Loneliness is a feeling in which people experience a strong sense of emptiness and solitude. Someone lonely may find it hard to form relationships because they are unable to socialize. In The Catcher in the Rye, the main character, Holden Caulfield, is surrounded by people with who he can form relationships. However, Holden fails to form relationships because he chooses to alienate himself from everyone else. He is not willing to become a part of his environment because he thinks he is different. In The Catcher in the Rye, J.D Salinger effectively develops the theme of loneliness through the use of suspense by emphasizing three facts; Holden has no place to go after three days of travelling, he has lost his connection to all of his friends, and he has forgotten about morals and being nice.
After Holden is expelled from his school, he has to find somewhere to stay for three days because his parents are expecting him to come home. This creates suspense by letting the reader read the whole novel and think that he will find a proper place to go, such as a friend’s house. However, even though one would think that he would find a place in three days, he goes from one hotel to another. Once again, this creates suspense because he keeps attempting to call someone and ask if he can stay, but he always fails to do so. Finally, he even admits to himself that he cannot go anywhere, by saying “I got a cab outside the hotel, but I didn’t have the faintest damn idea where I was going. I had no place to go.” (Salinger 139).
Throughout the novel, Holden denies accepting facts about himself and the people around him, but this fact is so obvious that he cannot ignore it. Another reason why Holden does not have anywhere to go is that he does not feel comfortable around people with whom he is not close. That is a big problem because he can never feel close to anyone since he thinks he is different. Throughout the novel, a theme is not touching things or people because Holden thinks they are innocent. Therefore, Holden develops a rule of not touching things. When Holden runs out of money, the only place he can go to is his old teacher, Mr. Antolini’s house. Mr. Antolini cares a lot about Holden and tries to help him.
Prices start at $12
Prices start at $11
Prices start at $14
Prices start at $12
An academic author, Yasuhiro Takeuchi, further examines Holden’s rule by stating that, “Mr. Antolini suspects that Holden is about to experience a fall… and he literally reaches out to Holden, but fails in his attempt to catch him.” (Yasuhiro Takeuchi, Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Literature Resource Center). Naturally, to catch someone, one must directly touch them. When Mr. Antolini touches Holden to catch him, he breaks Holden’s rule of not touching. Holden gets very nervous and angry at Mr. Antolini, and he shows his anger by yelling, “What the hellya doing?” (Salinger 249). He then thinks to himself, “…boy, was I nervous! … and they’re always a pervert when I’m around.” (249). Mr. Antolini’s action is due to his thoughtfulness, but Holden’s reaction is to take it the wrong way. This event causes Holden to leave Mr. Antolini’s house, leaving the reader full of suspense because Mr. Antolini was Holden’s last place to go.
After Holden leaves Mr. Antolini’s house, the only place that he can try to sleep is the train station. This creates a lot of suspense because Holden has not slept well in a long time, and he is worried about himself. “What made it even worse, my eyes were sore as hell. They felt all sore and burny from not getting too much sleep.” (253). At this point, he has absolutely no place to go. He must sleep, but he cannot. This is also one of the themes in The Catcher in the Rye, Holden’s emotional decline. An experienced author, Eberhard Alsen, further analyzes Holden’s rule by stating that, “…he expresses his first death wish. He says that he felt so lonely that he almost wished he were dead. And when he actually walks out of the dorm, he breaks into tears” (Eberhard Alsen, The Catcher in the Rye, Literature Resource Center). Holden thinks of death many times throughout this novel while creating suspense, but he gives up on this thought just like all of his other thoughts.
Holden is also lonely because he has lost his connection to all of his friends. What makes this situation suspenseful is the fact that he attempts to reconnect to these old friends. Jane Gallagher is the girl Holden has a crush on. Even though Holden is desperate to see her again, he never actually tries to make it happen. Holden’s roommate, Stradler, goes on a date with Jane, and Holden is eager to see her. Three times during the same conversation, Holden says to Stradlater, “I oughta go down and say hello to her.” (Salinger 42) or some close variant, until at last Stradlater replies with the question that is, by this stage, on every reader’s lips: “Why the hell don’tcha, instead of keep saying it?” (42). Holden later toys with the idea of giving Jane a call no fewer than seven times but never does so.
Yasuhiro Takeuchi once again criticizes Holden’s behaviour about Jane by stating that, “Holden’s reluctance to reach out to Jane, who most critics agree is on the verge of losing her innocence, seems at odds with his ideal of becoming the catcher in the rye, whose job is to “catch”–prevent the fall–of children (the innocent).” (Yasuhiro Takeuchi, Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Literature Resource Center). Once again, this creates suspense because the reader keeps thinking that Holden will actually call Jane, and they will get together. Carl Luce is another one of Holden’s old friends. Holden calls Carl to ask him for advice on girls. However, Carl is not the person he used to be. He is more serious about girls because he actually has a girlfriend at this point.
Carl gets angry at Holden for asking him outrageous questions and tells him that he is immature. Carl tells him, “Listen. Let’s get one thing straight. I refuse to answer any typical Caulfield questions tonight. When in the hell are you going to grow up?” (Salinger 189). Holden fails to make a good conversation again since he has not had one in a long time. He also fails at his attempt to make a friend and goes back to his lonely self. This event creates suspense because Carl becomes very angry after Holden’s extremely personal questions and almost fights him. Holden is already weak and tired since he has not had healthy food or sleep in a while, which makes the reader worried.
