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Theme Of Isolation In Catcher In The Rye English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 980 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Jerome David Salinger was born in New York City in 1919. The son of a wealthy cheese importer, Salinger grew up in a fashionable neighborhood in Manhattan and spent his youth being shuttled between various prep schools. In 1951, Salinger published his only full-length novel, “The Catcher in the Rye”, which propelled him onto the national stage. The Catcher in the rye is a novel about its protagonist- Holden Caulfield, a rebellious, negative teenager who wants to prevent the loss of innocence in children.

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This novel is set in first-person narrative and it follows Holden’s experiences in New York City in the days following his expulsion from Pencey. Holden shares encounters he has had with students of Pencey as he would call, “phony.” After being expelled from the school, Holden packs up and leaves the school in the middle of the night after a fight with his roommate. He checks into a cheap hotel where he spends an evening dancing with three tourist girls and has a clumsy encounter with a prostitute; he refuses to do anything with her and tells her to leave, although he pays her for her time. She demands more money than was originally agreed upon and when Holden refuses to pay he receives a beating from her pimp.

Throughout the novel, Holden seems to be excluded and isolated from the world around him. As he says to Mr. Spencer, he feels trapped on “the other side” of life, and he continually attempts to find his way in a world in which he feels he doesn’t belong. He likes being the one that stands out and is unique standing in a crowd. “All morons hate it when you call them a moron” He is against most of the people in his life and believes that they are selfish and “morons”. He feels special by being different and as the novel progresses; we begin to perceive that Holden’s alienation is his way of protecting himself. One example could be the red hunting hat, which advertises his uniqueness and also gives him a feel of protection. The reason of this isolation seems to be his pains and troubles. He never addresses his own emotions directly, nor does he attempt to discover the source of his troubles. His loneliness forced him into his date with Sally Hayes, but his need for isolation causes him to insult her and drive her away. Similarly, he longs for the meaningful connection he once had with Jane Gallagher, but is too nervous to make any real effort to contact her. He depends upon his alienation, but it destroys him.

He believes that adulthood is a world of what he calls “phoniness” and superficiality whereas childhood is a world of innocence, curiosity and honesty. Although Holden spends so much energy searching for phoniness in others, he never observes his own flaws. His deceptions are generally pointless and cruel. Holden spends two days in the city mostly by being drunk and lonely. “I don’t even know what I was running for – I guess I just felt like it”. He is running away from himself and is not accepting reality. He enjoys being alone, trapped in his thoughts.

Eventually, he sneaks into his parents’ apartment while they are away, to visit his younger sister Phoebe, who is nearly the only person with whom he seems to be able to communicate with. Nothing better than his fantasy of being a “catcher in the rye” reveals his love for children and their innocence. He would simply love to walk about in rye fields watching little children play about. “That’s all I do all day.  I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.  I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.” He says he would like to protect the children from falling off the edge of the cliff by “catching” them if they were on the verge of tumbling over. He wants to preserve their innocence.

Relationships, intimacy, and sexuality are also recurring motifs relating to the larger theme of alienation. Both physical and emotional relationships offer Holden opportunity to break out of his isolated shell. “In my mind, I’m probably the biggest sex maniac you ever saw” Holden accepts that he is a heartless guy that does not find any true meaning in relationships. He tells us that all a guy wants from a girl is sex and that he is one of them. However, Holden proves his fear for change, potential, reality and complexity.

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Holden wants the world to be frozen and silent, predictable and unchanged. He doesn’t like complexities that have been formed in his life after his brother, Allie’s death. His death might even be a reason of this isolation. But Holden needs to face the reality that in the real world, people do talk back and they are unpredictable. They challenge Holden and force him to question his senses of self-confidence and self-worth.

Holden desperately continues searching for new relationships, always undoing himself only at the last moment. He runs away to hopefully find a meaning of his life. He wants to find an aim for himself. Holden as the narrator ends his story by watching Phoebe ride the carousel. He himself doesn’t ride it showing that he has accepted to grow up and mature. He has accepted the fact that he cannot always be different from others and has to mature like all the others are. He has realized that every kid has to grow and that he cannot prevent anyone to become an adult. He watches Phoebe happily sitting in the rain admiring her innocence, as she might not have it tomorrow. “All the kids kept trying to grab for the gold ring, and so was old Phoebe . . . but I didn’t say anything . . . if they want to grab the gold ring, you have to let them do it . . . If they fall off, they fall off.”


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