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The Elements Of Holden’s Alienation In Catcher In The Rye

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Holden willingly accepts alienation. In his mind he has a desire to connect with others. However he seeks out and antagonises people that he will not get along with. He searches for connections, only to undermine anything meaningful that would counteract his isolation. In the Catcher and the Rye, Holden alienates himself from society as depression and various traumatic memories; his 11 year old brother, Allie, who died of leukemia and the suicidal death of James Castle, a student who was bullied; cloud his ability to enter the adult world. The loss of innocence makes it difficult for Holden to connect with others and causes him to run away from relationships.

Loneliness plays a vital role in the novel, the Catcher and the Rye. Holden is lonely because he is incapable of having healthy relationships. He often drives his friends and girlfriends away because of his awkwardness and rudeness. Holden dislikes people who are phoney and does not think they are genuine.In the novel, Holden takes Sally on a date to the theatre. Holden does not like Sally. He likes Jane who is unattainable. To avoid being lonely Holden choses Sally who is available to have a good time. When they meet, Holden tells Sally that he loves her and she says the same in return. But they both did not mean it. Holden has never seen anything so phoney as in the theatre. He thinks the theatre is phoney because he feels instead of demonstrating reality, it demonstrates theatrical entertainment. Holden is judgemental. Sally meets someone from her past. Holden, says “ you should have seen the way they said hello. You’d have thought they hadn’t seen each other in twenty years. You’d have thought they’d taken baths in the same bathtub or something when they were little kids. Old buddyroos. It was nauseating. The funny part was they probably met each other just once, at some phoney party.” (Salinger 141). “Although he does interact with an astonishingly wide variety of other people during the three days the novel depicts, for the most part he seems fundamentally withdrawn and isolated; he feels estranged and distant from others and even, to some degree, from himself. He has no real or deep friendships; most of his interactions seem superficial; and many of his relationships, in fact, seem insincere”1.Holden drives people away, which causes him to be lonely and isolated. He despises people who are phoney, yet he himself fantasizes and is not in touch with reality. His expression of love and proposal to Sally was fake and insincere.

Holden’s inability to maintain healthy relationships sabotages his entry into adulthood. By disconnecting from others, he counteracts relationships before people can hurt him.

At the beginning of the novel, it is noted that Holden genuinely likes Jane, who he feels is a caring and kind person. He is deeply attracted to her and sees her as the ideal female. But he cannot even give her a call. Holden was worried about what happened on Stradlater’s date with Jane. He was interrogating Stradlater because he is protective of Jane. ““What’d you do?” I said. “Give her the time in Ed Banky’s goddamn car?” my voice was shaking something awful.”(Salinger 49). Holden physically attacks Stradlater for his shameless, sexual adventurous ways. Furthermore, his proposal to Sally proves to be intended to drive her away. Holden talks about how depressed he is and asks Sally to ‘get away’ with him and maybe even get married. Sally frustrated, angrily responds that they have “oodles of time to do those things”(Salinger 147). “Holden Caulfield confronts problems on the journey from childhood to adulthood. These adolescent problems include Holden’s protection of innocence, his disgust for the phoniness of the adult world, and his alienation from society. This concludes that these adolescent problems produce great impact on him. Holden behaves almost erratically and impulsively and has negative attitudes towards almost everything and everyone he meets”2.Holden longs for intimate relationships. One of the problems is his difficulty in transitioning from childhood to adulthood. He fantacizes about his sex life but is not mature enough to have one.

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Holden’s fear of getting close and intimate makes it difficult for him to connect physically with women. Holden has an internal struggle with himself. He wants to get close but struggles with intimacy and sexuality.Holden’s relationship with his sexuality is unsettling due to the teenage confusion and contrast beliefs surrounding sex and America’s society’s sexual expectations. Holden experiences a string of emotions concerning sexuality from feelings of excitement to guilt. A representation of innocence lost to sex is found when Holden meets a prostitute in a hotel room. Holden begins to regret his decision. “Don’t you feel like talking for a while?” I asked her. “It was a childish thing to say but I was feeling so damn peculiar” (Salinger 106).

Fear of homosexuality arises when Holden says Mr.Antolini his former teacher shows he cares for Holden and comforts him by stroking his head while he is sleeping. This inappropriate behaviour showing likeable considerate adults are morally weak adds to Holdens mistrust of the adult world and complex ulterior motives.

“Salinger's apparent invitation to a psychoanalytic reading of the novel. As a step in that direction, this examines a structural pattern of aggression and withdrawal, largely sexual, in Holden's thoughts and actions”3.

There are four key elements to Holden’s alienation that caused him to run away from relationships. These being, loneliness, relationships, intimacy and sexuality. The primary concern in The Catcher in the Rye is the loss of innocence. Holden wants to be the “catcher in the rye”, someone who saves children from falling. Holden’s desire is to hold on to the protective shield that encloses the field of innocence. The same field he wishes to keep the children from leaving, which can be perceived as withholding them from entering adulthood. Holden desperately wants to remain true and innocent in a world full of “phonies.” He also comes to accept that he cannot save everyone: “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”(Salinger 232).

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The Elements Of Holden’s Alienation In Catcher In The Rye. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 11, 2023, from
“The Elements Of Holden’s Alienation In Catcher In The Rye.” Edubirdie, 29 Jun. 2022,
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The Elements Of Holden’s Alienation In Catcher In The Rye [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 29 [cited 2023 Dec 11]. Available from:
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