The Theme of Loneliness in the Catcher in the Rye

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The Theme of Loneliness in The Catcher in the Rye

Stephen King once said that alone was the most terrible word in the English language. That may be so. However, in The Catcher in the Rye, we see loneliness through a wholly different point of view, that of its protagonist, Holden Caulfield. The solitude that Holden experiences is a type of seclusion from the rest of world that is more or less self-inflicted. His inability to understand or be understood by those around him has led him to weave a sort of cage around himself, and the bars of this cage greatly alter his vision of the outer world. Through this unique perspective, J.D. Salinger explores the two incongruous facets of Holden’s being. He has a troubled yet startling personality whose defining trait is the ambiguity between its two contradictory aspects: one which is desperate to relate to the world, and one which embraces loneliness as a method of self-preservation against the “phonies” that he so deeply despises.

Firstly, we observe how the protagonist’s perpetual feeling of isolation gnaws away at him, despite the barriers of cynicism that he puts up. His encounters with Sunny and the three girls in the Lavender Room expose the longing for someone to talk to, a longing which is in fact sheer desperation. The frustration due to the inability to communicate his thoughts and feelings, of translating them into words that could make another human being truly listen is ultimately responsible for the grief that Holden feels for being alone. This, in turn leads to the suicidal intentions that he confesses in one of the nights that he spends in the Edmont Hotel: “What I really felt like, though, was committing suicide. I felt like jumping out the window.” His near-obsession with the ducks in Central Park reveals for the first time to the reader Holden’s inclination towards protecting and caring for something that is harmless. This tendency is emphasized by the song that gives the title of the novel, the...
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