The Catcher in the Rye Questions and Answers
by J. D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye book cover
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Compare and contrast the similarities and differences of the theme of deception and betrayal in The Catcher in the Rye and Hamlet.

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Hamlet has been literally betrayed in Hamlet by an actively malevolent person—the senior Hamlet was murdered by Claudius, and Claudius both deceives and betrays the younger Hamlet, plotting his death while pretending to look after his interests. Holden, in contrast, feels betrayed because his world has been shattered by the death of his younger brother Allie, who died of leukemia. This was simply something that happened, but Holden takes it very much to heart, and it shakes his universe badly.

In Hamlet's and Holden's cases, a central sense of betrayal depresses both of them and motivates them to behave erratically. Hamlet pretends to be insane to keep the people watching him off guard while Holden goes off on a "binge" by himself in New York City. Both are trying to deal with worlds that seem amok. To Hamlet, Denmark suddenly feels filled with evil and deception, and he trusts nobody. Holden is also on edge about a world he is discovering is insecure and malevolent. This drives him to want to protect children as the catcher in the rye (saving them before they fall off the edge of a cliff), to identify people as phonies, and to yearn for a return to a more secure childhood world. Hamlet also wishes he could return to the world he knew before his beloved father's death. He wants to escape his new world through suicide, and he sometimes genuinely seems to be having a fit of madness, such as when he thinks he sees the ghost in his mother's bedroom.

A change in the structure of the family of origin has led both these sensitive characters—people of great interiority who question and wonder about the world almost ceaselessly—to act out as they deal with their new, broken realities.

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