Essay, Research Paper: Catcher In The Rye Themes

Literature: Catcher in The Rye

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One of the many fascinating themes in the novel, “The Catcher in the Rye,”
brings us face to face with a jarring assault not unlike road rage on modern
society and serves as a wake up call to each succeeding generation of its
readers. J.D. Salinger, speaking through the protagonist Holden Caulfield,
exposes the bogus standards and false values and the insensitive, sham
relationships we face in our pretentious modern society. Alone, Holden stands
tall against those counterfeit standards and the flagrant hypocrisy that
surrounds us in the most casual and innocuous of life’s endeavors—a simple
conversation, and all from a quixotic yet desultory view of society. It is
almost ironic that we learn this from the first person point of view. Salinger
popularized the interior monologue in this novel. This approach helps us to
understand Holden, observing a society he cannot accept, forever the outsider
desperately clinging to the garish, ostentatious red hunting cap that is
emblematic of a childish security blanket or a badge of honor. What is a phony?
Webster’s Collegiate defines it as someone or something that is fraudulent or
spurious. When Holden uses the word “corny,” he means fake or artificial, as
in a false character or appearance. Holden sincerely believes that society in
general claims an appearance of importance not justified by the thing’s value
or the person’s standing. Holden seems obsessed with the concept since he uses
it on pages 52, 77, 84, 86, 100, 142, 151, 172, and 205. In Chapter One, Holden
describes Pencey’s ad campaign as “strictly for the birds.” He tells
Spencer that he was “surrounded by phonies” in an earlier prep school. Even
the headmaster discriminated against “funny-looking parents” on visiting
day. Holden labels teachers and administrators phonies because they are less
than perfect. He even dismisses his brother, D. B. as a phony for selling out to
“Hollywood”. He criticizes the disciples for being human, yet he is the
atheist. In Chapter Three, Holden continues his view of phoniness in the
business world when he talks about the dorm named for Ossenburger. Most of the
novelthen focuses on earnest but futile attempts by Holden for a close encounter
of the third kind or to reach out and touch someone. One wonders whether Holden
would have availed himself of 911 or help hotlines that were not in vogue then.
But then telephony is not his strong suit, what with only 3 phone numbers in his
address book. Unfortunately, these cacophonous dialogues end in hostility. He
seems to self-destruct in his mission impossible chats with Ackley, Stradlater,
the 3 women, Sally Hayes, and Carl Luce. Comedienne Joan Rivers could have
stolen the line, “Can we talk?” from Holden. Others like Lillian Simmons,
Ernie the piano player, the people in magazine stories, and even the ministers
in all his prep schools are putting on airs, a façade, a persona. This failure
to communicate is mostly his fault, though. It’s almost as if he lashes out at
himself in a self-flagellating ritual. Whether Holden’s society fails him at
home, in school, in religion, or in extraordinary interactions with ordinary
people, the fear of a “phony” imperfect and inconstant society, in the end,
overwhelms Holden. Is he justified? In Holden’s mind, indubitably. Will he
“apply” himself or revert to shadow boxing with his nemesis once he leaves
the rest home? Only J. D. knows the answer to that question, and he absconded to
the “woods” and isn’t talking. But Holden does leave us with a few context
clues, if you know how to read between the lines, that lead one to believe that
he sees the light at the end of his tunnel vision.
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