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Characterization Develops Themes & Symbolism

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1 Characterization Develops Themes & Symbolism
Catcher in the Rye Characterization Develops Themes & Symbolism

2 Theme: Innocence The major themes of a novel reflect the values and motivations of the characters. A major theme of the novel is the protection of innocence, especially of children. It is very closely related to his struggle against growing up. The people he admires all represent or protect innocence. In contrast, he sees an enemy in all adults. He acts himself as guardian of all he sees as innocent, as seen in his treatment of Jane Gallager. He vehemently denies any sexual relationship to the reader, and is angered when he thinks of her having to ward off the advances of her drunken stepfather and Stradlater.

3 Holden as a “Catcher” Holden's hopes to be "the catcher in the rye." In a description to Phoebe , he pictures a field of rye standing by a dangerous cliff. Children play in the field with joy and abandon. If they should come too close to the edge of the cliff, however, Holden is there to catch them. This is a naive misinterpretation of the poem’s meaning and allows the reader to appreciate Holden’s outlook on life and all that growing up means for him. Growing up for him, means to lose one’s sense of self and fall into the unknown. His attitude seems to shift near the end of the novel when he realizes that Phoebe and other children must be allowed to "grab for the gold ring," to choose to take their own path and risks, even though it will be dangerous to them. In this he reveals he is not the path to accepting “growing up”.

4 Holden as “Catcher” Instead of acknowledging that adulthood scares and mystifies him, Holden invents a fantasy that adulthood is a world of superficiality and hypocrisy (“phoniness”), while childhood is a world of innocence, curiosity, and honesty. The metaphor of the catcher in the rye: he imagines childhood as an idyllic field of rye in which children romp and play; adulthood, for the children of this world, is equivalent to death—a fatal fall over the edge of a cliff.

5 Authentic versus Artificial Real Versus Phony
He sees much of life as a conflict between the authentic and the artificial, which is directly related to his attitude toward children and his resistance to the adult world. When Holden sees the 6-year-old child singing, "If a body catch a body coming through the rye," he expresses his happiness at seeing the boy is not trying to please anyone in his performance, but simply enjoying it for its own sake. Holden feels the same attribute can be found in D.B.'s short stories as they are his brother’s private thoughts written not for public appeal or pay. Another example of an adult who has not “sold out” to popular demand is the black jazz singer Estelle Fletcher of "Little Shirley Beans" on the recording that Holden buys for Phoebe. Holden likes her jazz style, saying she "sings it very Dixieland and whorehouse, and it doesn't sound at all mushy." He appreciates that she doesn't cater to the popular sound of the time and avoids making it "sound cute as hell."

6 Authentic versus Artificial Real Versus Phony
In contrast, Holden believes that artists who “sell out” their talents to accommodate what popular demand dictates are no better than prostitutes. He likens D.B.’s screenplays for Hollywood to prostitution. The artists have sold out — for money or fame or just for applause. He dislikes what he calls emotional manipulations in literature. Romance magazines with "lean-jawed guys named David" and "a lot of phony girls named Linda or Marcia" usually set Holden to "puking," although he does sometimes read them on the train. In all of these examples, he sees a corruption of an artist’s creativity and value when the artist adapts his creation to the demands of the audience in the adult world.

7 Theme: Death Death is constant mystery for Holden and is present through the novel through the references Holden's younger brother's Allie, even though he has been dead for about three years. When he thinks of Allie, he is haunted by the thought of Allie in the rainy cemetery surrounded by tombstones and dead people. Holden associates death with the changing nature of time and the inevitability of death. He wishes that everything could just stay the way it is, that time could stand still, especially in times when good things happen. He compares this notion to the displays under glass at the museum. Holden does not see that change and aging is unavoidable. Holden does not recognize that the force he is conflicting with is not just societal demand but his own physical body. He resists simply growing up, and by the end of the novel the reader can see that his resistance can only result in disaster.

8 Theme: Sexual Confusion
Holden is especially sexually confused, particularly regarding the proper conduct for a young male adolescent. for example, when he talks about sex and admits that “[s]ex is something I just don’t understand. I swear to God I don’t” (Chapter 9). He has the usual adolescent curiosity but is unsure about how he should respond to them. He claims to be a romantic, but admits that he is sexually driven. He respects what girls say when they ask him to stop making advances, unlike other boys his age, even though he has heard the usual rumors that they don't always mean it. When a girl says she wants to stop, Holden stops. "No" means "No" for Holden Caulfield.

9 Theme: Sexual Confusion
During the encounter with Sunny, the prostitute, Holden decides that he simply does not want to go through with the act of sex. While talking later with Carl Luce at the Wicker Bar, Holden wonders if he needs psychoanalysis because he has difficulty being intimate with a girl unless he really cares about her. Luce lacks the maturity to tell Holden that these feelings are admirable.

10 Theme: Sexual Confusion
On the other hand, Holden is unusually concerned about homosexual males (whom he calls "flits"). He thinks that all homoerotic behavior is "perverty," lumping it together with bestiality (or at least accepting the fact that Carl Luce has this view). Interestingly, he is curious how other heterosexual males he respects (like Carl Luce) view it, and his opinion is often formed based on their views. Holden is understandably bothered by Mr. Antolini's odd behavior at the apartment, he seems to be over-reacting to harmless gesture of affection . Salinger is unclear about the former teacher's motive. The reader should note that the teacher pats him on the head, and Holden assumes a sinister motive.

11 Theme: Conformity A major theme of "The Catcher in the Rye" is the personal struggle between conformity and individuality, between selling out and staying true to yourself and your beliefs. As Spence tells Holden at the start of the book, "Life is a game that has to be played by the rules." Holden's conflicts result from his unwillingness to conform to the accepted social norms; eventually, this struggle proves too much and leads to his breakdown. This theme is also related to his notion that all adults are phony, and his rejection of this is the root of his fear of growing up. Holden cites many examples of adults ‘ “phoniness” . But these many examples serve to prove the point that “conformity” requires that the person “conform” to the demands of the adult roles which we all must take on as we mature. The new roles of being an employee, parent, spouse is a new challenge which forces the person to “act” outside their normal behavior in order to succeed.

12 Theme of Alienation: Relationships & Intimacy
For unstated reasons, likely rooted in Allie’s death, Holden is receiving psychological help according his words at the end of the novel. Throughout the novel, the reader sees that Holden has trouble forming positive intimate relationships with others. He alienates everyone in his life in order to isolate himself from anyone for whom he might care, possibly to remove the risk of suffering the pain of losing a loved one– which becomes a means of defending himself. He isolates himself with purposely resisting the helpful advice of teachers, and the friendship of roommates at Pencey Hall. He has opportunities for both physical and emotional intimacy, but he seems to sabotage these opportunities, and instead reacts with cynicism and bitterness. But Holden desperately continues this search for intimacy (ex: visit to Mr. Antolini, late night visit to Phoebe, calls to old girlfriends at the hotel room), but constantly rejects the person at the last moment , usually by offending them in some way.

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