Salinger’s master creation, The Catcher in the Rye, is a story set in the 1950s that revolves around the protagonist character and the narrator of the story, Holden Caulfield. While getting treatment in a mental hospital, Holden narrates his story about the time when he was sixteen years old. The narration begins on a Saturday after the classes end in the Pencey prep school in Agerstown, Pennsylvania, which is Holden’s fourth school, as he had been expelled out of the previous three.
Holden finds out that he was about to be expelled out of the school because he had miserable failed four out of five classes. Although he had been scheduled to leave for home after three days, he leaves the dormitory early because he was irritated by his neighbor and his roommate. He decides that he would not return home, instead he would check into a hotel for the next three days.
Following his plan, he gets on a train and then checks into a hotel.
Bored and irritated by his loneliness, Holden tries to make several plan with several people, including calling for a call girl, which was suggested by one of the staff members. When he wakes up the next day, he again makes plans to meet a number of people and meets a few but still ends up being even more irritated by them and chooses the same old method of alienation. In the end he meets his sister who also wants to go back home with him, but after his refusal she gets mad at him.
He takes her to a carousel in a park and gets her a ticket which is the only thing that made him happy during those days.
Stories are majorly based on themes and motifs that build up the entire context and the plot of the story. Stories explore multiple themes and they combine together to make up the entire story. Throughout the novel, Holden uses the technique of alienation to protect himself but, ultimately it ends up making him lonely, which results in a mental problem for him.
He clearly attempts to make connections with the people but at some point in the process of making the connection, he changes his course of action and sooner or later breaks the connection himself. The novel shows that Holden is majorly excluded from his surroundings, due to which he has built up very high walls around himself and in the course of protecting himself, has stated causing pain to his very own self.
From the beginning of the novel till the very end, Holden seems is shown to be victimized and excluded from the world around him. He had been expelled from three different schools throughout the course of his studies and when the story begins, he was getting expelled from the fourth school. He has been admitted in a mental hospital from where he was narrating the story. He is seen to be casually irritated by majority of the people around him, which results in making others annoyed and irritated by him too (Wojciech, 2015). Back in the dormitory, Holden was irritated by his neighbor because he was unhygienic.
The irritation inside him influences the people around him, and he ends up hurting them too. He was annoyed by his roommate, Stradlater, because Stradlater was out on a date with a girl whom he used to previously date. He gets so enraged that he attacks Stradlater, who in reply pins him down on the floor and hits him that his nose starts to bleed.
With the progression of the novel, the reader starts to feel as if Holden uses alienation as means of protecting himself. ‘Then I thought of calling up this guy that went to the Whooton School when I was there, Carl Luce, but I didn’t like him much. So I ended up not calling anybody’ (Salinger, 1951). The novel shows that Holden wears his red hunting hat all the time, to show his desire to be unique out of all the people around him. ‘It only cost me a buck. The way I wore it, I swung the old peak way around to the back–very corny, I’ll admit, but I liked it that way. I looked good in it that way’ (Salinger, 1951). Similarly, at various occasions, it can be deduced that Holden wants to feel that he is better than the others around him. Furthermore, he uses his isolation as proof that he is better than the ones that are around him, therefore he does not interact with them as he is above them.
On the contrary the truth about his little interactions with the people around him is that people usually confuse and overwhelm him. He usually ends up despising them because the good and happy sense in people makes him jealous. His cynical mind with its false sense of superiority acts as walls and barriers that he feels keep him safe from the emotions and attachments. He has become so used to his isolation that he does not even understand what he doing (Wojciech, 2015). While watching the game, Holden isolates himself from the others, instead of being with everyone, he watches the game from the Thomsen Hill, where in reality he is not even watching the game, and instead he is watching the people.
