The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger


Science can be seen as the study of what is held in common between many particular instances. Art, among other things, is an attempt to capture the specific, and thus illuminate the general. J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye is first and foremost about the journey of one individual, Holden Caulfield, into self-discovery. However, in writing about Holden, Salinger has somehow managed to capture the conflicts and identity crises which many young adults his age are caught in. Also, despite Holden's protests that he is not trying to write something along the lines of Charles Dickens, there is little doubt that the novel is intended also as a piece of social criticism, calling for integrity and human interaction in a mechanized society.

Perhaps the deepest-running theme of the book is Holden's stance against phoniness. It is no coincidence that Holden's journeys take him through a cross-section of American society: the school, bars, city streets, family, etc.; Salinger aims to show how widespread this phoniness has become.

However, Holden's criticism is not necessarily a good thing, and indeed it is this constant criticism which detatches him from society and also results in some self-loathing. In demonstrating the effects of this detatchment on Holden, Salinger encourages the building of human relationships. Holden abhors movies and shows because they are larger than life, because they generate a sort of passiveness among society. He is depressed when someone says "good-luck" because the statement implies that fortune supersedes human effort.

Another theme is that of childhood versus adulthood. Holden belongs in neither of these two worlds (as do many adolescents), and finds himself in a position to see which category he would rather choose. In the end his choice is to be neither immature, arguably the hindrance of childhood, nor phony, the evil of adulthood. There is nothing wrong with growing up, according to Salinger. There is something wrong with growing phony.