The Catcher in the Rye is set around the 1950s and is narrated by a young man named Holden Caulfield. Holden is not specific about his location while he’s telling the story, but he makes it clear that he is undergoing treatment in a mental hospital or sanatorium. The events he narrates take place in the few days between the end of the fall school term and Christmas, when Holden is sixteen years old.
Alienation as a Form of Self-Protection: Throughout the novel, Holden seems to be excluded from and victimized by the world around him. He continually attempts to find his way in a world in which he feels he doesn’t belong. As the novel progresses, we begin to perceive that Holden’s alienation is his way of protecting himself. He uses his isolation as proof that he is better than everyone else around him and therefore above interacting with them. The truth is that interactions with other people usually confuse and overwhelm him, and his cynical sense of superiority serves as a type of self-protection.
Holden’s alienation is the cause of most of his pain. He never addresses his own emotions directly, nor does he attempt to discover the source of his troubles. He desperately needs human contact and love, but his protective wall of bitterness prevents him from looking for such interaction. Alienation is both the source of Holden’s strength and the source of his problems.
Belonging to the School Community/ a group The school community’s collective allegiance to the football team enables them to belong to each other: “Anyway it was the Saturday of the football game with Saxon Hall…It was the last game of the year and you were supposed to commit suicide or something if old Pencey didn’t win”. Pg. 2 (Pencey Prep is a school the main character, Holden went to)
The use of the verb, ‘supposed’, demonstrates the expectations of the community. The high modality of the verb, ‘suicide’ highlights the strength of their connection Holden’s sarcastic tone mocks their sense of belonging, thus segregating him.
“There was about three inches of snow on the ground (at Pencey Prep after dinner one night) and coming down like a madman. It looked pretty as hell, and we all started throwing snowballs and horsing around all over the place. It was very childish, but everybody was really enjoying themselves.” Pg. 31
This anecdote demonstrates a sense of belonging to peers in the school community. Plural pronoun, ‘we’ and the adjective, ‘all’ demonstrates the all-encompassing sense of belonging across the group.
“It wasn’t allowed for students to borrow faculty guy’s cars but all the athletic bastards stuck together. In every school I’ve gone to, all the athletic bastards stick together”. Pg. 37
The conjunction, ‘but’
Repitition of ‘athletic bastards’
The adjective and negative ‘bastards’
The repetition of the adverb, together’
Demonstrates the way in which individuals are connected through a common interest. Whilst, the negative connotations of, ‘bastard’, elucidate Holden’s negative view on this group of people and suggests that he does not belong to this group.
Holden’s Absence of Belonging
“Practically the whole school except me was there.” Pg. 2 Adjective, ‘whole’, in relation to the noun, ‘school’, juxtaposes against the personal pronoun through the use of the conjunction, ‘except’. This highlights Holden’s isolation from the community.
“I’d just got back from New York with the fencing team…I left all the foils and equipment and stuff on the goddam subway…The whole team ostracized me the whole way back on the train.” Pg. 3 Verb, ‘ostracized’, demonstrates Holden’s exclusion and the use of the adjective, ‘whole’, exemplifies the full extent of his exclusion.
“I felt so lonesome, all of a sudden. I almost wished I was dead….Boy, did I feel rotten. I felt so damn lonesome.” Pg. 42 Repetition of the abstract noun, ‘lonesome’ highlights Holden’s sense of isolation. The verb, ‘wished’ and adjective, ‘dead’ suggest the negative implications of a bereft sense of belonging.
“It was even depressing out in the street. You couldn’t even hear any cars any more. I got feeling so lonesome and rotten, I even felt like waking Ackley up.” Pg. 44 The adjectives, ‘depressing’, ‘lonesome’ and ‘rotten’ convey his disconnection from his environment and his defiled sense of belonging.
Everybody was asleep or out or home for the week end, and it was very, very quiet and depressing in the corridor.” Pg. 45 The pronoun, ‘everybody’ is all-inclusive and the repetition of the adverb, ‘very’ emphasizes the loneliness and sense of solitude Holden is feeling, implied by the adjective, ‘depressing’.
“In fact, nobody was around my age. They were mostly old, show-offy-looking guys with their dates.” Pg. 62 The combination of the pronoun, ‘nobody’, the personal pronoun, ‘my’ and the abstract noun, ‘age’ convey Holden’s absence of belonging in that he is unable to find commonalities or connect with the people around him.
Lack of Belonging- the distaste for his environment (Mostly Place)
“It was a horrible school (Pencey Prep), no matter how you looked at it”. Pg. 2 Adjective, ‘horrible’, illustrates Holden’s aversion to his surroundings.
“They kicked me out (of school)…I was flunking four subjects and not applying myself and all. They gave me frequent warnings to start applying myself….but I didn’t do it. So I got the axe” Pg. 3 Adjective, ‘frequent’ and noun, ‘warnings’, demonstrate Holden’s awareness of the situation. The conjunction, ‘but’ and the negative, ‘didn’t’ demonstrate his lack of action. Thus, illustrating Holden’s role in the lack of belonging that he is
“Pencey was full of crooks”. Pg. 3
The negative connotations of the noun, ‘crooks’, to represent the students at Pencey highlight Holden’s distaste for those around him and the adjective, ‘full’, highlights the abundance of these people, he is unable to connect with.
