Critical Analysis of the Catcher in the Rye

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A Critical Analysis of The Catcher in the Rye
In J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, is put through the harsh reality that is life. Holden is kicked out of school and must make his way back to New York to tell his parents the upsetting news, but he first spends a few days finding himself along the way in the Big Apple. He spends these days thinking and seeing first-hand what the adult world is like, consistently reinforcing his belief that the real world is fake. His hatred for people in general is only bested by his hate for those whom he considers to be phonies, which is just about everyone he meets throughout the novel. Salinger uses strong irony, complex characterization, and a specific setting to display Holden Caulfield’s strong hatred towards people that are phonies and prove that no one is immune to the phoniness.

A great deal of the irony in Salinger’s novel arises from Holden’s attitude towards adulthood. He spends most of the novel explaining why adults have ruined his life and yearning to be an innocent child again, yet he himself shows signs of acting and feeling like an adult. The first ironic sequence therefore comes into play when Holden arrives in New York: “He tries to use the partial appearance of adulthood to his advantage, for example by standing up to show the [bartender] his grey hair” (Gesler 407). This scene shows that in some respects Holden wishes to be an adult, and to enjoy the perks that come with age, but his ideal lifestyle would be that of a child. Children are pure in Holden’s eyes and haven’t succumbed to the darkness that is society. But this isn’t the last time Holden tries to act old; he also invites a prostitute to his room at his hotel. Sunny, the prostitute, arrives and tries to come on to him her so that she can get the job done, but Holden refuses. He can’t have sex with this random woman because "Holden's kind of clear-thinking reacts against sex without love, against unclean personal habits, against any manner of rudeness.” (Moore 162). This is ironic because Holden speaks out against things like sex without live but still invites a hooker to his room. There is more irony to this, though: Holden reacts against rudeness in his mind, but inside he is not a very pleasant guy. He is very smart and knows how to act in front of people but he looks down upon almost every person he passes. When he is meeting with his sister, Phoebe, for the first time in the book, she stops him in the middle of a sentence and asks the very straightforward question of whether or not there is anything in the world Holden actually likes, and he struggles very much to find an answer for this. Holden’s entire experience of a few days in New York is based around the fact that he thinks that everyone besides him is a phony, but ironically enough, he is a phony. He lies to himself, and convinces himself that he is not a phony and that his ideal life would be lived in the innocence of a child, when in reality he just goes out into public and pretends to be older than he really is so that he can associate with adults. His admitted worst fault is that he is completely infatuated with a girl named Sally Hayes. Ironically while he calls her the “queen of the phonies,” he admits that he would marry her on the spot and even “proposes to Sally that they go off to New England together to live a Farewell to Arms sort of idyllic life” (Trowbridge 686). This is the epitome of an ironic sequence: a boy who could go on forever about how he hates the real world and how it corrupts people into phonies, proposing to a girl whom he refers to one of the phoniest of them all! While his wanting to go out of the country was escaping the phoniness, he himself is ironically being a phony by being in love with a phony.

The in-depth characterization of Holden Caulfield has led him to be one of the most well-known and remembered fictional literary characters of all time. Everything about him...
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