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The Catcher in the Rye is concerned with the theme of alienation faced by the individual in an ever-changing environment. Salinger portrays the world as a place where basic human values of affection and compassion are being replaced by a love of money and power, known by the middle class as "success". Holden is an idealist clinging to a world that no longer exists.
The Catcher in the Rye is a novel that exposes the loneliness and insanity inherent in modern day existence. Holden’s confusion is blamed on the demented world he inhabits. Salinger presents the pathetic condition of the world through the imagery of falling. The metaphor of the Fall is introduced by Holden when he talks about his vision of being a catcher in the rye, preventing innocence from falling over "some crazy cliff" into the reality of life. Ironically, Holden is unable to prevent his own fall, which looms large over him. Even Mr. Antolini warns him that he is heading for "a terrible, terrible fall .... a horrible kind", where he will not be permitted "to feel or hear himself hit bottom". Holden wants desperately to be caught, but there is no one around to catch him.
It is essential to note that after Holden falls, he is given help at the sanitarium and some glimmer of hope is seen for him. It is not clear, however, whether he will be able to leave his idealistic notions behind. At least he is preparing himself to go to a new school and start again. It is symbolically relevant that Holden’s fall occurs at the end of the year, during Christmas, and that the narrative leaves the reader with the possible hope of a new beginning, a fresh year for Holden Caulfield.
TECHNIQUE & STYLE
Salinger presents The Catcher in the Rye through a first person point of view; however, the narrator, Holden Caulfield, is not wholly reliable in his understanding and reporting of events. First he is a youth, a young boy of sixteen who does not have much experience in living. Second, he is extremely depressed during the four days he is on his own in New York, and his mood colors everything. Third, Holden tells his story through flashbacks, and memory is never perfect. Because of these things, the reader has to make some assumptions and perform some interpretation on the story.
As opposed to an omniscient narrator, Holden Caulfield is a naive narrator. He is still a teenager, an innocent child, as evidenced in the scene with the prostitute. As a result of his innocence, the reader and the people surrounding Holden often see and understand more than he does, creating many moments of dramatic irony. Since Holden is looking for himself, seeking a place to fit into life, he tells about things that happen to him, without any comprehension. Even when he has moments of truth, he is often unable to articulate his thoughts because of his youth and depression. As a result, Holden evokes a strong sense of pathos as he desperately searches for and misses the meaning of life.
Holden’s fumbling, halting speech adds authenticity to his character. Salinger presents him as a realistic teenager, given to digressions and obscenities typical of a boy his age. The swearing, however, is not employed by Salinger to show an attitude of daring, but to convey a deep-seated insecurity in his main character. Therefore, all of the language of the novel enhances thematic concerns as well as characterization. The result is that the reader fully understands Holden Caulfield and the trauma that he experiences.
Although The Catcher in the Rye is a depressing and gloomy book, there is also humor to be found in it. Much of the humor derives from the ridiculous situations that Holden finds himself in, especially when he interacts with strangers. Some of the lighter moments, however, border on ‘black humor’, a device often employed by writers to expose the absurdity of human existence. The perfect example of black humor is found in the men who were cursing as they unloaded the Christmas tree, even taking Christ’s name in vain. Holden recognizes the pathetic nature of the scene when he sarcastically says, "It certainly was a gorgeous way to talk about a Christmas tree." Such phrases and other special use of language add more humor to the story; and the reader is often forced to laugh at Holden’s frank, misguided, opinions.