The Catcher in the Rye

Alienation and Meltdown Theme Analysis

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.
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon

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.

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Alienation and Meltdown ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Alienation and Meltdown appears in each chapter of The Catcher in the Rye. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Alienation and Meltdown Quotes in The Catcher in the Rye

Below you will find the important quotes in The Catcher in the Rye related to the theme of Alienation and Meltdown.
Chapter 2 Quotes
"Life is a game, boy. Life is a game that one plays according to the rules."
"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.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker)
Page Number: 12-13
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 3 Quotes
[Ackley] took another look at my hat while he was cleaning them. "Up home we wear a hat like that to shoot deer in, for Chrissake," he said. "That's a deer shooting hat."
"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."
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker), Robert Ackley (speaker)
Related Symbols: Holden's Red Hunting Hat
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 5 Quotes
My brother Allie had this left-handed fielder's mitt. He was left-handed. The thing that was descriptive about it, though, was that he had poems written all over the fingers and the pocket and everywhere. In green ink.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker), Allie Caulfield
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

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I was only thirteen, and they were going to have me psychoanalyzed and all, because I broke all the windows in the garage. I don't blame them. I really don't. I slept in the garage the night he died, and I broke all the goddam windows with my fist, just for the hell of it... It was a very stupid thing to do, I'll admit, but I hardly didn't even know I was doing it, and you didn't know Allie.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker), Allie Caulfield
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 7 Quotes
When I was all set to go, when I had my bags and all, I stood for a while next to the stairs and took a last look down the goddam corridor. I was sort of crying. I don't know why. I put my red hunting hat on, and turned the peak around to the back, the way I liked it, and then I yelled at the top of my goddam voice, "Sleep tight, ya morons!" I'll bet I woke up every bastard on the whole floor. Then I got the hell out.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker)
Related Symbols: Holden's Red Hunting Hat
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 9 Quotes
You know those ducks in that lagoon right near Central Park South? That little lake? By any chance, do you happen to know where they go, the ducks, when it gets all frozen over?
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Ducks in the Lagoon in Central Park
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 13 Quotes
The trouble was, I just didn't want to do it. I felt more depressed than sexy, if you want to know the truth. She was depressing. Her green dress hanging in the closet and all. And besides, I don't think I could ever do it with somebody that sits in a stupid movie all day long. I really don't think I could.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker), Sunny
Page Number: 123
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 14 Quotes
It took me quite a while to get to sleep—I wasn't even tired—but finally I did. What I really felt like, though, was committing suicide. I felt like jumping out the window. I probably would've done it, too, if I'd been sure somebody'd cover me up as soon as I landed. I didn't want a bunch of stupid rubbernecks looking at me when I was all gory.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker)
Page Number: 136
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 16 Quotes
She was a very nice, polite little kid. God, I love it when a kid's nice and polite when you tighten their skate for them or something. Most kids are. They really are. I asked her if she'd care to have a hot chocolate or something with me, but she said no, thank you. She said she had to meet her friend. Kids always have to meet their friend. That kills me.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker)
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 17 Quotes
"You ought to go to a boys' school sometime. Try it sometime," I said. "It's full of phonies, and all you do is study so that you can learn enough to be smart enough to be able to buy a goddam Cadillac some day, and you have to keep making believe you give a damn if the football team loses, and all you do is talk about girls and liquor and sex all day, and everybody sticks together in these dirty little goddam cliques."
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker), Sally Hayes
Page Number: 170
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 22 Quotes
"You don't like anything that's happening."
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.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker), Phoebe Caulfield (speaker)
Page Number: 220
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 24 Quotes
This fall I think you're riding for — it's a special kind of fall, a horrible kind. The man falling isn't permitted to feel or hear himself hit bottom. He just keeps falling and falling. The whole arrangement's designed for men who, at some time or other in their lives, were looking for something their own environment couldn't supply them with. Or they thought their own environment couldn't supply them with. So they gave up looking.
Related Characters: Mr. Antolini (speaker), Holden Caulfield
Page Number: 243
Explanation and Analysis:

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Among other things, you'll find that you're not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You're by no means alone on that score... Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You'll learn from them—if you want to.
Related Characters: Mr. Antolini (speaker), Holden Caulfield
Page Number: 246
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 25 Quotes
That's the whole trouble. You can't ever find a place that's nice and peaceful, because there isn't any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you're not looking, somebody'll sneak up and write "Fuck you" right under your nose... I think, even, if I ever die, and they stick me in a cemetery, and I have tombstone and all, it'll say "Holden Caulfield" on it, and then what year I was born and what year I died, and then right under that it'll say "Fuck you." I'm positive, in fact.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker)
Page Number: 264
Explanation and Analysis:

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