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THEMES - THEME ANALYSIS
in the Rye is concerned with the theme of alienation faced by the individual
in an ever-changing environment. Salinger portrays the world as a place where
basic human values of affection and compassion are being replaced by a love of
money and power, known by the middle class as "success". Holden is an
idealist clinging to a world that no longer exists.
The Catcher in
the Rye is a novel that exposes the loneliness and insanity inherent in modern
day existence. Holden’s confusion is blamed on the demented world he inhabits.
Salinger presents the pathetic condition of the world through the imagery of falling.
The metaphor of the Fall is introduced by Holden when he talks about his vision
of being a catcher in the rye, preventing innocence from falling over "some
crazy cliff" into the reality of life. Ironically, Holden is unable to prevent
his own fall, which looms large over him. Even Mr. Antolini warns him that he
is heading for "a terrible, terrible fall .... a horrible kind", where
he will not be permitted "to feel or hear himself hit bottom". Holden
wants desperately to be caught, but there is no one around to catch him.
It is essential to note that after Holden falls, he is given
help at the sanitarium and some glimmer of hope is seen for him. It is not clear,
however, whether he will be able to leave his idealistic notions behind. At least
he is preparing himself to go to a new school and start again. It is symbolically
relevant that Holden’s fall occurs at the end of the year, during Christmas, and
that the narrative leaves the reader with the possible hope of a new beginning,
a fresh year for Holden Caulfield.
Salinger presents The Catcher in the Rye through a first person point
of view; however, the narrator, Holden Caulfield, is not wholly reliable in his
understanding and reporting of events. First he is a youth, a young boy of sixteen
who does not have much experience in living. Second, he is extremely depressed
during the four days he is on his own in New York, and his mood colors everything.
Third, Holden tells his story through flashbacks, and memory is never perfect.
Because of these things, the reader has to make some assumptions and perform some
interpretation on the story.
As opposed to an omniscient narrator, Holden
Caulfield is a naive narrator. He is still a teenager, an innocent child, as evidenced
in the scene with the prostitute. As a result of his innocence, the reader and
the people surrounding Holden often see and understand more than he does, creating
many moments of dramatic irony. Since Holden is looking for himself, seeking a
place to fit into life, he tells about things that happen to him, without any
comprehension. Even when he has moments of truth, he is often unable to articulate
his thoughts because of his youth and depression. As a result, Holden evokes a
strong sense of pathos as he desperately searches for and misses the meaning of
Holden’s fumbling, halting speech adds authenticity to his character.
Salinger presents him as a realistic teenager, given to digressions and obscenities
typical of a boy his age. The swearing, however, is not employed by Salinger to
show an attitude of daring, but to convey a deep-seated insecurity in his main
character. Therefore, all of the language of the novel enhances thematic concerns
as well as characterization. The result is that the reader fully understands Holden
Caulfield and the trauma that he experiences.
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