Within J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, the main character and narrator, Holden Caulfield, deals with his own emotional stability as he transitions from childhood to adulthood. The novel is filled with powerful quotes embodying this transition and the themes associated with it. Two of these themes, reading/writing, and self-perception are discussed below in context with a few of the most poignant quotes from the novel.
Writing and Reading
Words, and the various ways one can interact with them through reading and writing, is one of Holden’s only passions. Reading provides him with an escape from his world that comes without preconditions. One of the most prominent examples of writing appearing as an outlet in The Catcher in the Rye is embodied through Allie’s baseball mitt. Holden’s brother died, leaving behind his left-hand fielder’s mitt. On the mitt, his brother had written poems in “green ink”. The following quote speaks to the mitt’s importance:
My brother Allie had this left-handed fielder’s mitt. He was left-handed. The thing that was descriptive about it though, was that he had poems written all over the fingers and the pocket and everywhere. In green ink. He wrote them on it so that he’d have something to read when he was in the field and nobody was up to bat. He’s dead now.
The catcher’s mitt and its relevance to Holden’s life are incredibly important. It is one of the most moving sections of the novel as it taps into Holden’s transitory relationship with death and loss. The poems themselves represent something pure, unadulterated, and incredibly endearing about his brother. Now, since Allie has passed away, the mitt has become something of a relic to Holden. Through Holden’s stilted and detached language in this quote the reader gets an insight into the brutal nature of life and death and how it has impacted him.
In another example of Holden’s attachment to the written word appears through the following quote:
What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.
These lines are honest, self-reflective and very relatable. This is especially true considering the reader will eventually finish the novel in which these words are found and perhaps be left feeling as though they’ve lost a friend as well.
Holden’s sense of self, his anxieties, internal and external, fuel The Catcher in the Rye. Salinger’s choice to write from a first-person narrative perspective guarantees the reader will receive some kind of insight, reliable or not, into how Holden perceives himself. One element of Holden’s personality, or mental state, that quickly becomes clear in the novel is his consideration of death. He often contemplates death and the ease with which one might step into it.
In one of the more memorable inner monologues of The Cather in the Rye Holden tells the story of a young man who committed suicide, jumping from a window, rather than submit himself to a beating at the hands of bullies. Holden respects this choice, perceiving it as noble. The following quote tells the reader a great deal about Holden’s concept of death and mourning:
When you’re dead, they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you’re dead? Nobody.
Fairly self-explanatory, in these lines Holden is expressing his desire, whether genuine or not, to have his body neglected after death. He’s put off by the ceremony and what he sees as fake emotions after death. “All that crap” as he puts it, is something he doesn’t want to be a part of.
There are moments in The Catcher in the Rye when Holden’s facade of self-importance, gusto and ego fall away and the reader receives deeper insight into how he’s really feeling. The following quote speaks to Holden’s delicate mental state, but it also taps into a genuine human fear of life’s meaninglessness and one’s own insignificance.
It was that kind of a crazy afternoon, terrifically cold, and no sun out or anything, and you felt like you were disappearing every time you crossed a road.
This sense-based quote describes moments in one’s life in which all the elements come together in exactly the wrong way. Emotional and physical interpretations of space converge and subject Holden, as they do many others every day, to a feeling of inescapable transience and purposelessness.
I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.
In this last quote, one of the most famous from The Catcher in the Rye Holden describes a dream to his sister he’s always carried with him. He’d like to, he states, stand in a field and save all the children who are on their way to adulthood. He’d catch them and prevent them from having the same experiences he’s having.