Many a times, Holden is shown to be calling some people but then he quickly changes his minds and hangs up. At several occasions he makes plans with people, but in the very next instance he cancels them himself making up some stupid excuse (Alsen, 2009). The truth is that he has built up very high walls around himself that he does not let anyone even near to himself. Although due to certain circumstances, he has made up the walls, but with every passing second he keeps on making the walls higher and higher because he is extremely scared of rejection and humiliation from anyone.
Although Holden makes up the walls and barriers around him to protect himself, they have started to cause him pain. All his walls are acting like the bars of the jail for him, and instead of protection, they are causing him suffocation which is ultimately resulting in pain for him. He wants to go out, socialize with different people and make new friends, but the walls in his mind refrain him from doing so, and this very process has resulted in suffocation and dissatisfaction for him.
He is clearly seen to avoid and never directly address his emotions. He keeps pushing them behind his back and acts as if he is completely fine, while, in reality, he is everything the opposite of fine. He is desperate for human contact and love of a fellow, but his protective wall of bitterness prevents him from looking for such interactions. For example, his loneliness propels him into his date with Sally Hayes, but his need for isolation causes him to insult her and drive her away. Similarly, he longs for the meaningful connection he once had with Jane Gallagher, but he is too frightened to make any real effort to contact her.
He depends upon his alienation, but it destroys him. When he moves out of the dormitory, and checks into the hotel, he notices people from the window who are in the opposite wing of the hotel. While watching the people do different things in their rooms, once again he feels how lonely he is. Thus, in order to get rid of his loneliness, he makes several attempts, by calling multiple people, to get company (Alsen, 2009), but all of them fail and nobody agrees to come meet him. However, the feeling of loneliness is so strong, that he then goes down to the hall and flirts with women who are almost twice his age. He is so desperate for love, that he thought he fell in love with an older woman when she passed by him. ‘And when she turned around, her pretty little butt twitched so nice and all. She knocked me out. I mean it. I was half in love with her by the time we sat down’ (Salinger, 1951). When the woman leaves too, he agrees on getting a call girl, just to have company.
It feels as though his mind is at a war with itself. His mind wants two opposite things for himself at the very same time. He desperately wants some kind of human connection and companionship, but at the very exact moment, he also desires his usual isolation. The concurrent occurrence of both of these emotions has resulted in the ultimate sense of unhappiness and dissatisfaction which might have resulted in the mental sickness leading him into the mental hospital. It could also be seen in respect to the wants and needs (Alsen, 2009). He wants to have some kind of human connection, whereas he is so accustomed to the loneliness that he has started to need the isolation. Thus, his wants and needs are in opposites which has resulted in a state of confusion in his mind, and this how the author makes use of the literary element of irony to portray the idea of alienation.
Salinger also uses symbolic elements in the novel in order to signify the isolation felt by Holden. The red hunting hat, previously mentioned shows that Holden is different and isolated from all the other people. It shows Holden’s uncommon desires as compared to the society’s desires. The ignorance is another factor that is has trapped Holden into a cycle of self-destruction (Alsen, 2009). He says “Don’t tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.” This dialogue clearly shows his ignorance and the level of his isolation that he has lost trust in every single person.
Therefore, we can say that the alienation and isolation have become traps for Holden while he thinks that are means of protection. Holden’s alienation toward the world is what causes these unwanted character traits of Holden’s. He tells his professor that he feels as though he is trapped “on the other side of life”. His running away from human connection has had adverse effects on his mental health and he has lost sense of majority of the things. He feels people can harm him and thus hides behind the walls that he has made in his mind, however, the walls have become so high that they have started to act like a prison to him and are causing suffocation. Even if he wants to get out of them, he cannot because now they are too strong for him to break through them too.
Salinger, Jerome D. The Catcher in the Rye. , 2010. Print.
Wojciech, S. O. W. A. ‘THE CATCHER IN THE RYE?.’ Studia Etymologica Cracoviensia 11.1 (2015). http://ejournals.eu/sj/index.php/SEC/article/view/1112
Alsen, Eberhard. ‘The Catcher in the Rye.’ Bloom’s Modern Critical Views (2009): 145.