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
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.