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When you're talking about a novel that says something significant about how people live, it's a mistake to use a sentence that begins, "The theme of this novel is..." A good novel doesn't have only one theme. Good novels are about many things and have several themes.
The Catcher in the Rye is no exception. It can be read in several different ways, and every reading can be rewarding. You might get one message from your first reading and an entirely different message from a second reading five or ten years from now.
Here are some statements that have been made about the novel. Think about them as you read. After you've finished, decide how accurate you think each of them is in capturing the essence of the book. -
1. It is a novel about a disturbed teenager. Holden can't cope with people, with school, or with everyday problems that people his age must face. He avoids reality by living a fantasy life, and every forced contact with reality drives him deeper into himself. According to this analysis, he is anything but a typical teenager, and he certainly isn't a good role model for young people.
2. It is about a teenager who refuses to grow up. He has a fixation on childhood, which shows itself in his glorifying of children, his inordinate admiration of his younger sister, his idealization of his dead younger brother, and the joy he gets from reminiscing about his own childhood. He brings on his illness so he won't have to face his approaching adulthood.
3. It is a comment on the insensitivity of modern society. Holden is a hero who stands against the false standards and hypocrisy that almost all others accept. As much as he would like to accept the world and be comfortable like almost everyone else, he can't pretend that his society is worthwhile.
4. It is a comic novel about the way the adult world appears to an intelligent literate teenager. Holden subjects everyone he meets to a probing examination; and almost everyone fails. His comments are more about human nature in general than about individual people, which helps explain why the book remains popular.
5. It is about a boy who struggles to remain faithful to what he sees as the truth. His version of truth, however, is very subjective, and not necessarily correct. In his mind even good or beautiful things can be tainted because of the true motives of their creators.