Examine Holden's experience with loneliness, relationship problems and deception throughout The Catcher in the Rye.  Develop a strong thesis statement based on his experiences and provide 3...

Examine Holden's experience with loneliness, relationship problems and deception throughout The Catcher in the Rye.  Develop a strong thesis statement based on his experiences and provide 3 supporting arguments for each.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When preparing to write an essay on the topic of the teen angst of Holden Caulfied, there are different ways to arrive at a thesis, of course. One way to respond to the prompt is to find examples of incidents and details that relate to sense of alienation and loneliness, interpersonal conflicts, and deception. After having gleaned these passages from the novel, the student can examine them and find a commonality, a main idea, that runs throughout the narrative. This, then, can form the general statement of the thesis. After arriving at the general statement, the student needs the 3 opinions (arguments) as the remainder of the thesis. These are formed as a statement of the different commonalities among the gathered details (e.g. angst); the details and passages themselves, which then become the support for the arguments/opinions. 

For example, Holden seems to hold [notice the similarity with his name] a misanthropic attitude toward anyone older than his little sister Phoebe [it is also no mistake that she is named after the Titan goddess of the "intellect" as Holden reveres her and relies upon her opinions]. Therefore, he is a somewhat unreliable narrator as his story is highly charged by emotion; for, after all, he is narrating from a hospital.

  • Loneliness/Alienation

The final lines of the novel clearly point to Holden's loneliness:

Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.

Throughout the narrative, Holden dons his bizarre red hat, his "deer-killing hat" [here is more word play, this time with the homonym for dear ],in order to ward off others in his fear of commitment to them because of having lost those whom he has held dear, such as his dead brother Allie and the sacrificial lamb James Castle. For, Holden's is an injured and fragile nature.

Because of this fear of losing or trusting people, as well as his antipathy for "phonies," Holden abandons, rejects, or flees from others such as Sally Hayes, Jane Gallagher, and Mr. Antolini. His traumatized perceptions result from his disillusionment in Sally, who is superficial; Mr. Antolini, who is cynical as evinced by his responses to what Holden says; and his morbidity as he focuses repeatedly upon the death of his brother Allie.

  • Personal Conflicts 

Because he sets such high standards for others, no one seems to satisfy Holden. Then, too, Holden is afflicted with some teen jealousies. For instance, when Stradlater returns from his date with Jane, whom Holden cares for, Holden feels some resentment and jealousy towards Stradlater. He cannot keep himself from asking what Stradlater did on his date. His roommate tells Holden that he and Jane just sat in the car. "Whose car?" Holden asks, and Stradlater replies that he borrowed the car of the basketball coach. This angers Holden because "it wasn't allowed for students to borrow faculty guys' cars, but all the athletic bastards stuck together." This nepotism raises Holden's negative feelings toward Stradlater, and his voice is shaking when he asks his roommate if he "gave her the time" in Banky's car.

In asking such questions, Holden creates a barrier between himself and Stradlater; he also reacts in a violent manner when he attacks his roommate. Likewise, he creates a barrier between himself and Mr. Antolini when he imagines that his former teacher is "perverty" and flees his home. Later, Holden regrets his actions as he contemplates the many kindnesses of Mr. Antonlini.

Also, Holden tends to rationalize his reactions. For example, after his failed interactions with the three girls in the Lavender Room, Holden calls them "phonies" because they have not reached his expectations. This reaction becomes a recurring pattern for Holden, who demonstrates his self-affecting personality that is overly-critical of others as "phony" is used repeatedly to describe people with whom he fails to connect.

  • Deception

Holden's self-deception is probably what has landed him in the hospital more than anything else. A disappointed idealist--he admires James Castle for killing himself rather than let others bully him, and Holden holds only his beloved brother Allie and his little sister Phoebe in reverence. All the others, even his brother D.B., are "phonies" and lacking in some way. His great disappointment leads him within himself where he dreams of being a "catcher in the rye" to arrest children in their development and keep them innocent.

At the heart of the narrative is Holden's grief over the loss of Allie--he broke the windows of the garage in his rage at fate on the night Allie died--and his fear of attaining any lasting relationship lest he suffer a similar loss. 


Here is a thesis statement that can be derived from the discussion of the three descriptors in the question:

Holden Caulfield is a teen, who because of the traumatic experience of his beloved brother's untimely death, finds himself entering adulthood alienated, holding unrealistic expectations of others that cause conflict that leave him self-affected and deceived.

Read the study guide:
The Catcher in the Rye

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