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J. D. Salinger’s the Catcher in the Rye Research Paper

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Updated: Jul 1st, 2020


J. D. Salinger’s novel, The Catcher in the Rye highlights various issues that teenagers contend with in their lives. Having been published in the mid 20th century, the novel has captured the attention of numerous readers. In fact, some highlight that novel is among the best works of literature to date.

It has won many prizes and praises from varied authors and readers. The protagonist of the novel, Holden Caulfield has influenced many teenagers and has become iconic figure in the context of the American society. Despite criticisms of the novel that criticize the explicit illustration of sexuality and other social issues like identity, it is imperative to notice that its influence throughout the century has been unsurpassed. This is a research paper on the novel that seeks to elucidate on the aspect of Holden’s detachment from reality.

Is the Protagonist a Hero or emotionally unstable?

While many readers have had an opportunity to analyze various characters throughout the book, it is important to note the protagonist, Holden Caulfield has various aspects that makes him to be a ‘hero’. At the outset, Graham points out that he has been able to resonate strongly with different readers of different social-economic backgrounds (45).

Many of the readers find his work very influential owing to the way he portrays the perspectives he holds about life. This influence has made the readers to fall into the temptations of redundancy in that many of them do not question his failures and shortcomings but perceives him as a heroic character (Magill 12). This aspect of his character has made the book not only exciting but also able to elicit many commendations across all social-economic divides.

There are various signs that the readers have persistently ignored relating to his troubled life. Graham says that Holden falls out of four schools, an aspect that parents and readers ought not to take positively (41). To the contrary, readers opt to ignore these aspects of Holden’s life placing little emphasis on his apparent failures. As such, the book projects a character that is influential and able to convince people in what Booth and Mays refers to as minority influence (34).

Further, it is recognizable that Holden suffers from mental disorders and traumas that obviously have had an effect on his perceptions and perspectives about life. The death of his brother has had an effect on his ability to project various aspects of life in a consistent and accurate manner. Besides, one of his fellow classmates commits suicide.

These two sources of emotional stress have apparently impaired his ability to present his views about the world precisely and accurately (Graham 67). Nonetheless, it is through of the ability of the protagonist to provide logical arguments that cannot match a mentally disturbed individual.

This makes the reader to assume that the character is of sound mind. Amazingly, it is these aspects of the book make him a hero to majority of the readers. The rationale is in his aptitude to convince his audience and influence them to dropping an objective perspective about the other characters and people in his society as depicted in the novel (Steinle 61).

Another peculiar aspect of the book and a testimony that the emotional state of Holden is ailing is his apparent judgmental positions he takes about events and people.

As Salinger hints, “…if the football team loses, and all you do is talk about girls and liquor and sex all day, and everybody sticks together in these dirty little goddam cliques” (131).

Booth and Mays highlight that he disparages boring people and those who express insecurities (51). It is also his nature throughout the novel to philosophize about life by labeling some people as phony as the above quote depicts. The usage of the word phony to refer to members of the society who act in ways that befit their social class or their careers is rampant throughout the novel.

The word phony as such, refers to those who act in a superficial way that contradicts the usage since we can argue that the protagonist is phony as well. Magill asserts that he uses his prejudice, attitude and values to judge other members of the society. This judgmental characteristic of the major character bespeaks his mental state.

Nevertheless, the protagonist catches the attention of the audience by making conclusions and judgments to a heightened level that they become comical. For instance, Holden says that some people are so insensitive that their tombstones will bear the title “fuck you” (Graham 56).

This characteristic of the novel has made it popular and loveable among teenagers and other members of the society. The reason is that the face value of the content impairs the ability of the reader to dig deep into the book and unravel some disturbing traits about Holden.

It is apparent that Holden has a particular negative attitude towards human sexuality. As Aaron claims, the book portrays him as a virgin although it is clear that he is usually interested in sexual activities (3). He spends a quite significant amount of time in his life attempting to have sex in order to be like the rest of his dorm mates and peers who have had sexual experiences.

Salinger says that, “If you want to know the truth, I’m a virgin. I really am. I’ve had quite a few opportunities to lose my virginity and all, but I’ve never got around to it yet” (91).

His perspective that sex ought to happen between people who experience deep emotions about each other is long drawn. Upon realization that casual sex is another aspect of sex that he did not explore, he becomes furious. For instance, he dated Jane whom he attests to have been in love with even now that she is seeing another boy who happens to be his classmate (Magill 63).

According Booth and Mays, it depicts emotional insecurity and jealousy, which projects him as a mentally disturbed teenager (34). The aspect that draws suspicion about his mental state and subjective opinions is when the tourists whom he cared little about arouse him. He picks a prostitute named Sunny at the Lavendor Hotel and assumes that it was due to a mere human weakness that is typical of phony people whom he finds to be stupid.

The author uses the right naming of his characters. Protagonists second name, caul, has a lot of significance in its meaning. In other words, the author tends to insinuate a person whose is ignorant of reality since he/she has been blinded by childish points of view.

