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The Catcher in the Rye

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Analysis of the Plot

The book takes the form of narration through all its episodes. It focuses on the main character’s escapades. The book is a Picaresque fiction which uses the first person and revolves around one individual, his character and life events. The most pronounced theme in the book is loneliness and isolation and the main character is Holden Caulfield. He is not an adventurous character as is often presented in Picaresque narrations. The author does not bring any dramatic changes in the book as Holden maintains a lonely personality throughout the book. He is admitted in a sanitarium where he proceeds with his journey in understanding himself and assessing the reason of his depression. The notable change in Holden, while he is at the sanitarium, is a change in his self-view and attitude; he can notice when he does wrong deeds. He remembers being nasty towards Sally and admits to himself that that was not what he should have said. In the book, Holden is both the narrator and the hero.

The events in New York unfold in a span of four days, and all the action revolves around Holden; he reflects upon his life and narrates about it. The reflection takes place in California, where Holden retreated to after he psychological brake down the previous December. Holden’s narration involves flashbacks from his past and ideas on the reasons of his break down; thus, he tells the story in retrospect, all centered on the cause of his depression. The book's chapters are arranged in a format that allows the reader to get in touch with the character himself and to understand his story. The book begins with introducing Holden and the problems that affect his life; then, the following chapters take the reader to Holden’s misfortunes that caused his depression. There are different episodes representing the misadventures in his life, and each of them has its climax that culminates in Holden’s isolation and loneliness in life. The book has twenty-six chapters. The first chapter introduces Holden; the body is made up of twenty-four chapters and the last one is the conclusion.

The book is authored in a realistic manner. While in New York, the character is depicted as a metaphor in the industrial world that lacks a sense of emotion. The book focuses on the disconnection of Holden from other human beings; for this reason, it is seen to be satiric. Holden does not reconnect with the human race all through the narration up to the end of the book; on the contrary, he remains homeless and devoid of love. He gets committed to an asylum where he gets treatment for his depression, which the doctors prefer to refer to as a rest cure. The reader is left pitiful about Holden’s condition and the unfairness of life. Holden is the hero in the book, but he does not reach his heroic moment. Every episode in the book commits him to more sorrows and rejection.

Analysis of the Main Character

Holden Caulfield is both the main character and narrator of his life story. He takes the character of a young, lonely and impulsive person. Holden is a social misfit who keeps to himself and does not make any effort in connecting with anyone; all he sets out to do fails. His parents always quarreled with him at home; furthermore, he dropped out of school after getting expelled, and his work is a mess. He refuses to work and does not have a close associate, hence, the best remedy for him is to keep to himself since nobody accepts or understands him. Starting from the atmosphere at home, Holden feels alienated and does not feel the family love and bonding. He grows from an angry, frustrated and dissatisfied boy, into a young, lonely and depressed man. He blames the world for his misfortune; everyone is an enemy to him. He judges the world and people as phony, and there is not a helpful person out there but himself. Holden longs to get in touch with someone, to feel loved and at home, but nobody understands him. According to him, the world is phony, insensitive and responsible for his isolation.

Holden gets to New York after running away from Pencey Prep School (Salinger 34). He keeps to himself in the city and gets more difficulties than those he faced while at home. On one occasion, he picks up a twilight girl and is unable to perform. He receives a thorough beating from a pimp and receives ridicule from Sally, his partner for the night. His stay in New York is rough and full of rejection from people there. Holden returns home to meet Phoebe, the only person he feels could make a difference in his sad life. Phoebe is the one person, who takes time to listen to Holden, but the connection was still not present.

