Catcher In The Rye Themes One of the many fascinating themes in the novel, “The Catcher in the Rye,” brings us face to face with a jarring assault not unlike road rage on modern society and serves as a wake up call to each succeeding generation of its readers. J.D. Salinger, speaking through the protagonist Holden Caulfield, exposes the bogus standards and false values and the insensitive, sham relationships we face in our pretentious modern society. Alone, Holden stands tall against those counterfeit standards and the flagrant hypocrisy that surrounds us in the most casual and innocuous of lifes endeavorsa simple conversation, and all from a quixotic yet desultory view of society. It is almost ironic that we learn this from the first person point of view.
Salinger popularized the interior monologue in this novel. This approach helps us to understand Holden, observing a society he cannot accept, forever the outsider desperately clinging to the garish, ostentatious red hunting cap that is emblematic of a childish security blanket or a badge of honor. What is a phony? Websters Collegiate defines it as someone or something that is fraudulent or spurious. When Holden uses the word “corny,” he means fake or artificial, as in a false character or appearance. Holden sincerely believes that society in general claims an appearance of importance not justified by the things value or the persons standing.
Holden seems obsessed with the concept since he uses it on pages 52, 77, 84, 86, 100, 142, 151, 172, and 205. In Chapter One, Holden describes Penceys ad campaign as “strictly for the birds.” He tells Spencer that he was “surrounded by phonies” in an earlier prep school. Even the headmaster discriminated against “funny-looking parents” on visiting day. Holden labels teachers and administrators phonies because they are less than perfect. He even dismisses his brother, D. B.
as a phony for selling out to “Hollywood”. He criticizes the disciples for being human, yet he is the atheist. In Chapter Three, Holden continues his view of phoniness in the business world when he talks about the dorm named for Ossenburger. Most of the novelthen focuses on earnest but futile attempts by Holden for a close encounter of the third kind or to reach out and touch someone. One wonders whether Holden would have availed himself of 911 or help hotlines that were not in vogue then. But then telephony is not his strong suit, what with only 3 phone numbers in his address book. Unfortunately, these cacophonous dialogues end in hostility.
He seems to self-destruct in his mission impossible chats with Ackley, Stradlater, the 3 women, Sally Hayes, and Carl Luce. Comedienne Joan Rivers could have stolen the line, “Can we talk?” from Holden. Others like Lillian Simmons, Ernie the piano player, the people in magazine stories, and even the ministers in all his prep schools are putting on airs, a faade, a persona. This failure to communicate is mostly his fault, though. Its almost as if he lashes out at himself in a self-flagellating ritual. Whether Holdens society fails him at home, in school, in religion, or in extraordinary interactions with ordinary people, the fear of a “phony” imperfect and inconstant society, in the end, overwhelms Holden.
Is he justified? In Holdens mind, indubitably. Will he”apply” himself or revert to shadow boxing with his nemesis once he leaves the rest home? Only J. D. knows the answer to that question, and he absconded to the “woods” and isnt talking. But Holden does leave us with a few context clues, if you know how to read between the lines, that lead one to believe that he sees the light at the end of his tunnel vision.