Salinger uses a variety of techniques to develop the major themes of The Catcher in the Rye. The statement that ‘Salinger uses a variety of techniques to develop the major themes of The Catcher in the Rye’ is true in a number of important ways. The major themes of the novel include the problems of alienation, sexual identity and overcoming personal loss within the context of the overall concept of inner journey. Salinger employs techniques such as “unreliable narrator”, colloquial “spoken” syntax and dramatic irony combined with symbolism and the use of recurring motifs. The combined effects of these techniques confirm the overall thesis of the novel in its depiction of the psychological development and struggle of the protagonist Holden Caufield to overcome the alienated conditions of his life. The ultimate triumph of Holden’s humanity in the stunning epiphany that effectively concludes the narrative raises this novel to the level of a modern classic.
The theme of alienation is central to an understanding of the overall concept of inner journey in The Catcher in the Rye. For example, the technique of the “unreliable narrator” is used effectively by Salinger to create the persona of a confused and frightened character who cannot find his place in the world. This can be shown when Holden narrates that “some things are hard to remember” in the context of his fight with Stradlater in chapter 6. Holden attacked Stradlater because he was filled with uncontrollable rage when he believed Stradlater had had sex with Jane Gallagher (an old childhood friend of Holden). Holden cannot conceptualise and articulate his feelings in this situation and therefore cannot reliably inform the responder accordingly. It is possible that he is driven by a combination of sexual frustration and his subconscious desire to protect the sexual innocence of children. The overall effect of this technique is to demonstrate that he cannot sufficiently comprehend his true place in the world and is therefore alienated from it.
Alienation is a difficult obstacle for Holden to overcome. This is made obvious with the use of first person narration. Holden would often refer to people as being ‘phony’. In the bar, Holden narrates “I was surrounded by phonies” and deliberately excludes himself from the crowd. Holden also excludes himself from the general society. An example is when Holden is talking to Ernest Morrow’s mother, Mrs Morrow (Ernest is a fellow student of Holden’s at Pency). Holden tells Mrs Morrow that his name is “Rudolf Schmidt” but then admits that that “was the name of the janitor” of his dorm at Pency Prep, the school he used to attend. He also lies to Mrs Morrow saying the reason why he was out of school is because he had to have surgery but admits he was sorry for lying, “I was right away sorry I’d said it, but it was too late”. The overall use of first person narration allows us, as the reader, to know what Holden is verbally saying but what he is actually thinking.
Sexual development and identity is a big issue for Holden, one where he is confused and does not understand. The satirical observations of which Holden uses to identify people effectively shows how Holden abandons situations of which he could potentially have sexual intercourse. An example is when Holden is presented with a prostitute named Sunny. In the quote “The crossed her legs and started jiggling this one foot up and down. She was very nervous, for a prostitute”, Sunny is portrayed as a young child through Holden’s perspective thus Holden rejects the opportunity for sexual intercourse. Another example is when Holden attempts to ‘flirt’ with the girls in the bar, “What they did, though, the three of them, when I did it, they started giggling like morons”. The girls simply laugh at Holden because he is too young for them. It can be concluded from the quotes and the use of satirical observations that Holden does not know his own sexual standing and status. The problem of overcoming personal loss of a loved one is what affects Holden the most. Salinger uses recurring motifs combined with symbolism to express Holden’s psychological state of mind.
The recurring motif of the red hunting hat is a way Holden copes with the death of his brother Allie. The red hunting hat represents Allie as Holden narrates that Allie had red hair, “I’ll tell you what kind of red hair he had”. Another explanation of the red hunting hat is that Holden is having trouble growing up as he admits to acting young for his age. This is supported by the quote “I act quite young for my age sometimes. It’s really ironical, because I’m six foot two and a half and I have gray hair”. Another recurring motif is the ducks at Central Park. Holden questions several people about the ducks and none of them supply a satisfactory answer. Holden asks Horwitz, a taxi driver, “Do you happen to know where they go in the wintertime, by any chance?” One possible explanation of why Holden is so curious of the ducks is because they symbolise him and he confused with his own future. The use of these recurring motifs allows us to explore and piece together Holden’s psychological state of mind. Salinger definitely incorporates a variety of literary techniques to develop the major themes of The Catcher in the Rye. The clever use of unreliable and first person narration, satirical observations, symbolism and recurring motifs clearly show the characterization of the protagonist Holden Caufield. These techniques have also shown the major themes of the novel and the overall concept of inner journey.