Sunday, November 20, 2011

Literary Analysis: The Catcher in the Rye

1.     The Catcher in the Rye starts off in the present day with Holden Caulfield explaining his state of being.  He’s in a psychiatric hospital at the moment, but doesn’t give any information or reasons on how he ended up there.  The rest of the book is Holden narrating the events that led up to the mental hospital scene.  He starts off by telling us the school he was enrolled in and how he hated it there.  To him it was just another prep school that his parents shipped him off to so they wouldn’t have to deal with his troublesome ways.  Holden is a bright boy, but doesn’t have the ambition or desire to excel in his studies.  Due to parent's nonexistent feelings for him, he receives failing marks in almost all of his classes.  Holden knows he is going to be expelled (once again) for this and so he decides to take an earlier winter vacation in New York City.  He takes all his belongings and hits the town.  He jumps from place to place, but depression seems to follow him everywhere he goes.  You can see that he wants to have a good time, he wants to forget, but everything just seems to be gloomy no matter where or what he does.  Various events such as hiring a prostitute, talking with an old classmate he hates, and seeing his younger sister still aren’t enough for Holden to feel like he has any sort of place in this world.  Throughout the entire novel, Holden ask questions about everything that vary from serious issues such as his life and why he exist, to childish curiosity ones such as where the ducks go in the winter.  He eventually falls ill from walking around the below freezing temperature of the city.  This then takes us back to when Holden is talking about his current situation in the mental facility.
2.     The theme Salinger was trying to convey was that isolation/alienation can truly drive a person insane.  Holden was shunned everywhere he went by everyone he met, and while some of it was due to his cynical bluntness, his family, the very people you expect to love and cherish you, weren’t there for him.  Due to this, he built a wall around him where his defense is to hyper-criticize the people around him and no one wants to be around that.  Hence his loneliness and his inability to form relationships with anyone.
3.     The tone of the novel was cynical and pessimistic.  Holden sees life as “the glass half empty” and so his words and action reflect such attitude.
·         Take most people, they're crazy about cars. They worry if they get a little scratch on them, and they're always talking about how many miles they get to a gallon, and if they get a brand-new car already they start thinking about trading it in for one that's even newer. I don't even like old cars. I mean they don't even interest me. I'd rather have a goddam horse. A horse is at least human, for God's sake.
·         Anyway, I'm sort of glad they've got the atomic bomb invented. If there's ever another war, I'm going to sit right the hell on top of it. I'll volunteer for it, I swear to God I will.
·         Boy, when you're dead, they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you're dead? Nobody.
4.       Symbolism – Salinger uses many symbols that represent things to Holden.  The red hunting cap was Holden security blanket whenever he felt uncomfortable; it was the only things in his life that stayed the same.

Foreshadowing – From the start, we know that he was institutionalized in a mental hospital; this leads a hand into what events will play out. 

Syntax – Salinger uses pretty easy, colloquial language.  The text is mostly about Holden’s inner thoughts and his opinions about things.  It’s descriptive without being difficult to understand.

Descriptive paragraphs – The way Salinger explains the events that unfold in front of Holden are done in such a vivid way.   You can actually imagine yourself in the taxi with Holden when he is having a conversation with the cab driver.

Metaphors – The title of the book is a metaphor of Holden’s life.  He explains in one of the last chapters why he feels like he is a catcher in the rye and how this has brought about a sense of purpose to him.

·         Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around - nobody big, I mean - except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. 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.
·         This fall I think you're riding for - it's a special kind of fall, a horrible kind. The man falling isn't permitted to feel or hear himself hit bottom. He just keeps falling and falling. The whole arrangement's designed for men who, at some time or other in their lives, were looking for something their own environment couldn't supply them with. Or they thought their own environment couldn't supply them with. So they gave up looking. They gave it up before they ever really even got started.
·         Among other things, you'll find that you're not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You're by no means alone on that score, you'll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You'll learn from them - if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It's a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn't education.  It's history.  It's poetry.


  1. Do you think that Holden wore the red hunting cap because he didn't know how to fit in with others or because he thought he was above everyone else?

  2. You had great examples to show the tone! It gave me a very clear picture of Holden's attitude.