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The Catcher in the Rye Literary Elements and Techniques
Transcript of The Catcher in the Rye Literary Elements and Techniques
The Catcher in the Rye
is told in first person by an unreliable narrator named Holden Caulfield. Holden blatantly informs the readers that he is insane. He tells, "The funny part is, I felt like marrying her the minute I saw her. I'm crazy. I didn't even like her much, and yet all of a sudden I felt like I was in love with her and wanted to marry her. I swear to God I'm crazy. I admit it” (124). Through the course of the novel, Holden cannot figure himself out which causes the reader to question the accuracy of his opinions and judgements.
Flashback: abrupt interjections that serve to further explain a story or character with background information and memories.
Symbol: an object or action that means something more than its literal meaning.
Holden's red hunting hat symbolizes a number of things. It is a physical representation of both his security and individuality. Holden is lonely but does not know how to make connections with anyone so he uses his hat as a defense mechanism. The hat makes him unique while simultaneously creating a barrier between himself and the rest of society. This way, if someone rejects him, he can easily divert all blame to the hat.
The museum of Natural History is a place Holden and Phoebe often visit. The museum represents Holden's desire to stop time. Holden has a rigorous time accepting change which is part of his issue with growing up. Everything is exactly how you leave it in the museum and that is what he appreciates.
Irony: the meaning implied by a sentence or word is actually different from the literal meaning.
Holden mentions various times that he has gray hairs. This is ironic because one would assume that a person with gray hair is older and mature. Instead, Holden is a teenager who is unwilling to grow up and mature.
It is also ironic that Holden is constantly judging others for being a phony but then he goes out with Sally Hayes even though he does not actually like her. While on the date, he tells her countless lies such as saying he loves her (Salinger 124). Holden clearly has a complex given that he is sometimes phony too.
Allusion: a reference to an object outside of the work of literature.
Holden alludes to the bible on multiple occasions. After Holden's prostitute left, he began to analyze the actions of Disciples. He hated the disciples because he felt that they were useless when Jesus was alive and that they would have sent Judas to Hell. Holden's constant mention of the Bible reveals his god complex. Holden sees the world as black and white, which is a very naive and childlike way to view the world because nothing is as simple as solely right or wrong.
Motif: a recurring symbol which takes on a figurative meaning.
This novel has an innocence and rebellion motif. This motif can be traced back to Holden's belief that the world is black and white. To him, there is only pure and tarnished. People such as nuns are pure and innocent. Holden also places Phoebe in this category. Then, there are people such as Stradlater who Holden sees as bad because Stradlater uses girls and has sex with girls he does not truly care about.
Metaphor: an implicit, implied, or hidden comparison between two things that are unrelated but share some common characteristics.
The novel's title is a metaphor. A catcher in the rye is a person who saves all children from falling and getting hurt while playing. This is a metaphor for children maturing. Holden wishes that he could save everyone every single time he/she gets hurt but that just is not imaginable. Holden has a desire to catch everyone but he does not realize that he is actually the one falling.
Holden describes his brother as a prostitute because he left home to go to Hollywood and make a living. Holden attempts to degrade his brother's work even though he is proud of D.B. because he feels abandoned. Like so many of the people in his life, Holden thinks that his brother left him.
Internal Conflict: struggle within a character in which debates occur in their own mind about what to do/think.
Holden is constantly battling with his own mind and his own demons. Holden wants to remain innocent and childlike forever but drinks and swears while doing so. He wants to connect with people while isolating himself. Since he is alone so much, he is left with his own thoughts which allows him to always over think. Because he is always in his own head, the majority of his his problems are also in his head. If he decided to stop thinking so much, he would no longer have such a fear of other people, their opinions, and sex.
Sleep tight, ya morons! (52)
The Catcher in the Rye Literary Elements and Techniques
Tone: attitude of a writer toward a subject or an audience.
Epiphany: Moment in which there is a sudden realization that leads to a new perspective, clarifying a problem or situation.
External Conflict: struggle that takes place between the main character and some outside force.
Characterization: Act of creating and describing characters.
Framing Device: a story set within a story, narrative or movie told by the main or the supporting character.
Hyperbole: an exaggeration of ideas for the sake of emphasis.
Simile: A comparison that shows similarities between two different things.
Holden Caulfield: An eccentric teenage boy who finds difficulty in dealing with growing up. Holden views the adult world as being "phony" and something he does not wish to be a part of.