Holden realizes that he will never reach his goal; thus, he gives up hope of ever fitting in society. He has failed miserably on previous occasions to reach a human connection, and as a result, Holden retreats to his lone self and accepts that he is on his own. Holden is a teenager, yet he lacks friends and social life. Salinger portrays Holden as a sensitive teenager who loves his sister and misses his dead brother. Holden keeps his late brother’s baseball mitt, a sign that he is a loving person who has been rejected by the world. He does not subscribe to any religious beliefs, but he cares about the poor, the underdogs and those who are suffering in life. He makes an effort to pray, even though he views himself s an atheist. At the same time, he is a generous young man who gives donations of ten dollars to nuns and later feels bad that he gave them too little. There are reasonable ideas in his head.

Holden cares about the children in New York and the obscenities they see on the walls of streets. While in New York, Holden single-handedly decided to eradicate the graffiti on walls in New York streets. Holden's idea was to do away with anything that will harm children. He declares that he intends to be the “catcher in the rye”, shielding children from the world of phoniness and miseries. Phoebe is the only one who can question Holden. She is sad that Holden views the world unrealistically: he does not take into consideration the requirements of taking down all the graffiti on the streets; his lone character makes him forget that he cannot do such a thing single-handedly. On the other hand, however, Salinger succeeds in showing the sensitive side of Holden.

Holden is viewed as a weakling, easily harassed and beaten up by people like Maurice and Stradlater who beat him and laugh at the way he cries while laying on the floor (Salinger, p 40). Holden is a failure: he is a coward who cannot face life’s challenges or the people who push him over the cliff. He is insecure about expressing how he feels, for example, he was unable to call Jane Gallagher to talk because he was afraid that somebody else could pick up the phone (Salinger, p 50). As the main character in the book, Holden is not a hero. His role can best be described as that of an anti-hero, His actions show only weakness and separation in life.

He gets to the point of depression since he can no longer face all the challenges of life. The author sends a message that life is not easy for loners. Holden disappoints his family, his teachers and Phoebe. Salinger gives the readers something to be angry with Holden and something to pity him about. The vulnerable nature of Holden is a pity point, while the fact that he cannot stay in school nor make friends induces the feelings of anger and disappointment from the readers towards the character. Most authors choose a hero for their main character. The picture that Salinger paints of Holden is pathetic; it is a picture of a teenage boy who does not attract an audience to be like him. His life is misdirected and a failure.

Analysis of the Themes

Salinger‘s intention for writing a novel was to handle the evident theme of alienation. The main character is a lonely teenager who faces many challenges based on his lifestyle that involves rejecting the world on grounds of being insensitive and phony. The environment in the book is a series of events, from Holden’s family, his school life, his life in New York to his life in California and the asylum. Salinger aims at showing the change in society. The world is slowly replacing the values of love, compassion and family with love for commercial success, power and money. These aspects of the new World order are what the rich and middle class are referring to as being successful. Salinger uses Holden as pawn to deliver information on the need for affection and humanly contact. Holden is the perfect picture of the deserted human values of togetherness and compassion. He chooses to live in a world that does not exist to present-day humans. Salinger chooses to use New York in the setting of the novel’s plot since it provides a clear image of a commercial city that has little touch with human emotion.

The Catcher in the Rye is a narration that shows the insanity and loneliness that is inherent in present-day modernization. Holden’s state of mind can only be blamed on the crazy world he finds himself placed in. Salinger exposes the wretched form of the new modern world in the course of the narration and the imagery of the book. Holden introduces the metaphor of a fall; he views himself as having fallen into the insane world which devours him every day he wakes up. Holden reveals to Phoebe that he would love to be a catcher in the rye, taking care of young children and protecting them from the fall, which is a metaphor for difficulties in the unfriendly world. Holden views the reality of the world as a cliff that he should stop young children from falling from. The irony that Salinger brings out in the story is that Holden intends to dedicate his life to protecting children from making the fall into the crazy world, yet he has not been successful in keeping himself from falling. At home and school, Holden is a bad child and student. His teacher, Mr. Antolini, also propagates the metaphor of the fall. He warns Holden of a big fall ahead if he does not refrain from being an impossible student to fitting in the real world. His teacher tells him to change his attitude towards his life, as this is the only way to change his fate. Holden does not understand the warning by Mr. Antolini since according to him, the world was at fault (Salinger, p 56). Holden knows that, unlike the children he wants to protect from the fall, he has already tripped over life’s cliff. He feels the desperate need to get caught by someone who would understand, love and care for him, but this does not happen. He remains at the bottom of the cliff even at the end of the book.

