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The Crucial Themes in the Novel Catcher in the Rye

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The themes in any piece of writing is what brings readers wanting more. A strong theme leads to a strong novel, or piece of writing. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye, holds three strong major themes which consist of, innocence, death and religion. These themes bring you along Holden's journey and how he overcomes certain obstacles in his life and how he chooses to deal with others. The innocence is used to show his youth and and vulnerability. Death is used to show struggles, doubts and self-worth. Religion is used to show confusion of beliefs and life influences. Salinger brings his readers through an emotional rollercoaster leaving them desire more and pitty Holden and his struggle through life.

Envision yourself being a baby once again, constantly under the protection of your parents. Comfort is seeked from your mother and the crib you were provided with, the house is babyproffed to ensure you don’t get hurt. Slowly you start to grow older and stronger, you’re walking and the protection the baby proofed house disappears. Slowly you start to become more and more independent, no longer seeking comfort souley from your mother but within others and things you truely start to enjoy. You start to make friends and explore new and exciting things. Soon enough you're graduating and moving away, but what you don't realize is that the innocence you once held as a small child is slowly slipping away. Innocence is seen to be onse purity, as well as a wall that is guarding them from anything that could harm them. This sense is greatly shown within Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye. In a way to protect himself holden avoids creating any dependable bonds in order to keep his innocence and avoid being hurt. Innocence can only be held on to for a period of time, often childhood, before one forgets who they truly are.

As Psychology Today states, “We return to innocence because innocence returns us to the newness of things, and we are at last old enough to receive the gifts of things, to delight in the delight of things given. Because innocence returns us to the surprise, the gift of the moment”. When Holden is forced to face society, its social norms and expectations, he battles with the urge to conform and hold onto his childhood a little while longer due to his fear of growing up. Holden’s view of life is seen as either the purity of ones childhood or the torture of ones adulthood. He greatly believes that the purity of childhood is exquisitely valuable and it should be protected from phony adults. The title of the novel is meant to represent Holden himself. He has a dream of becoming the protector of children also known as the catcher. Holden does not aspire to be a scientist or a lawyer, but to be the person who stands at the edge of the cliff making sure that the children who are running aimlessly do not fall over the edge. In the novel the cliff represents all the minor and major mistakes children would have made in their lives. “Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around—nobody big, I mean—except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff—I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be. I know it's crazy.” (Salinger 173). As Holden confides in his sister about what he truly wants to be, he lets himself go and really explains how he feels. With Holden's dream of becoming the catcher he can become a teacher and inspiring students to explore their youth. Holden believes that adults do not understand children as much as they say they do.

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The death of Holden younger brother Allie plays a role in the way he chooses to live his life. Holden was thirteen years old when his brother had passed of leukemia, leaving their mother ultimately grief-stricken. Mrs. Caulfield becomes distant and started neglecting her motherly duties by not paying much attention to Holden. She is in such a bad emotional state that she suffers from migraines, anxiety, and chain smoking. Holden has a poor relationship with both of his parents. They’re not open enough for him to confide in them, leaving him to not have anyone to discuss his grief over his brother with. To help him deal with the stress of the loss of his brother and absent parents, Holden harms himself. He uses this as a way to cope because he views physical pain easier to handle instead of having to deal with his emotional pain. Allie is extremely attentive, loving, and creative. Making his loss so much harder to carry out and mourn over.

Religion is seen to be confusing through Holden's eyes. He comes from a family of two religions, resulting in the children to be atheist. Holden gets sudden urges to pray after certain tasks but feels as if he is incapable of doing so. He claims the Jesus is cool but that the disciples were a waist of his time, a burdon and that the rest of the bible was nonsense. In chapter 14, Holden hires a prostitute as a distraction and form of rebellion, but once she leaves him he gets one of his urges to pray which he responds to with, “I felt like praying or something, when I was in bed, but I couldn’t do it. I can’t always pray when I feel like it. In the first place, I’m sort of an atheist. I like Jesus and all, but I don’t care to much for the other stuff in the Bible” (99). For one to hold these types thoughts they have to have had some form of religious influence or impact in their life, but in Holden’s case of coming from a multi-religion family and having atheist siblings, much like himself, he must have found the influence somewhere else. In the novel he mentions a classmate he had a while back who had come from a religious background. The Boy and Holden would have debates over the topic, where Holden had gotten much of his religious knowledge and influences from. Holden being atheist and having the urge to pray holds a great conflict, yet brings the reader wanting to know more on his life, background and beliefs.

Salinger brings his readers through an emotional rollercoaster leaving them desire more and pitty Holden and his struggle through life.

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The Crucial Themes in the Novel Catcher in the Rye. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 9, 2023, from
“The Crucial Themes in the Novel Catcher in the Rye.” Edubirdie, 29 Jun. 2022,
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