The Catcher In The Rye Loneliness Essay

The Themes of Loneliness & Alienation in J.D. Salinger’s ‘The Catcher in The Rye’

Loneliness and alienation are two very important themes in J.D. Salinger’s novel ‘The Catcher in The Rye’. In this essay I will discuss these themes and how they have had an impact on the protagonist – Holden Caulfield’s life. I will look at how Holden uses alienation to protect himself from becoming emotionally attached to others and how death plays a key role in his feelings of loneliness.

One of the most prevalent themes in J.D. Salinger’s ‘The Catcher in The Rye’ is the complex relationship that Holden Caulfield has with his emotions. On one hand, he is overwhelmed by the pain that his emptions can cause, but on the other hand when he tries to shut off these emotions he feels numb which can be equally as devastating for him. Loneliness is something that is recurring throughout the novel and in some ways, Holden’s loneliness is a manifestation of the alienation he feels from the people around him. Throughout The Catcher in The Rye, Holden is separated from those around him and is constantly in search for a way to fit into a world in which he feels that he doesn’t belong. A large portion of the novel focuses on Holden’s ongoing quest for some form of companionship. This results in him moving from one meaningless relationship to another which only serves to increase his loneliness. Holden uses this alienation from the world around him as a defence mechanism in order to protect himself. He finds interacting with other people confusing and overwhelming, so by alienating himself from people he does not have to face up to this.

A great deal of Holden’s loneliness and alienation can be traced back to the death of his younger brother Allie. Holden was devastated by the tragedy, which has already happened by the time we are introduced to Holden. He has essentially shut down and repeatedly mentions how important it is for him not to get too attached to people. A good example of this would be where Holden says, ‘Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody’ (Salinger, 1951, p.67). This highlights the fact that Holden is not comfortable in opening up to anybody, because he is afraid of making a connection and then losing that person. This goes a long way towards explaining why Holden almost seems to be sabotaging any relationship that he begins to form!is because he is afraid of losing another person close to him. This fear has such a tight grip on Holden that he continues to spiral into deep depression and loneliness to the extent that by the end of the novel he is afraid to even speak to anyone.

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Life and death have a huge impact on Holden’s emotional state and we already know that most of his behaviours are a reaction to Allie’s death and to the fact that his absent parents were not there to guide him through his grief. Holden struggles with the fact that Allie died too soon at such a young age and did not choose to do so. However, when James Castle jumps out of the school window to his death Holden begins to consider the possibility of suicide as a way to end the constant emotional pain. It is only a passing thought and although he can see a romantic ideal when he considers suicide, he is so affected by Allie’s death that he actually thinks death might be worse than living with the pain. One of the things that really bothers Holden about James Castle’s death is the thought of him lying on the stone in a pool of blood with nobody picking him up as though even in death nobody loved him. This is a thought that terrifies Holden and ultimately stops him from genuinely considering suicide as an option.

In conclusion, the theme of loneliness and alienation is very important in The Catcher in The Rye. Holden is too afraid to open up his heart to anyone for fear of losing them, but he is also suffering from extreme loneliness at the same time. His brother’s death has impacted Holden’s emotional state and mental well-being and without the support of a proper authority figure he has never learned to deal with his grief leaving him caught in a vicious cycle of desperately wanting to be loved, but being far too afraid to allow it to happen thus alienating himself from the rest of the world.


Salinger, J.D. (1951), The Catcher In The Rye.

When preparing to write an essay on the topic of the teen angst of Holden Caulfied, there are different ways to arrive at a thesis, of course. One way to respond to the prompt is to find examples of incidents and details that relate to sense of alienation and loneliness, interpersonal conflicts, and deception. After having gleaned these passages from the novel, the student can examine them and find a commonality, a main idea, that runs throughout the narrative. This, then, can form the general statement of the thesis. After arriving at the general statement, the student needs the 3 opinions (arguments) as the remainder of the thesis. These are formed as a statement of the different commonalities among the gathered details (e.g. angst); the details and passages themselves, which then become the support for the arguments/opinions. 

For example, Holden seems to hold [notice the similarity with his name] a misanthropic attitude toward anyone older than his little sister Phoebe [it is also no mistake that she is named after the Titan goddess of the "intellect" as Holden reveres her and relies upon her opinions]. Therefore, he is a somewhat unreliable narrator as his story is highly charged by emotion; for, after all, he is narrating from a hospital.

The final lines of the novel clearly point to Holden's loneliness:

Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.

Throughout the narrative, Holden dons his bizarre red hat, his "deer-killing hat" [here is more word play, this time with the homonym for dear ],in order to ward off others in his fear of commitment to them because of having lost those whom he has held dear, such as his dead brother Allie and the sacrificial lamb James Castle. For, Holden's is an injured and fragile nature.

Because of this fear of losing or trusting people, as well as his antipathy for "phonies," Holden abandons, rejects, or flees from others such as Sally Hayes, Jane Gallagher, and Mr. Antolini. His traumatized perceptions result from his disillusionment in Sally, who is superficial; Mr. Antolini, who is cynical as evinced by his responses to what Holden says; and his morbidity as he focuses repeatedly upon the death of his brother Allie.

Because he sets such high standards for others, no one seems to satisfy Holden. Then, too, Holden is afflicted with some teen jealousies. For instance, when Stradlater returns from his date with Jane, whom Holden cares for, Holden feels some resentment and jealousy towards Stradlater. He cannot keep himself from asking what Stradlater did on his date. His roommate tells Holden that he and Jane just sat in the car. "Whose car?" Holden asks, and Stradlater replies that he borrowed the car of the basketball coach. This angers Holden because "it wasn't allowed for students to borrow faculty guys' cars, but all the athletic bastards stuck together." This nepotism raises Holden's negative feelings toward Stradlater, and his voice is shaking when he asks his roommate if he "gave her the time" in Banky's car.

In asking such questions, Holden creates a barrier between himself and Stradlater; he also reacts in a violent manner when he attacks his roommate. Likewise, he creates a barrier between himself and Mr. Antolini when he imagines that his former teacher is "perverty" and flees his home. Later, Holden regrets his actions as he contemplates the many kindnesses of Mr. Antonlini.

Also, Holden tends to rationalize his reactions. For example, after his failed interactions with the three girls in the Lavender Room, Holden calls them "phonies" because they have not reached his expectations. This reaction becomes a recurring pattern for Holden, who demonstrates his self-affecting personality that is overly-critical of others as "phony" is used repeatedly to describe people with whom he fails to connect.

Holden's self-deception is probably what has landed him in the hospital more than anything else. A disappointed idealist--he admires James Castle for killing himself rather than let others bully him, and Holden holds only his beloved brother Allie and his little sister Phoebe in reverence. All the others, even his brother D.B., are "phonies" and lacking in some way. His great disappointment leads him within himself where he dreams of being a "catcher in the rye" to arrest children in their development and keep them innocent.

At the heart of the narrative is Holden's grief over the loss of Allie--he broke the windows of the garage in his rage at fate on the night Allie died--and his fear of attaining any lasting relationship lest he suffer a similar loss. 


Here is a thesis statement that can be derived from the discussion of the three descriptors in the question:

Holden Caulfield is a teen, who because of the traumatic experience of his beloved brother's untimely death, finds himself entering adulthood alienated, holding unrealistic expectations of others that cause conflict that leave him self-affected and deceived.

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