The fall is evident when Holden breaks down and is admitted at a sanitarium. This part of the book creates hope for Holden, and the public is left hoping that his condition will improve. The drama in the book is seen when the characters are left to fill in the gaps by putting their own ideas in the happenings of the book. With Holden’s nature of clinging to the unrealistic world, the public cannot be sure that the help he will get at the sanitarium will solve his situation. Holden is admitted at the sanitarium just before he accepts to go to a new school. He is ready to start his educational life anew. The fall happens in December, at the end of the year. The timing for the fall is symbolic. It could be a new beginning for Holden; the starting year could prove to be the year of transformation. The reader is left wondering whether the following year will bear fresh fruits for Holden.

Salinger presents the book in the first person. Holden Caulfield is the narrator, and he is not entirely consistent in his narration. The events are not coherent as he moves from different timelines in his life. He begins the narration while he is a sixteen-year-old boy with no experience about life. Holden explains of the dark days he experiences in New York, where he is roughed up by the world for four days. The depression gets worse during those four days he stays alone in New York. Holden changes his narration from the direct life and uses flashbacks to tell of what happened. Some of his memories are vague and are presented as inconsistent ideas of his misfortunes. The narration leaves the readers speculating, and most of the time filling in ideas, on what they think Holden could have intended to narrate about his experiences. Holden is naive at everything he does. The narration he makes of his life also shows his naivety. He is a young boy who takes life head on, but is not prepared to face it. The embarrassing incident with a prostitute proves his innocence. The public understands the story he gives in a different view as compared to how Holden understands the story. The reader gets that Holden misses out on the meaning of his life. He is disoriented and does not understand most of the things that happen in his life. The problem is with his acceptance of the world and the things that happen to him. He is rigid to change, and this complicates his lonely life.

Salinger presents his main character as a typical teenager. The break in the flow of his speech and the use of curse words are Salinger’s way of showing the character of a boy in the book. In such a way, the author also shows Holden’s insecurities. He has an obscene way of talking about the things he does not like. The prostitute experience causes him to refer to Sally in vulgar words, which he regrets later when he reflects upon these words at the sanitarium. The language is an indicator of the teenage feel intended for the story by Salinger. The language use in the book is intended to build the characters and the theme of immaturity and insecurity that revolves around Holden. The sensitive language brings out the trauma that Holden goes through in life. The curse words are an expression of negativity that Holden harbors towards the world. Despite "The Catcher in the Rye" is a dull and sad book, there is some humor embedded in the plot. The humor surrounds the bizarre experiences that Holden goes through when he interacts with people. The main character is frank in his expressions, and his naïve expression of reality is intended to get the reader entertained. There is humor in the fact that Holden is a virgin, and he spends most of the time looking for someone to help him loose his virginity.

Conclusion

Salinger’s book is a model of the different turn that society has taken. Society has moved from the human values that have held it together, to idolizing money and power as the success in life. The book uses one character to bring out the themes of loneliness and alienation. Holden makes the narration and gives a feeling of reality to the readers when he uses colloquial language to describe experiences he goes through. The book does not get boring, even with the use of a single character as the narrator and plot developer. The character manages to capture the attention of the reader through the application of flashbacks. The narration keeps the reader eager to learn of Holden’s experiences and whether he succeeds in finding himself. It is unfortunate that the book ends on a sad note. Holden is neither able to find a home, nor is he able to build his life. He ends up committed to an asylum after making a fall of life’s cliff. Holden does not make it in becoming the children’s catcher in the rye.

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