Catcher In The Rye Thematic Essay Research

Catcher In The Rye, Thematic Essay, Research Paper

A Lack of Companionship, a Lack of Joy

Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, grapple them to thy soul with

hoops of steel (qtd. in Davidoff 106). As long as man has existed, man has strived to

have companions: to feel the love of friends and family. In J.D. Salinger s The Catcher in

the Rye, protagonist Holden Caulfield rose from his sadness and found happiness only

when he realized the importance of the love and companionship offered by friends and

family. Holden faced many obstructions in his quest to find the joy that was missing in his

life. Unfriendly and non-understanding people seemed to attack Holden s life from all

directions, yet Holden ultimately discovered happiness through the kindness of his sister

Phoebe. By learning from Holden s quest for happiness, we as humans will be able to peer

deeper into our own quests for joy and our own understandings of where happiness

actually comes from. In order to find happiness, one must first recognize his sadness and

ultimately acknowledge the supreme importance of friends, family, and every companion

offering love.

Sometimes one notices the void of sorrow only when he realizes that he is without

anyone to love. Loneliness can sometimes become apparent when one finds none to spend

quality time with and love, as was Holden s case when he is left without a single

companion. The first example of this phenomenon in the story is when Holden leaves his high school Pencey, and all the friends within it. When Holden was packed and leaving

the school he, took a last look down the goddam corridor. I was sort of crying. I don t

know why (Salinger 52). Holden is sad because he is leaving every companion he has:

every source of affection. A second time in the novel when Holden is confronted with the

lurking void of loneliness is when chatting in a hotel lounge with a peer from his past.

Holden is suddenly struck with a feeling of intense loneliness when his peer breaks the

conversation and leaves. Holden pleads, Have just one more drink…Please. I m

lonesome as hell. No kidding (Salinger 149). Only when Holden is left alone, left with no

one to talk to, does he realize that he is lonesome, that he is depressed. Only when one

realizes that none are left to love, does one realize that love is needed to be happy.

After one becomes aware that he is sad due to a lack of companionship, the initial

reaction is commonly to search for an escape from the unhappy world one knows.

Although these escapes may seem irrational or even unfeasible, for Holden they were the

first foreseeable options. One escape Holden contemplated in the novel is running away

with his girlfriend Sally Watts to an ideal lifestyle in the Northeastern United States.

…we could drive up to Massachusetts and Vermont, and all around there, see…

(Salinger 132). Holden then excitedly spurts out detail about his proposed escape. Much

to Holden s distress, Sally declines his invitation and Holden ends up feeling worse than

before he even came up with the idea. I was sorry as hell I d started it [the

conversation] (Salinger 133). Holden s imagination does not stop there; however, as he

quickly finds himself thinking up another escape from the friendless world he is beginning

to hate. Towards the end of the novel, Holden planed to leave the world he knew

completely and hitchhike west. When he ultimately reached his destination, Holden planed to live an ideal life of simplicity where he would no longer have to carry out senseless

conversations. …I d start hitchhiking my way out west…I wouldn t have to have any

goddam stupid useless conversations with anybody (Salinger 198). Here, Holden dreams

of an unrealistic idealized lifestyle where he finds happiness by being alone. This bubble of

idealism is ultimately burst, however, when Holden s sister Phoebe lends affection towards

Holden and destroys his assumption that he has no one left to love: no reason remaining to

stay where he is. When Holden meets with Phoebe, she says, I m going with you. Can I?

Okay? (Salinger 206). Phoebe shows a desire to be with Holden, Phoebe expresses her

love for him. Upon hearing this, Holden reacts, I almost fell over when she said that…I

got sort of dizzy and I thought I was going to pass out or something again (Salinger

206). Holden s reaction to Phoebe s expression of love is a kind of shock. Holden had

plans to escape based on the idea that no one cared for him. When Phoebe shattered this

idea, Holden was physically stunned. How could anyone love him? How could

companionship still exist in this hate filled world? These were the questions that no doubt

passed through Holden s mind when his paradigms of loneliness were broken. Both of

these proposed escapes, though unfulfilling, ultimately led Holden to an understanding of

what is most important in the quest to find happiness: loving companionship.

Realizing the importance of companionship is the final step to achieving happiness.

Holden Caulfield did this only after he felt sadness, depression, and pity and only after he

was able to eliminate all irrational escape plans from his mind. Holden first experiences,

thus acknowledges, the love that radiates from companionship in the light of his sister s

glowing joy. Phoebe was happily riding a carrousel when Holden was overcome with

extreme happiness. I felt so damn happy all of a sudden, the way old Phoebe kept going around and around…I felt so damn happy…It was just that she looked so damn nice

(Salinger 213). Here, Holden feels immense happiness when he is near his sister. The

sister who he knew loved him. The sister who was the only one who loved him. In the

novel s final paragraph, Holden expresses that he misses his friends from Pencey High

School. About all I know is, I sort of miss everybody I told about…Don t ever tell

anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody (Salinger 214). Holden finally

realizes the importance of the friendships he once had. Holden finally acknowledges that

he and everyone needs companions, be they friends or family, to be happy. Holden finally

knew what was really essential to happiness.

Holden Caulfield went through difficult experiences before learning that friends,

family, and all other loving companions were the keys to happiness. First, Holden realized

that there was something serious missing in his life. Second, he searched for ways to

escape this void of loneliness. Finally, he discovered that loving companionship was the

only way that he could fill this void. In order to find happiness, one must acknowledge the

importance of friends, family, and all loving companions. First, however, one must

recognize his sadness and then work through false alternatives to achieving this happiness.

Hopefully, through examining Holden Caulfield s journey toward the final discovery of

happiness, one can acknowledge for himself that friends, family, and loving companions of

all kinds are the true paths to happiness. It s love, it s love that makes the world go

round (qtd. in Davidoff 203).

Works Cited and Consulted

Davidoff, Henry. The Pocket Book of Quotations. New York: Pocket Books, 1952.

Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1991.


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