Sally Hayes is also an old friend Holden, and he decides to take her on a date, even though he does not like her. He decides to do this because he has nothing left to do. However, they start fighting after a few hours of meeting each other because Holden cannot keep up a normal conversation. This is because he is not used to having normal conversations since he is very lonely. He expresses his feelings about Sally by thinking, “I sort of hated old Sally by the time we got in the cab.” (166). Holden knows that the only reason he took Sally out on a date was that he was lonely. Everything goes well for a long time, but Holden starts saying rude things to her, and she leaves him. This creates suspense because the reader starts thinking that Holden might make a friend, but his attempt fails once again.
Holden has been to many schools full of rude people, which made him forget about morals. This creates suspense because Holden does not know how to be nice to people or treat them well. The reader keeps thinking that he will lose the small number of people around him to who he actually talks to. Finally, Holden’s roommate, Stradler, asks him to write a descriptive essay for one of his classes. Stradler says that the essay can be about anything. Therefore, Holden decides to write about his brother’s baseball glove and memories about it. When Stradler gets back, he is furious at Holden. “God damn it. You always do everything backasswards. No wonder you’re flunking the hell out of here. You don’t do one damn thing the way you’re supposed to.” (53).
Holden does what Stradler tells him to do, but Stradler is not even thankful. This creates suspense because Stradler is so furious that he actually hits Holden a few times. Holden has already made his first death wish, so the reader thinks he will just let Stradler hit him until he dies. Robert Ackley lives in the room near Holden’s room. After Holden fights with Stradler, he asks Ackley if he can sleep in his room for the night since he has a spare bed. Holden has to force Ackley to make him let Holden stay. Ackley said to Holden, “I don’t know when he’s coming back…but for Chrissake, I can’t just tell somebody they can sleep in his goddamn bed if they want to.” (62). Holden is the only person who actually listens to Ackley talk, but Ackley does not appreciate Holden.
Once again, Eberhard Alsen analyzes Holden’s feelings about Ackley by saying that, “…he feels sorry for Ackley and invites him to go out on the town with him on his last night at Pencey Prep. Holden is probably the first person at Pencey to spend time with Ackley voluntarily.” (Eberhard Alsen, The Catcher in the Rye, Literature Resource Center). Holden spends time with Ackley because, unlike many others at Pencey, Ackley is at least a genuine person and not a phony. This event creates suspense because if Ackley did not finally say that Holden could stay, Holden would have stopped talking to Ackley. Furthermore, since Ackley likes to fight, Holden would have had another fight.
Mr. Spencer is Holden’s history teacher. Before Holden leaves his school, he visits Mr. Spencer to apologize for his exam mark. Karen R. Tolchin, an experienced academic author, studies Mr. Spencer’s attempt to put Holden down by stating that “Holden appends a letter to his history exam apologizing for his lack of interest in the ancient Egyptians. He shows nothing but respect for his teacher, Mr. Spencer; indeed, the young protagonist winces as the man sarcastically reads his half-hearted exam response back to him.” (Karen R. Tolchin, Optimism, Innocence, and Angst in The Catcher in the Rye, Literature Resource Center). Holden expects Mr. Spencer to understand his apology, but Mr. Spencer puts him down for failing school. Mr. Spencer picks the worst time to put Holden down because this is when Holden needs help. Holden thinks, “He put my goddam paper down and then looked at me like he’d just beaten the hell out of me in ping-pong or something.
I don’t think I’ll ever forgive him for reading me that crap out loud…I’d only written that damn note so that he wouldn’t feel too bad about flunking me.” (Salinger 17). Holden even wrote Mr. Spencer a note because he thought Mr. Spencer would feel bad about failing him. However, Mr. Spencer was very sarcastic, and he even made of Holden. This event creates lots of suspense because Holden gets very angry and upset and thinks of hurting Mr. Spencer. However, Mr. Spencer is a very older man, and if Holden hurt him, he would not have been able to handle the pain.
Holden Caulfield’s loneliness is revealed throughout the novel by the use of suspense. Holden is lonely because he has no place to go, he does not have any way of connecting to his friends, and he has forgotten about morals. This novel is full of failed communication attempts; messages never delivered, incomplete phone calls, overtures not taken up, appeals repulsed. Holden attempts to address serious questions to Mr. Spencer, Sally Hayes, Carl Luce, and Mr. Antolini, but no one can really hear him. Suspense is successfully created because the reader reads every single step that Holden takes in three days. The reader knows more details about the novel than Holden does. Therefore, the reader tries to guess what will happen next, but since Holden is unpredictable, it might not always be what they think.
- Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. New York: Back Bay Books, 1945.
- Takeuchi, Yasuhiro. “Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.” The Explicator. 2002. Literature Resource Center. Web. 10 March 2010 < http://go.galegroup.com/ps/retrieve.do?sgHitCount>.
- Alsen, Eberhard. “The Catcher in the Rye.” A Reader’s Guide to J. D. Salinger. 2002. Literature Resource Center. Web. 9 March 2010 < http://go.galegroup.com/ps/retrieve.do?sg>.
- Tolchin, Karen R. “Optimism, Innocence, and Angst in The Catcher in the Rye.” Part Blood, Part Ketchup: Coming of Age in American Literature and Film. Web. 9 March 2010 < http://go.galegroup.com/ps/retrieve.d>.