The Catcher in the Rye: Struggles of Adolescence

The Catcher in the Rye: Struggles of Teenage years


Perhaps it is due to the fact that “Holden Caulfield is a reflection of the sociocultural conditions of his age,” (Pinsker and Pinsker xv) that J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye has actually stayed such an attractive and influential piece of literature. The primary character, Holden Caulfield, is making the shift from teenage years to adulthood and the transition is uncomfortable, agonizing, and laden with self-doubt.

This transition is laden with insecurity since of the substantial difference between the way that Holden thinks the world should be and method which it really functions. He is negative, suspicious of relationships with almost everyone, careful of intimacy, and he views himself to be extraordinarily lonely.

This paper will examine the complicated and nuanced manner in which Holden experiences the painfulness of maturing; more specifically, this paper will discuss this painfulness in terms of Holden’s solitude, the nature of his relationships, intimacy, and sexuality.


As a preliminary matter, when taking a look at the painfulness of growing up as it is manifest through Holden Caulfield, it is essential to more carefully analyze Holden’s understanding of himself as lonely and how this separating self-perception in fact exacerbates the intensity of his pain. His notion of loneliness is really comparable to a type of emptiness in which he is having a hard time to find how he connects to other individuals, how he associates with people sexually, and how he relates to the bigger social structures and organizations that surround him.

It is this battle to discover or to comprehend himself, a familiar teen phase in life shared by all humans, that underlies Holden’s view of himself, his view of others, and his view of the world. It can be argued, from a mindful assessment of the text, that Holden’s self-perception of solitude permeates and underpins his supreme sensation of isolation and vulnerability.

Although he is practically constantly surrounded by other people, and although a lot of those individuals are reasonably cordial to him, Holden nonetheless sees himself as an outsider of sorts whom other people can never ever quite understand. The truth, maybe, is that since Holden is making the transition from teenage years to adulthood it is Holden that does not understand himself which in turn results in his extensive sensations of solitude and isolation.

Undoubtedly, as one scholar has actually explained, “Holden is so loaded with despair and solitude that he is actually nauseated the majority of the time” (Flower 114) and that “Although he is a boy of unusually deep perceptiveness, his nature is still childishly one-sided, for his feelings, like a child’s, still predominate over his improperly developed intellect” (Blossom 88).

These observations assist to discuss the source of his adolescent solitude and angst if not the repercussions. The source is linked to his teen phase of advancement; more specifically, because Holden acts out most often as a result of immediate psychological impulses instead of believing scenarios through in a more fully grown way he continuously handles circumstances as he desires them to be emotionally instead of as the way situations progress in larger social structures. Simply put, the adolescent Holden is in many ways a prisoner to his psychological desires and impulses rather than a thoughtful young person.

This emotional predominance in Holden’s teen psychology leads to him feeling lonesome, isolated, and even self-destructive when his psychological needs are not immediately and totally pleased. One example is when, choosing that he will not telephone Jane when he is in New york city, he instead decides rather impulsively to accept a hotel employee’s offer to send out a woman of the street to his room.

Assessing his decision-making process, Holden stated that “It protested my principles and all, but I was feeling so depressed I didn’t even believe. That’s the whole trouble. When you’re feeling extremely depressed, you can’t even believe.” (Blossom 88). Holden was hence attempting to blame his acceptance of the prostitute on his depression; the reality would appear to be that the principles to which Holden was referring were non-existent or not fully established in his own teen mind which he instead succumbed to his immediate emotional desire for female friendship.

In impact, Holden constantly associates his misery to an abstract sense of isolation rather than to his own immature emotional impulses. “Holden keeps plucking the string significant solitude, observing that an act as probably simple as watching out a window can make one feel lonesome and even self-destructive.” (Pinsker and Pinsker 14).

In amount, it is this relentless and pervasive self-perception of isolation, instead of a self-recognition of psychological impulsiveness, that characterizes Holden throughout the story. It is also this self-perception of solitude that impacts Holden’s relationships with other individuals, his issues with human and social intimacy, and his own sexuality.


Holden allows his emotional impulses and his emotional insecurity to affect a variety of relationships; undoubtedly, he has problem connecting to or getting along with many everybody he encounters. This holds true with respect to friends and family along with respect to schoolmates, instructors, and good friends.

To be sure, Holden appears to be able to forge somewhat closer relationships with certain people, even indicating a small degree of regard at times; nevertheless, in the end, he regularly falls back on his sense of seclusion and appears to be cautious of sustaining any human relationship for very long.

Holden’s age is extremely relevant when discussing his inability to sustain human relationships; indeed, “Ending up being an adult needs establishing brand-new relationships with parents and peers, and establishing a sense of personal identity.” (Pinsker, and Pinsker 151) and “While Holden is quite fixated on money, he is aware, on an unconscious level, that money can not buy him love or greater self-esteem.” (Pearlman n.p). Holden is plainly looking for to establish or to sustain favorable human relationships however appears unable to be successful.

