From the very first scene of Catcher in the Rye, when Holden decides not to attend the football game that the rest of his school is attending, it is clear that Holden doesn't fit in. What makes The Catcher in the Rye unique, however, is not the fact that Holden is an alienated teenager, but its extremely accurate and nuanced portrayal of the causes, benefits, and costs of his isolation.
In short, alienation both protects and harms Holden. It protects him by ensuring that he will not ever have to form connections with other people that might wind up causing awkwardness, rejection, or the sort of intense emotional pain he felt when Allie died. Just as Holden wears his hunting cap as a sign of independence, separation, and protection from the world, he creates his own alienation for the same purpose. The problem, though, is that Holden is human. He may wish that he didn't need human contact, but he does. So while his alienation protects him, it also severely harms him, making him intensely lonely and depressed. He therefore reaches out, to Mr. Spencer, or Carl Luce, or Sally, but then his fear of human interaction reasserts itself and he does his best to insult or make the very people he wants to connect with angry at him. Holden has gotten himself caught in a cycle of self-destruction: his fear of human contact leads to alienation, which leads to loneliness, which causes him to reach out to another person, which excites his fear of human contact and leads to a terrible experience that convinces him that people are no good, which leads to alienation… and so on.
Alienation and Meltdown ThemeTracker
Alienation and Meltdown Quotes in The Catcher in the Rye
"Yes, sir. I know it is. I know it."
Game, my ass. Some game. If you get on the side where all the hot-shots are, then it's a game, all right—I'll admit that. But if you get on the other side, where there aren't any hot-shots, then what's a game about it? Nothing. No game.
"Like hell it is." I took it off and looked at it. I sort of closed one eye, like I was taking aim at it. "This is a people shooting hat," I said. "I shoot people in this hat."
It made me even more depressed when she said that.
"Yes I do. Yes I do. Sure I do. Don't say that. Why the hell do you say that?"
"Because you don't. You don't like any schools. You don't like a million things. You don't."
"I do! That's where you're wrong—that's exactly where you're wrong! Why the hell do you have to say that?" I said. Boy, was she depressing me. "Because you don't," she said. "Name one thing."
"One thing? One thing I like?" I said. "Okay."
The trouble was, I couldn't concentrate too hot. Sometimes it's hard to concentrate.