The Catcher in the Rye' and J.d Salinger's Depiction of Adult World

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Table of Contents

  • Plot and Main Context From the Novel
  • Who is J.D Salinger?
  • Literary Techniques in 'The Catcher in the Rye'
  • Conclusion
  • References

For one my 'The Catcher in the Rye' essays that I have created thia one serves the purpose of criticising adulthood, showing the dangers of people in authority, the unreliability of our elders and revealing the unpleasant side of the North America we live in. 'The Catcher in the Rye' is a famous and groundbreaking novel written by JD Salinger which dares to explore the provocative and controversial themes of becoming an adult, specifically trying to deal with the scary, strange and unreliable world we live in. Salinger tries to outline the major issues which 'The Catcher in the Rye'rouble everyone going through this transition. Salinger crafts the characters and plot in a way which exposes some taboo issues of the time. The book was published in 1951, so during this time the book was seen as controversial. Issues of homosexuality, depression, alienation and the overall processing of complex feelings are discussed within the novel.

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Plot and Main Context From the Novel

I will now give a further look into the plot, through this I will find my focus. Through the protagonist Holden Caulfield we see the deeply complex issues of being a seventeen year old teenager during this time. Additionally Salinger critiques Human beings and shows the unreliability, danger and shocking actions of Adults. Holden is shown first hand how once trusted people can turn on us and show a side of themselves that we never thought to be possible. Salinger reveals adults to be untrustworthy and I believe this is his true purpose of creating this novel. 'The Catcher in the Rye' belongs to the genre’s of a first person, coming of age fiction novel. And another more unheard of term, bildungsroman. This term for a novel is during a character’s “formative years” (years before becoming an adult, years that shape who you become) and spiritual education, Simply put, the novel is about our protagonist gaining wisdom and shaping themselves into who they will be in later life. Holden is expelled from his school and runs away from home, this catalyst begins his journey. Through this time Holden experiences immense depression, loneliness, alcohol abuse and sexual desires. Holden experiences these inner feelings while also experiencing an unpleasant side to humans and the world. This brings me back to the thesis of this presentation. 'The Catcher in the Rye' serves the purpose of criticising adulthood, showing the dangers of people in authority, the unreliability of our elders and revealing the unpleasant side of the North America we live in.

I will now discuss some context from the novel, then discuss some context from the author’s life, how that translates through into the book. 'The Catcher in the Rye' was partially released in 1945-1946 and was written and first published in 1951. In a post WW2 setting 'The Catcher in the Rye' was set as the after the war and after the US economic rise. As America gained economic superiority over other countries after the war their industry boomed and consequential societal norms set in. Teenagers during this time were to conform to society and fall under the societal norms that were in place, 'The Catcher in the Rye' goes against this. The novel was banned in certain states, because it went against the normality of the time period. This is where alternative views come into play, critics of this piece believe it doesn’t have a place within school, as a school read text. The sexual content and swear words got it banned across America and the book was in the top ten banned books in 2001, 2005, 2009 according to the American Library Association. While many believe it should be banned, an overwhelming amount of people believe the contrary. According to Tereza Pintur of the Mercyhurst University “'The Catcher in the Rye'' is ultimately a coming of age story revolving around themes such as the loss of innocence and the product of war, all intriguing things for lovers of literature!” This english major also goes onto saying it’s her favourite book and it holds very important messages. Tereza has the view that the text is mainly about a story which is a product of war. The text is so important and relevant as Holden is an idol for young teens all across America. Holden is so closely identifiable with teens, as he stands for everything they felt. The novel was created and set in the same time period, and this goes a long way in establishing the social and historical context. The novel forces issues into the reader's mind, issues that weren’t often talked about. As the book is post-war literature it makes sense that Holden thinks in the way he does. Holden doesn’t trust adults and he believes them to be phony and fake, this is probably due to adults leading us into a gruesome WW2.

Who is J.D Salinger?

Jerome David Salinger was born in Manhattan, New York January 1st 1919. Salinger went to private school where he failed to fit in, much like Holden Caulfield. Salinger even changed his name in an attempt to conform more as his Jewish heritage made him stand out. He went to a military academy and began writing stories. Fun fact Salinger actually dated Oona O’Neill who would eventually go on to marry famous silent film actor, Charlie Chaplin. In the spring of 1942 Salinger was drafted into the United States Army where he saw combat with the 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. Salinger would be present in battles such as D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge and the Battle of Hurtgen Forest. Salinger even arranged to meet with Ernest Hemingway, a writer he admired and took inspiration from. Both men were impressed by the other both in character and writing prowess, Hemingway even remarked Salinger’s work, and I quote “Jesus, he has helluva talent. Salinger was highly traumatized after his time in the army and it is speculated that he never fully recovered from it, Salinger uses his wartime experience in 'The Catcher in the Rye' and uses much of his own experiences in life in the novel.

