The Catcher in the Rye


J. D. Salinger

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The Catcher in the Rye Themes

Themes and Colors
Phoniness Theme Icon
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Women and Sex Theme Icon
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Catcher in the Rye, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.


In J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, a novel about a teenager’s many frustrations with the world, 16-year-old Holden Caulfield constantly encounters people and situations that strike him as “phony.” This is a word he applies to anything hypocritical, shallow, inauthentic, or otherwise fake. He sees such “phoniness” everywhere in the adult world, and believes adults are so superficial that they can’t even recognize their own insincerity. And though Holden feels this skepticism…

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Alienation and Meltdown

Early on in The Catcher in the Rye, it’s clear that Holden doesn’t fit in. After all, he decides not to attend his school’s big football game with the rest of his peers, a sign that he tends to sequester himself from others. What makes The Catcher in the Rye unique, however, is not the fact that Holden is an alienated teenager, but the novel’s nuanced portrayal of the causes, benefits, and costs of…

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Women and Sex

In The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger uses Holden Caulfield’s thoughts about women and sex to illustrate the young man’s naivety. More specifically, Holden’s romantic and sexual expectations reveal his tendency to idealize certain unrealistic notions. For instance, he thinks of Jane Gallagher as a perfect woman, despite the fact that he can’t even bring himself to call her on the phone. Having idealized her in this way, he looks down on…

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Childhood and Growing Up

The Catcher in the Rye is a portrait of a young man at odds with the process of growing up. A 16-year-old who is highly critical of the adult world, Holden covets what he sees as the inherent purity of youth. This is why the characters he speaks most fondly about in the novel are all children. Thinking that children are still untainted by the “phony,” hypocritical adult world, he wishes there were a way…

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Madness, Depression, Suicide

The Catcher in the Rye examines the fine line between everyday teenage angst and serious depression or unhappiness. Throughout the novel, Holden refers to himself as a “madman,” calls himself crazy, and frequently declares that he is depressed. At first, these statements seem somewhat trivial, since Holden tends to exaggerate. In addition, his claims about how much he dislikes his life sometimes seem rather undeserved, since he’s actually quite privileged. After all, he comes from…

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