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Themes of “The Catcher in the Rye” by J. D. Salinger

J.D. Salinger is one of the most intriguing figures in 20th century US literature. His only novel, The Catcher in the Rye, is a worldwide bestseller. It is easy to read and understand, so readers can learn something useful from this literature even at a young age. The book covers numerous important topics, so both adult readers and teenagers can find themselves in it. In the title, the author refers to the Bible and the fishers of human souls. That is, Salinger wants to save other children from the callousness and cynicism of the adult world, which some of them learn before their time (Miller 17). Adults need to help them preserve the immediacy of perception and the purity of the soul. They need to “catch” children in a ditch filled with falsehood and lies. This message explains the innovation of the form of the work: readers do not notice the author in the text. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the novel and identify the main themes.

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The book’s central topic is the formation of a teenager’s personality, his encounter with “adult” life, and gradual maturation. Holden has numerous temptations and trials, and often he makes wrong decisions, but this is the only way to gain the needed life experience. Being, by virtue of his age and character, a desperate maximalist, the main character does not accept any form of lies and hypocrisy; he does not close his eyes to human flaws and vices. It is not surprising that he cannot find a common language with people: sometimes, he has no one to talk to. Thus, the author raises the topic of loneliness, which is especially dangerous in adolescence.

The topic of family relationships is no less important. Holden is acutely aware of the lack of parental love and cares that he needs so much. As a result, he develops anger towards the adult world; he openly despises it. However, despite all the contradictions and complexities of the surrounding world, the main character does not lose his spiritual purity, remaining the same naive and modest boy. This is another Salinger’s lesson: finding joy in love and virtue and being yourself are the crucial aspects of life.

Subjecting the novel “Catcher in the Rye” to analysis, one should note its interesting compositional solution. The plot covers only three days – Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, but in this short time, the reader sees a complete picture of the protagonist’s life, character, habits, inner torment, and attitude to life. The composition unfolds sequentially, in chronological order, with a detailed description of everyday life (Anderson 85). In the epilogue, the author acquaints the reader with the main character, Holden Caulfield, who decides to tell his brother the story that happened to him last Christmas. The beginning is Holden’s exclusion from school; then, readers learn about his adventures in New York and his first acquaintance with “adult” life. The climax is a walk with the younger sister Phoebe at the zoo and the scene in the rain. The ending is Holden’s disease and his treatment.

The work is written in the genre of a novel with a characteristic confessional tone. This is a personal diary that many teenagers are embarrassed to keep because of their age. Concerning Salinger’s novel “The Catcher in the Rye,” literary scholars tend to use such a term as “growing up novel” since it reveals the book’s idea as accurately as possible. Indeed, one of the novel’s advantages is a deep understanding of what is happening with adolescents at this time. In some places, readers would benefit from a better familiarity with the character. Still, his depersonalization is useful to abstract from a particular person and project events onto adolescents in general.

Works Cited

Anderson, John. Guide to Enjoying Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Franny and Zooey and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters. Universal-Publishers, 2017.

Miller, Donald. Coming of Age in Popular Culture: Teenagers, Adolescence, and the Art of Growing Up. ABC-CLIO, 2018.

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