more realistic for us as the reader and lets us relate to it more.

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