The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger is not just a story about a teenage boy, going through hardships and complaining a lot. It is truly a tale about growing up, where you as a reader learn more about yourself and how you view others. J.D. Salinger uses Holden Caulfield, as a sort of bridge that teaches us about human nature, feelings and difficult times. J.D. Salinger achieved this very well because Holden is such a unique character but nevertheless we can all relate to him in some way. In this essay/analysis I will go through some of the underlying themes of the novel, that create it more than just a story about some kid in New York.
Painful Experience vs. Numbness
Perhaps the strongest theme of the novel involves the relationship between the physical pain of an actual experience and and the painful feeling of one's feelings. After the death of Allie, Holden essentially shuts down. This forces himself to lose all connections to people because he doesn't want to cause any pain to anyone ever again. He repeatedly mentions how important it is not to get attached to anyone, since this will lead to missing them once they are gone. By the end of the novel, he has spiraled so far down with this theory that he has become afraid to even speak to anyone. Phoebe is perhaps the only reminder that Holden still has the ability to love. When he looks at her, he cannot help but feel the same love that he felt for Allie. Nevertheless, the impulses of these feelings leave him even more bereft. He knows he should leave Phoebe to protect himself and his beliefs, but when she shows up to join him on his journey, ultimately he puts his love for her first and sacrifices his own instinct to flee in order to return home.
. To a great degree he is numb to the pains and joys of life. Unable to cope with his brother's death, he has no one to show him the kind of brotherly love that he and Allie shared. Whenever someone does end up showing him even a hint of such love (such as Mr. Antolini), Holden ends up being disappointed.
Love and Sex
Inside, Holden is a deep, sensitive soul, at bottom unable to divert his feelings into numbness. He really envies people like Stradlater, who can simply pick up girls whenever he likes, and to whom sex is a casual pleasure. To Holden, however, sex is deeply discomforting. He cannot have it with girls he likes, and he cannot manage to numb himself enough to treat girls casually. Numbing himself to love, it seems, is Holden's greatest challenge. He feels too deeply about the world, about people, to truly shut down. When he finally does fall in love with Jane Gallagher, he soon discovers that Stradlater has a date with her, which confirms his suspicion that everything he loves eventually deteriorates. He leaves Pencey with some hope of inventing a new identity, but he cannot break out of his being. Even when Holden was with a prostitute, he cannot think of having sex, only of having a conversation in the hope of feeling some glimmer...