How is Holden's lack of communication a problem for him?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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In Catcher in the Rye, difficulties of communication are a constant issue. One way to understand this is simply seeing it as replicating a stereotype of the preparatory school environment, and particularly the experience of those from a slightly different class background than the majority of students in deciphering the unspoken codes of WASP society, in a way that parallels similar class mobility British works of the same period (Larkin, Osborne, Amis, etc.).

The lack of communication works in two ways as a theme in the novel. First, there is lack of attempts to communicate, that we see in Holden's reluctance to confide in his parents. The second is a deeper lack of communication, in which Holden talks but feels that people don't understand him (e.g. the episode with Mr. Spencer before Holden leaves the school) or people attempt to communicate with Holden, but he sees these attempts through a sufficiently hostile perspective that they never actually connect. Even Holden's flunking out represents a lack of communication between pupil and teacher.

Overall, lack of communication is a major theme in the novel. It's not really a symbol, as it doesn't stand for something else, and not a conflict per se, though possibly a source of conflicts.


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