Aaron asserts that it is important to notice that the author tends to explain the ways in which different people are ignorant of the actual and complex problems that occur in the world. Graham articulates that Holden (from the phrase hold on) as the name of the protagonist was indeed deliberate as he indicates that there was the need to enhance the ability to see the world from a perspective that is devoid of childhood.

There is also suspicion on the emotional state of the main character especially when relating to his interaction with other characters in the book. Phoebe, who is a sibling to the protagonist, becomes infuriated with Holden’s refusal to grow up. He claims to be the only perfect person able to resist the phoniness of the world and indeed concentrate on catching the rye for the innocent (Booth and Mays 45).

His decision to leave his family and indeed become deaf mute was a question of contention that appraises the character’s state of mind. It is unusual for a character who claims to possess the ideal traits of a society to reverse his decisions owing to influence of a child (Graham 74). In reality, Phoebe is six years younger than he is and seems to understand the world better than he does.

Salinger articulates this point by highlighting the protagonist saying, “The thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off, they fall off, but it’s bad if you say anything to them” (211).

His shortcomings are also witnessed when he visits Mr. Antolini who had been his English teacher in search of a piece of advice. Although the former teacher seems to be wealthy of knowledge regarding human behavior in life, Holden seem to contradict even the most obvious pieces of advice he receives. He begins to view the advice based on his prejudice and values.

This is not only in contravention of a normal decision maker but also threatens to change the character’s values and beliefs. He also mistakes Mr. Antolini’s fatherly touch to homosexual urges making him to bear a negative attitude towards him (Steinle 13). Coupled with paranoia, the protagonist is explicitly suffering from mental disorder and it is surprising how the readers have opted to ignore these seemingly apparent negative traits possessed by the protagonist.

Finally, the main character has realized that he has been largely swayed to assume idealistic approaches to life as opposed to being realistic. His convictions are only comparable to non-existent state in life that makes him wonder extensively about life (Aaron 73). His detachment from reality is also clear when the protagonist sees Phoebe riding carousal and joy overwhelms him.

This is unusual, as it seems that the character is inclined to the idea that joy is only present during one’s childhood. Booth and Mays assert that the character is in a mentally disturbing position that is a negative and an abnormal attribute that many readers have ignored and in turn viewed him as the main character.

Nonetheless, we have seen in many occasions the protagonist changes his standpoints and his opposition to growth and is inconsistent with his values. First, the protagonist realizes that human sexuality is an important aspect of human life. Besides, it is entrenched in the culture of human beings.

Holden also notices that he had been making wrong decisions about life and particularly his option to drop out of school. The protagonist’s ability to make radical changes in his life has also projected him as a hypocrite who is not consistent with his values. It is not amazing that his decisions to leave his family and head to New York were challenged by his younger sister who seems to make better decisions than he does (Graham 73).

The protagonist also reviews his perception of life after his former English teacher, Mr. Antolini highlights to him that there was an apparent need to embrace humility instead of yearning to die nobly (Booth and Mays 72). This marks the realization that the world did not only require individuals who are able to cling to their convictions but also individuals who could easily adapt to the world.

It seems apparent that the character also begins to view the world from a broader scope than he used to earlier before. It is also important to notice that Holden seemed to be at loggerheads with his parents, which is a cause of concern among many of his peers and siblings. As the author notes, Holden was not at the best of terms with his family and could only sneak into their home to visit Phoebe. This makes the massive influence that he imparts on the readers to be pointless.

After the death of his classmates, Holden is also concerned on ways in which he can reconstruct his life and meet the demands of the society. His apparent loneliness has had a tremendous effect on his life and ought to reflect concerns that people ought not to underscore during the entire book. In fact, the author exclaims that the protagonists had gotten used to visiting the museums and had even comprehended the positions that different artifacts held within the gallery.

Salinger highlights the protagonist saying, “Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone. I know that’s impossible, but it’s too bad anyway” (122).

It is also important to notice that the author misunderstands the concept of catching the rye and believes that he had the role of protecting the innocent from falling into the trap of phony and pervasive life.


In sum, the level of detachment from the reality that the main character exhibits is overwhelming. Touted by many readers as the hero of the book, Holden raises suspicions about his mental state and perception about life. Clearly, the character lacks emotional and mental stability making his conclusions and about life to be long drawn.

Having suffered stress and psychological trauma, the perceptions held by the main character are inconsistent with reality making it a devastating mistake to assume the heroic role of the story. He is mistaken about people and labels people as phony in addition to making quick generalizations about life. As such, it is imperative to distinguish his emotional state and reality when branding Holden as the hero of the book.

Works Cited

Aaron, Jane. The Little, Brown Compact Handbook, New York: Pearson Education, 2009. Print.

Booth, Alison and Mays, Kelly. The Norton Introduction to Literature, New York: Norton Publishers, 2011. Print

Graham, Sarah. J.D. Salinger’s the Catcher in the Rye, New York: Routledge, 2007. Print.

Magill, Frank. J. D. Salinger: Magill’s Survey of American Literature, New York: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 1991. Print.

Salinger, Daniel. The Catcher in the Rye, New York: Blackwell Publishers, 1951. Print

Steinle, Pamela. In Cold Fear: The Catcher in the Rye Censorship Controversies and Postwar American Character, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 2000. Print.

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