RE: The Catcher in the Rye home assignment
- Many readers observe that The Catcher in the Rye is a novel about grief. In what ways does Holden exhibit aspects of the grieving process? Does he reach any sort of closure or letting go? How do you know?
- In what ways is The Catcher in the Rye a novel of social protest? What aspects of society does Salinger critique? What alternatives does he offer?
- Holden, like each of us, faces living in a world he did not create. Nobody, not even Holden, can live in a culture without having some of it rub off on them. What faults of his society does Holden exhibit? How does Salinger reveal these faults to readers?
In what ways is The Catcher in the Rye a novel of social protest? What aspects of society does Salinger critique? What alternatives does he offer?
Holden Caulfield’s America was a nation of contrasts. For example, Holden’s family, and the families of the boys with whom Holden attends school, appear to have no financial concerns. Holden’s family lives in an expensive apartment in an affluent section of New York City. Holden’s father is a corporate attorney. Holden assures us that all a lawyer does is “make a lot of dough and play golf and play bridge and buy cars and drink Martinis and look like a hot-shot.”
Throughout the novel, Holden seems to be excluded from and victimized by the world around him. As he says to Mr. Spencer, he feels trapped on “the other side” of life, and he continually attempts to find his way in a world in which he feels he doesn’t belong.
As the novel progresses, we begin to perceive that Holden’s alienation is his way of protecting himself. Just as he wears his hunting hat (see “Symbols,” below) to advertise his uniqueness, he uses his isolation as proof that he is better than everyone else around him and therefore above interacting with them. The truth is that interactions with other people usually confuse and overwhelm him, and his cynical sense of superiority serves as a type of self-protection. Thus, Holden’s alienation is the source of what little stability he has in his life.