Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger Research Paper

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Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye was first published in 1951. The novel deals with the issues of identity, belonging, connection and alienation. This paper will review five articles written on the novel.

"Holden's Irony in Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye"

This article by Lisa Privitera was published in Explicator in 2008. The article postulates that the irony of Holden Cauldfield is that the harder he tries to keep his family and friends at arm's length, the closer he comes to making unexpected discoveries about them and even himself.

This article points out that Holden has a sensitivity that keeps him from finding his place in the world. This makes the character readily identifiable to many teenagers. The character's perspective on life keeps him from readily making friends. He also wants nothing to do with the "phonies" who inhabit the adult world. And though Holden claims he wants to be left alone, more than anything he wants to make a connection with someone. He attempts to connect with Jane, Sally, and finally a prostitute, each encounter ending in failure.

He has no real friends at Percey. Other than his sister, Phoebe, he has no meaningful relationships with the members of his family. Privitera notes that, "Holden's innocence died with his brother Allie, and lying and avoidance have become the norm in his life, rather than the innocent invincibility of childhood" (p. 204).

According to Privitera the novel is not only the story of a young man's sad spiral into a nervous breakdown, but it is also about a boy who takes the chances his readers do not feel capable of risking. His failure makes him all the more real for these same readers. This had propelled the book into a statement for a generation's attempt to make sense of an ever complex world. Holden becomes the symbol of a tragic hero who dares to flout society's rules, acknowledging that there is nowhere for him to go. The irony of the book is that even though Holden subconsciously longs to be accepted he cannot make a connection. However, he does succeed by making "Salinger the unwilling, erstwhile guru to a generation of displaced teenagers who made Holden an icon of their angst" (p. 205).

"Repetition, Reversal and the Nature of the Self in Two Episodes of J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye"

This article by M. duMais Svogun appeared in the December 2009 issue of English Studies. The article compares two segments of Slinger's novel, chapters 21- 23 in which Holden finally returns home to his family's apartment and has a late night conversation with his younger sister Phoebe and an earlier episode in chapters 13 -- 14 in which Holden has an abortive and violent encounter with a teenaged prostitute named Sunny and her pimp Maurice, who doubles as a hotel elevator operator. Taken together, the author asserts these two episodes "provide some of the most compelling, concentrated evidence in the novel of Salinger's (and Holden's) overriding preoccupation: the confounding nature of individual identity" (p. 695).

Svogun claims that the puzzle of identity, what makes a person phony or real is at best difficult to determine. Holden experiences a number of epiphanies during the course of the novel. He realizes that his fantasy of being the catcher in the rye is unrealistic, and after watching Phoebe ride the carousel admits if children fall off, they fall off.

Nevertheless, Holden still is unable to get a grip in where he fits into society's picture. The author notes that Holden seems to understand that both outward circumstances and one's inborn nature contribute to elements of identity. After seeing his fellow hotel residents engaging in "perverty" behavior he admits that he sometimes thinks of "crumby stuff" he would not mind doing if the opportunity came up. Additionally he speculates as to how Sunny became a prostitute, indicating his awareness of the role fate may play in one's identity development.

Svogun notes that by the end of the story Holden apprehends that the nature of the struggle to discover one's identity is ongoing and indefinite. Holden is asked by "a lot of people" about his plans and intentions, but he responds "How do you know what you are going to do? The answer is you don't" (p. 705).

"Love and Death in Catcher in the Rye"

This essay by Peter Shaw appeared in the Cambridge University Press in 1991. Shaw provides a psychoanalytic interpretation of Holden's social observations and mental state, framing his actions and emotions as a pattern of behavior peculiar to adolescent crisis.

Shaw notes that Holden's mental state is a manifestation of both his unique, personal gift and the fault of a hypercritical, uncaring society indifferent to the more sensitive individuals. Holden's observations of the hypocrisy in the adult world are a result of his being a victim of this insensitivity. Despite the nature of the deplorable world in which he lived by the end of his adventures Holden seemed ready to affect some kind of accommodation with society. Shaw sees this as inevitable, if regrettable.

Shaw contends Holden is both an admirable and deplorable social critic. His world view is the result of sexual repression. His repression is manifested not only in his chaste relationship with Jane but also in his wish to become a monk, his preference for the two (nonsexual) nuns he meets over the other women, and his dismissal of the prostitute sent to his hotel room. The author concludes adolescent repression of sexuality, especially when tinged with an attraction to the ascetic, often produces a tendency to deliver "negative judgments" on the world.

However, there is an underlying feeling that Holden's pronouncements on the world are correct. Holden's former teacher Antolini tells him "that you're not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior" (105). Holden is suffering from a kind of angst that perpetuates his attitude toward society. Shaw concludes that regardless of whether one is assessing Holden's sanity or his status as a social critic, whoever wishes to hold an informed view of Holden must take into account the peculiar patterns of adolescent crisis associated with his age.

"Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye"

This article by Yasuhiro Takeuchi appeared in the Explicator in 2002. Takeuchi speculates as to whether Holden ever achieved his dream of becoming a "catcher in the rye, a savior and defender of the innocent. The author offers that Holden's relationship with Jane affects his final status.

Takeuchi points out that Holden invariably avoids direct contact with Jane. He does not see her while she waits for her date with Stradlater, even though she is on the verge of losing her innocence. In the novel he toys with the idea of giving Jane a call no fewer than seven times, but never does. This is at odds with his ambition of catching the innocent before they fall.

Takeuchi asserts that this act of not touching may be interpreted as an endeavor to preserve innocence. Holden's avoidance of touching the innocent, Jane, and elsewhere in the novel, young children, does not signal that he has surrendered the role of catcher, but that "not-touching" is indispensable to the act of saving the innocent.

Not-touching is also significant in Holden's encounter with Mr. Antolini, his English teacher, who tries to "catch" him. Antolini suspects that Holden is about to experience a fall, telling him, "This fall I think you're riding for -- it's a special kind of fall, a horrible kind" (p. 243). When Antolini reaches out Holden assumes it is a homosexual advance. Whether this is the case or not when Antolini touches Holden's head, he violates the "Don't touch" rule.

Takeuchi does not reach a conclusion on whether Holden achieved his dream of saving the innocent. He does however point out the contradiction created by the" Don't touch" rule. The term catching, the act of saving involves the paradoxical imperative of not touching. Contact must be avoided in order not to fall.

"The Burning Carousal and the Carnivalsque: Subversion and Transcendence at the Close of The Catcher in the Rye."

This article by Yasuhiro Takeuchi appeared in Studies in the Novel in 2002. In this paper Takeuchi explores the subversion conducted by the novel, the rejection of fixed values. The book examines the dynamics and underlying unity of a range of oppositions: mind/body, father/mother, man/woman, nun/prostitute, sun/moon, fiction/fact, and real/phony.

As an example Takeuchi notes that on the topic of sexuality the novel repeatedly undermines conventional fixed values. Although Holden seemingly accepts his society's conventional prejudices against homosexuality, the only two people that Holden respects other than family members are Antolini and Carl Luce, the novel's gay or bisexual characters. As if to reflect the blurred relationship of sexual innocence and guilt, to take another example, Holden ends his meetings with the prostitute and the nuns by giving the same amount of money, ten dollars, to each.…

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