Free Study Guide for The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

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The Catcher in the RyeThe Catcher in the Rye Major Theme

Alienation Within a Society

The major theme in The Catcher in the Rye is that of alienation within a society that is increasingly sacrificing its value system for the sake of monetary gain. It is also that of alienation within a society that is conformist, where no one has the courage to be true, honest, and different. Holden Caulfield is a solitary rebel who is alienated because he cannot conform. Holden perceives his loneliness and isolation and wants to break the confines of his seclusion by making some form of human connection. Unfortunately, all the people he reaches out to are unable to accept him. Holden is faced with denial and rejection from all quarters. Throughout the book, Salinger stresses the need for interaction and communication, which seem to be disappearing in the postwar America.

Minor Themes

Corruption of Society

Salinger highlights the increasing degree of corruption that is an aspect of modern day existence. This corruption of society is represented by characters, such as Maurice, who lie, cheat, and bully to get what they want. There is also a horde of nameless people who seem take perverse pleasure in things like filling public walls with profane graffiti.

The Difficulty of Growing Up

Another theme that Salinger develops is the difficulty of adolescence. Growing up is often intolerable in a society that does not provide stability and values to the youth on the verge of adulthood. This is a recurring theme in Salingerís novels.

Phoniness in Life

Finally, Salinger paints a clear picture of the phoniness in life, where artists sacrifice their art for fame and mothers cry fake tears in movies. Holden Caulfield is totally disgusted at the phonies that people the world. Through Holden, Salinger is trying to make the reader see the need for honesty and integrity in the modern world.


The mood in The Catcher In The Rye is dark, bleak, gloomy, and depressing. Holden is a troubled, searching, frustrated, and alienated youth; since he is the narrator of the story, his personal mood colors everything in the novel. There is even a sense of impending danger, doom, and death throughout the plot since everything around him seems to confirm Holdenís troubled state of mind.

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