How does the setting in J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher and the Rye influence the theme?

Posted: October 17th, 2013





Relationship between the setting and themes

The themes of this story include loneliness, deception, alienation, phoniness, relationships and intimacy. There is a close relationship between the setting and the themes. The themes have been developed from the setting of the story. The persona of this story is called Holden Caulfield. As he narrates this story, he is recovering in a metal clinic. The period set for this story is near Christmas. Holden is a lonely boy because he expresses the way he dislikes his roommate and neighbor. This shows that he does not have many friends in school. The only friend he has is a girl called Jane whom he dates. He is sad because he has been expelled and will leave her behind. He says that this is the fourth school he has failed out. This means that he is a loner who does not even seek academic help, he had rather fail. Salinger (69), his sister tells him, “You don’t like anything that’s happening….. You don’t like any schools. You don’t like a million things. You don’t”. This statement shows withdrawal from the society, hence loneliness.

Holden is expelled from school and goes back to New York. He is not concerned about his future. Even when his teachers try to counsel him, he expresses lack of interest. This is an evidence of deception. Phoniness and deception are related because deception is an example of phoniness. He is deceiving himself that nothing is wrong with his life. He even refuses to go home because he does not want to confess the truth to his parents. In the hotel, he lies about his age to the ladies he flirted with. This shows that his lifestyle is accompanied by a lot of lying. Ironically, he criticizes people about deception. He says that adults are full of phoniness moreover; they do not want to accept it. This shows that he does not accept he is also a victim of the same vice. Salinger (1), he says that, “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like….” This statement clearly shows that Holden grew up in an environment, which was unpleasant and full of phoniness.

Throughout the story, Holden is viewed to be excluded from the normal living. He is alienated from the society. He alienates himself as a way of protecting himself from other people. He does this because he dislikes socializing with other people. He feels that it is confusing and overwhelming. Therefore, he opts to live in a world of his own, which ends up being harmful. He is unable to address himself to anyone and is unable to understand and solve his problems. As a result, he considers himself normal whereas he is not. Due to this urge of alienating himself, he is seen to go out with Sally but sends her away because he feels he wants to be alone. This could be the main reason why he eventually ends up in a mental clinic.

Even as Holden is seen to be lonely and alienated, he seems to love women. He pays Maurice to provide for him a prostitute. When he went to Pencey School, he dated Jane and still tried to contact him afterwards. He feels uneasy when she goes out with anyone else. He refuses to go home and spends time in a hotel with women who are even older. This setting brings the theme of relationship and intimacy. Salinger (76) he says that “You don’t always have to get too sexy to get to know a girl.” Introduction of intimacy at such an early age shows how immoral the society has become.

According to the story, Holden was in a boarding school, which was away from his home town. This is a gesture of rejection from his parents. It seems unfair because the sister goes to a nearby school and lives at home. As for him, he was sent to a boarding school far away from home. The school was in Pennsylvania, whereas he lived in Manhattan, New York. Lack of concern from parents could be the reason of his alienation and lack of interest in education. His indulgence to intimacy at an early age shows lack of guidance from parents or guardians. In chapter nine, he confesses that, “Sex is something I just don’t understand. I swear to God I don’t.” This confession is an indication of negligence from parents. They should have taught him about such life’s issues. We can conclude that Holden ended up in a mental clinic as a result of his parents’ incompetence in raising him well.

















Works cited

Salinger, Jerome. D. The catcher in the rye. New York, NY: Penguin books. 2010. Print


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