“One of the biggest reasons I left Elkon Hills was because I was surrounded by phonies”. Pg. 12 The use of the noun, ‘phonies’, to describe the students at his previous school and the use of the adjective, ‘surrounded’, implies that he feels trapped in a world in which he does not belong and with people whom he does not connect with.
“I hated that goddam Elkon Hills”, Pg. 12
The verb, ‘hated’ and negative connotations of the adjective, ‘goddam’, illustrate Holden’s repugnance towards his environment.
“For one thing the room was too damn hot. It made you sleepy. At Pencey, you either froze to death or died of the heat”. Pg. 19 The juxtaposition of ‘froze to death’ and ‘died of the heat’, demonstrates Holden’s discomfort and lack of connection and contentness in the world around him. The incorporation of the noun, ‘death’ and verb, ‘died’, conveys the severity of his distaste for his environment.
Holden’s Search for a Sense of Belonging “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it”. Pg. 16 The verb, ‘wish’, used with the noun, ‘friend’, suggests Holden’s yearning to establish a connection with someone.
“But finally after I was riding for a while the cab driver and I sort of struck up a conversation. “ Pg. 74“ Would you care to stop off and have a drink with me somewhere?” I said. Pg. 75 The noun, ‘conversation’ and the question within the direct speech imply Holden’s search to belong through aiming to establish connections with people.
“I damn near got my coat back and went back to the hotel, but it was too early and I didn’t feel much like being alone.” Pg. 77 The noun, ‘being’ and adjective, ‘alone’ demonstrate Holden’s wish to fulfill his sense of belonging.
“What I did do though, was ask the waiter to ask old Ernie if he’d care to join me for a drink.” Pg. 78 Throughout the novel, Holden’s loneliness and absence of a sense of belonging is conveyed however so are his attempts to establish connections with people. He asks cab drivers and waiters etc. if they would care to have a drink with him. This is illustrated through the noun, ‘waiter’, the verb, ‘join’ and the personal pronoun, ‘me’ “Boy, I felt miserable. I felt so depressed, you can’t imagine. What I did, I started talking, sort of out loud, to Allie. I do that sometimes when I get very depressed.” Pg. 89 (search for belonging through family) The repetition of the adjective, ‘depressed’ highlight the issues within Holden’s emotional and mental well-being. The verb, ‘talking’ and noun, ‘Allie’ conveys Holden’s search for belonging as he is aiming to communicate with his deceased brother Allie, whom he shared a connection with.
Belonging To Oneself
“They gave me this crumby room, with nothing to look out of the window at except the other side of the hotel. I didn’t care much. I was too depressed to care whether I had a good view or not.” Pg. 54 The adjective, ‘crumby’ conveys Holden’s affliction to his environment and absence of belonging to place. Holden’s inability to belong to himself is also highlighted through the adjective, ‘too’ and abstract noun, ‘depressed’.
“’I can’t sit in a corny place like this cold sober. Cantcha stick a little rum in it or something? (Holden asks the waiter).’”. Pg. 62 Holden’s reliance on alcohol is evident here as he is unable to connect with people or his environment and does not have a well-established and stable sense of belonging to himself. This is achieved through the pronoun, “I”, adjective, ‘corny’ and abstract noun, ‘sober’.
“In the first place it was one of those places that are very terrible to be in unless you have somebody good to dance with or unless the waiter lets you buy real drinks instead of just Cokes. There isn’t any night club in the world you can sit for a long time unless you can buy some liquor and get drunk.” Pg. 68 Holden’s absence of sense of self is exhibited here, which has an impact on his ability to find belonging through place, through his reliance on alcohol. This is demonstrated through the adjective, ‘terrible’, the verb, ‘dance’ and noun, ‘drinks’. The adjective, ‘drunk’.
Belonging to Family
“I certainly wouldn’t have minded shooting the crap with old Phoebe (Holden’s younger sister) for a while. You should see her. You never saw a little kid so pretty and so smart in your whole life. She’s really smart…As a matter of fact, I’m the only dumb one in the family.” Pg. 60 The use of the colloquial phrase, ‘shooting the crap’, demonstrates Holden’s attempt to connect with his sister. The repetition of, ‘so’ used in conjunction with the adjectives, ‘pretty’ and ‘smart’, demonstrate Holden’s adoration of his sister. The adjective, ‘dumb’ used by Holden to describe himself juxtaposes against those used to describe his sister, while the adverb, ‘only’ creates a divide between Holden and his family, thus implying his absence of belonging.
“When she (Phoebe) was a very tiny little kid, I and Allie used to take her to the park with us, especially on Sundays. Allie had this sailboat he used to like fool around with on Sundays and we used to take old Phoebe with us. She’d wear white gloves and walk right between us, like a lady and all”. Pg. 61 The anecdote evokes Holden’s sense of connection with members of his family, his brother Allie and sister Phoebe.
Belonging through Friendship
“I know old Jane like a book-I still couldn’t get her off my brain. I knew her like a book. I really did. I mean, besides checkers, she was quite fond of all athletic sports, and after I got to know her, the whole summer long we played tennis together almost every morning and golf almost every afternoon.” Pg. 69 The repetition of the simile, ‘like a book’, conveys the connection through friendship that Holden has with Jane. The adverb, ‘together’ and repetition of the adjective, ‘every’, further emphasize this connection and achievement of a sense of belonging through friendship.
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Topic: Catcher in the Rye – Study notes as a related text for Belonging
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