Holden's Attempt at Isolation in "Catcher in the Rye"

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As humans we sometimes seek isolation rather than human interaction for fear of being overwhelmed emotionally. For some people, comfort comes with the knowledge that alone, they are the masters of their own emotions, free from the pain of the world's occasional bitterness and sting. In the coming-of-age tale "Catcher in the Rye," J.D. Salinger explores this phenomenon through the voice of the narrator, Holden Caulfield. Although Holden possesses a voice of intelligence, sensitivity and insight he is also bitter with the hypocrisy and ugliness that he perceives in the world around him. The vividness with which he expresses his discontent is seen manifested in the criticisms that Holden aims at various characters throughout the story. As the story progresses, however, we as readers are forced to recognize that our narrator is unreliable, for the criticism he aims at others are also prevalent in him. Holden is uncomfortable with his own weaknesses, and at times displays just as much hypocrisy and superficiality as any other character that features in the book. Effectively, Holden attempts to use his resentment at the world to isolate, and protect himself from the interactions with others which so often overwhelm him. This is the core of Holden Caulfield's character and the main topic of my presentation.

Salinger employs the use of a particular object that becomes symbolic of Holden's attempt at alienating himself. The outlandish red hunting hat provides Holden with certain uniqueness and individuality of character, qualities that prove difficult to attain under the constraints of Pencey, a prep school that he attends. His discontent for Pencey prep ultimately leads to his flunking four subjects and having to leave the school because he "isn't applying himself." We see flashes of intelligence in Holden's character throughout the story, which illustrates Holden's attempt to remove himself from his school community. He feels that the hat serves to elevate him from...
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