Stradlater: Holden's roommate at Pencey Prep. Confident and strong.
Jane Gallagher: Goes on a date with Stradlater. Always on Holden's mind. Rough home-life as a child. Very protective of her own self.
Two nuns: Intelligent and kind women who speak to Holden at a diner. To Holden, these women, since they are nuns, are an example of purity. They are "clean" and represent what Holden wishes the world to be.
Phoebe Caulfield: Holden's younger sister. Phoebe is the only (living) person Holden truly cares about. While he adores her as a person, he also subconsciously loves her for her innocence. She is intelligent, beautiful, and emotional.
Robert Ackley: Holden's neighbor at Pencey Prep. Ackley has very poor hygiene, no manners, and never has plans so he sits in his room. Holden hangs out with him because he pities him but also because Holden is lonely and just wants company.
D.B. Caulfield: Holden's older brother who lives in Hollywood. Holden is proud of him but he also views D.B. as a sellout. He describes what D.B. is doing as a writer as "being a prostitute" (Salinger 2).
"Sensitive. That killed me. That guy Morrow was about as sensitive as a goddam toilet seat" (Salinger 55). Holden compares his classmate to a toilet to emphasize just how callous he is.
"I apologized like a madman, and they were very polite and nice about it, but it was very embarrassing anyway" (Salinger 113).
Holden's epiphany began when he saw obscenities written on Phoebe's school's walls. While Holden was sitting, he saw that someone had written "fuck you" (Salinger 201). Holden was furious when he saw it because he did not want children to see it and then think about it so he erased it. He even went as far as saying he wanted to kill the person who wrote the phrase. Then, as Holden was walking through the school, he saw another graffiti, reading the same message. This time, Holden left it. He understood, "It’s hopeless anyway. If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn’t rub out even half the “Fuck you” signs in the world. It’s impossible” (202). Holden begins to understand that he is not capable of saving everyone. Until this point, Holden has spent the entire novel attempting to take on everyone else’s burdens and solve his/her problems. Taking on such a rigorous and impractical task caused him to be depressed and cynical.
Holden's epiphany is completed when he sees Phoebe on the carousel horse. Holden tells Phoebe that he wants to be a catcher in the rye so he can catch children when they fall. But then, when Phoebe is on the merry-go-round, she is trying to reach for the gold ring and Holden says that if kids want to grab the ring, you have to let them and if they fall, they fall. This shows a change in Holden's character. Holden now relinquished his job of saving everyone and is allowing himself and other to grow from their mistakes.
"The one side of my head- the right side- is full of millions of gray hairs" (Salinger 9). Holden exaggerates the appearance of his hair in order to sound more mature.
In the novel, Holden recalls the death of a boy named James Castle While talking to Phoebe. James Castle was a quiet boy who called Phil Stabile conceited. He would not apologize for he remark so Phil and his friends did something "repulsive" to James. James felt that the best strategy to end this torture was to jump out of the window, thus killing himself. When Holden thinks of this tragedy, it gives the reader a better understanding of Holden's thoughts. Because of this, this is also a dismal moment because the reader then wonders if Holden is thinking about committing suicide.
The tone is depressing. Since the story is told through the point of view of Holden, the tone is actually Holden’s attitude. He is clearly a very depressed teenager full of angst. He hates everything and everything is constantly “depressing” him. Holden says Mr. Spencer “was reading the Atlantic Monthly, and there were pills and medicine all over the place, and everything smells like Vicks Nose Drops. It was pretty depressing. I'm not too crazy about sick people, anyway. What made it even more depressing, old Spencer had on this very sad, ratty old bathrobe that he was probably born in or something” (Salinger 7). Without being aware of it, Holden reveals that he is mentally ill. Trivial items such as bathrobes and illnesses typically do not depress a person.
Holden creates an external conflict by starting a fight with Stradlater. Although Holden is much smaller than Stradlater, Holden still antagonizes him until Stradlater finally punches him. He also gets into a fight with a New York City pimp. Holden uses physical violence because he suppresses his emotions until he can no longer contain them and acts out.
Holden tells his story while in a therapist's office. The entire novel is a recollection of what previously happened to him over the course of a weekend. On page 213, Holden tells of a psychoanalyst "here" that consults with Holden and questions what his behavior will be like when he returns to school.