'The Catcher in the Rye' ultimately had a big impact to all those who read it, most notably Mark David Chapman and the shooting and killing of Beatles band member John Lennon. Chapman had a strange connection to the book, after killing Lennon Chapman was found with a copy of the book, Chapman wanted to change his name to Holden Caulfield and he even went as far to read a passage from the book while in court. It was later speculated that Chapman wanted to kill Lennon and “preserve his innocence” just like Holden first wishes to do. After John Hinckley attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan, police found a copy of 'The Catcher in the Rye' in his hotel room. Robert John Bardo, the man who murdered Rebecca Schaeffer had the book when he visited her apartment and murdered her. I don’t mean to be too gruesome! but it’s just interesting to me how this book has had such a massive impact on American society and its people.

Literary Techniques in 'The Catcher in the Rye'

J.D Salinger uses techniques such as allegory, allusion and symbolism, which plays an important role in 'The Catcher in the Rye'. These literary techniques influence and impact the reader in some way. 'The Catcher in the Rye' is the perfect novel to apply the reader response lens as the book evokes such strong opinions and this makes the readers response an important part to understanding this book. Allegory is a technique in which the author parallels an historic event and or themes through their narration. As discussed previously the post wartime (WW2) theme’s closely translate into the books overall tone. The book has a depressing tone along with the fact that our protagonist, Holden is a “product of war” and he embodies the post war morale of being depressed and not having faith in adults.

Symbolism is used throughout and is quite important to making issues relevant from our context. Holden’s red hunting hat is a form of symbolism, the hat refers both to Holden’s insecurities and his creativeness. The red colour of the hat symbolises Holden’s wish to stand out and be noticed. When Holden is confident he wears the hat, when he’s nervous or insecure he doesn’t wear it. Holden gives the hat to his sister Phoebe and this is a sign of appreciation. Allie’s baseball mitt is another, this mitt is covered in poetry and is the mitt which belonged to his late brother Allie, who died years earlier. The mitt means so much to Holden and becomes somewhat of a talisman for him and his creativity. So much so that when a roommate of his dismisses it, he gets into a fight. These poems, written on the mitt help Holden understand what is happening to him in his journey.

Allusion is the last key literary technique which is used in the novel. This technique refers to the use of another artistic piece of work in a novel. In the case of my novel, Salinger uses the very title of the novel “'The Catcher in the Rye'” as an allusion to the song by Robert Burns “Comin Thro’ the Rye”. While changing the words slightly from the song, the main message holds true. It links back to a part in the novel where holden describes himself as “'The Catcher in the Rye'” which refers to Holden wanting to preserve children's innocence, protecting them from adulthood as he doesn’t trust adults. This allusion tells us a lot about Holden, that he is nostalgic for childlike innocence and that he believes himself to be able to catch kids before they fall into the disillusioned adult-world.


'The Catcher in the Rye' serves the purpose of criticising adulthood, showing the dangers of people in authority, the unreliability of our elders and revealing the unpleasant side of the North America we live in. This book, written by J.D Salinger is a thing of brilliance, the book has such strong messages and can be interpreted and viewed in so many different ways. The protagonist, Holden Caulfield relates to anyone going through the transition into adulthood. While the content is quite depressing and very vulgar with it’s themes it ends with such an important message for anyone who reads it. The adult world is a scary place and do be weary about people trying to exploit, harm or use you, but in the end happiness can be found anywhere despite the harsh and depressing world we live in.   


  1. Salinger, J. D. (1951). The Catcher in the Rye. Little, Brown and Company.
  2. Bloom, H. (Ed.). (2010). J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. Infobase Publishing.

  3. Bloom, H. (Ed.). (2000). Modern Critical Interpretations: The Catcher in the Rye. Chelsea House Publishers.

  4. French, W. A. (1986). J.D. Salinger. Twayne Publishers.

  5. Hamilton, I. (1988). In Search of J.D. Salinger. Random House.

  6. Malcolm, J. (2011). J.D. Salinger: A Life. Random House.

  7. Rohrberger, M. (1992). Coming Through the Rye: Change and Transformation in J.D. Salinger's Fiction. Bucknell University Press.

  8. Kotzen, K., & Beller, T. (Eds.). (2007). Understanding The Catcher in the Rye: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents. Greenwood Publishing Group.

  9. Alexander, P. (Ed.). (2000). Salinger: A Critical and Personal Portrait. Citadel Press.

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