The text offers that Holden desires to please such individuals as Jane and his more youthful sis; it likewise establishes beyond a shadow of a doubt that Holden originates from an upscale family which he has plenty of money and financial support. His problem, therefore, derives neither from an absence of desire to take part in healthy human relationships nor from a low socioeconomic status which might bar him from places where such healthy relationships might be pursued.

The real source of Holden’s relationship issues transcends issues such as desire or socioeconomic status. The ultimate source, the most precise explanation, is simply that Holden is an undeveloped, though developing, and imperfect teen.

In truth, his relationship issue is so serious in his own mind that Holden often desires a total escape:

There are, furthermore, strong ideas that Holden desires to reenact Allie’s fall (death) himself. As described above, Holden is related to James Castle, the classmate who jumped from a window to his death. Holden earlier toys with the idea of leaping out of a window (136 ), and another suicide fantasy of Holden’s resonates particularly with Allie’s cause of death: “Anyway, I’m sort of pleased they’ve got the atomic bomb developed. If there’s ever another war, I’m going to sit right the hell on top of it. I’ll offer for it, I swear to God I will” (Takeuchi n.p)
In amount, Holden Caulfield’s relationships tend to be rather consistently fragile; this fragility, in turn, worsens his sensations of isolation and appears to reinforce his propensity to respond to people and scenarios mentally rather than thinking things through. The destructiveness of Holden’s teen psychology is especially apparent when seen against his relationships which implicate or otherwise include problems of intimacy and sexuality.

Intimacy and Sexuality

It can be argued that Holden’s black and white view of the world, comprising as it does the pure individuals and the fake people, is not able to accommodate issues of ethical intricacy or moral obscurity. This is especially real when concerns of intimacy or sexuality are involved in the text. This failure to reconcile conflicting qualities, the essence of intricacy and uncertainty, is rather evident in the case of Holden’s relationship with his instructor, Mr. Antolini, whom Holden appreciates and categorizes as fundamentally pure regardless of having received a sexual proposal from the married teacher and mentor.

What becomes apparent from this sequence of events is the fact that intimacy and sexuality, complex functions of human relationships, are beyond Holden’s teen grasp. On the one hand, since Holden appreciates Mr. Antolini for having responded effectively to the death of James Castle, the issue of the instructor’s authenticity as a human is basically settled. Mr. Antolini is a good guy, a straight talker, and a good example to be replicated in this hypocritical world. On the other hand, this married teacher does consequently make a homosexual advance to Holden. Rather than being indignant, or despairing in his instructor, Holden instead seems to gloss over the sexual advance:

when Holden pictures that Mr. Antolini has actually made a homosexual pass, he makes an abrupt exit just to discover himself questioning if his snap judgment about a formerly revered teacher may be wrong. Rather than the simplistic department that pits those who are phony versus those who are pure, Holden now discovers himself smack up versus a complicated, morally complicated scenario. (Pinsker and Pinsker 145).

It is his inability to solve ethically complex situations, since he allows emotional absolutes to predominate over thoroughly considered realities, that defines all of Holden’s relationships. Whether with respect to Jane or Mr. Antolini, Holden does not appear to understand his own sexuality. He seems to view sexuality as a physical rather than a caring function as his decision to accept the woman of the street appears to verify.

One scholar has actually referred to Holden’s overall confusion and isolation as belonging, in part, to his own misconception regarding his adolescent sexuality, keeping in mind that “Holden’s obsession with X-rated sexuality is a generous piece of his overall confusion. He does not comprehend sex, and in his most revealing minutes, he easily confesses this.” (Pinsker, and Pinsker 16).

Once again, this kind of sexual confusion is common to teenagers approaching their adult years; what perhaps is not so typical is the extremes to which Holden goes to fall back into his comfortable sexual caricatures instead of think about the sexuality of himself and others in a more mature or sophisticated manner.


In the last analysis, the story of Holden Caulfield is a coming of age story told through the mind of a teen whose life experiences and psychological maturity are as of yet undeveloped. His life is a struggle, extensive feelings of loneliness attend his ideas constantly, and he sees himself as the ultimate outsider.

It is possibly because a lot of readers can relate to these sensations, being on the outside of the world searching in, that The Catcher in the Rye continues to be so popular a lot of years after its original publication. In an extremely genuine way, because all people need to shift from adolescence to adulthood, Holden Caulfield represents a very genuine part of everyone in the mankind.

Works Pointed out

Bloom, Harold, ed. Holden Caulfield. New York: Chelsea Home, 1990. Questia. 16 July 2009 <

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