Social Problems Discussed in ‘The Catcher in The Rye’

The Catcher in the Rye is a timeless masterpiece of coming-of-age fiction, an elegy to the isolation of adolescence that captures the universal yearning for belonging and the baffling grief that accompany adulthood.

This famous novel by J.D. Salinger (1919-2010) about adolescent angst and independence was first published in 1951. The book was chosen as one of the top 100 novels published in the English language since 1923. It was recognized as one of the top 100 books written in English during the twentieth century by Modern Library and its readers. In the 1950s and 1960s, it became the novel that every adolescent male wanted to read.

That’s why this book is frequently discussed in Literature classes. Many instructors give assignments related to this novel to their students, so they can dig deeper into the topic. If you want to see how people view this work from different angles, check The Catcher in The Rye essay in our database of school assignments. After following the link, you will find tons of free examples of well-written essays that will help you complete your own paper and expand your outlook.

If you want to know what social problems are discussed in this amazing book, keep reading!


Self-Defense Through Isolation

Holden seems to be mistreated and isolated from society throughout the narrative. He tells Mr. Spencer that he is stuck on “the other side” of life and that he is always trying to find his place in a society to which he does not believe he truly belongs. As the story develops, we see that Holden’s isolation serves as a form of self-preservation.

He exploits his solitude as evidence that he is superior to the others around him, much as he does by wearing his hunting cap (see “Symbols,” below) to proclaim his individuality. His cynical sense of superiority is a kind of self-protection, as interactions with other people typically leave him feeling confused and overwhelmed. Therefore, Holden’s isolation is the driving force for his relative stability.


The Difficulty Of Growing Up

Most interpretations of The Catcher in the Rye classify it as a bildungsroman or coming-of-age story. Holden Caulfield is an odd protagonist for a bildungsroman because his primary purpose is to oppose the process of becoming an adult, but it is fair to examine the work in such terms. Holden’s inability to adapt to new situations and his anxiety in the face of complexity are on full display in his reflections on the Museum of Natural History.

Like the museum’s Eskimos and Indians, he would like for the world to remain permanently frozen in a simple, static form. He fears the world because he too is vulnerable to the flaws he criticizes in other people and because he lacks the ability to make sense of it all. Only when discussing sex does he concede, “[s]ex is something I just don’t understand.” Despite this, he stubbornly refuses to accept that he is scared.


The Pretendness of Mature Society

One of Holden’s favorite ideas is “phoniness,” the adjective that has become synonymous with The Catcher in the Rye. It’s his shorthand for all the pretentiousness, hypocrisy, and insincerity he sees in the world. Holden argues in Chapter 22 that grownups are invariably phonies and, worse, they can’t detect their own phoniness.

Holden uses phoniness as a symbol for everything wrong with the world and an excuse to escape into his cynical solitude. Holden’s remarks are not completely mistaken, but they are oversimplified. When Holden is in the narrative voice, he may be incredibly observant, and he is keenly aware of the superficiality of the people around him. Numerous individuals, he meets throughout the narrative, come across as offending, arrogant, or shallow.



Holden’s views on religion are mixed, like his views on most other aspects of life. Religion appeals to him because he believes it has the potential to provide him with a sense of spiritual stability in a world that might otherwise be overwhelming and sad. Throughout the story, Holden longs for such a stable foundation. He often thinks that being with a young lady will make him feel less alone, but his attempts to form relationships with women often end in failure. Instead, Holden occasionally considers Jesus. There are a handful of reasons why Jesus resonates with Holden.

To begin, Jesus is not a pretender. Holden says that if Jesus had seen how commercialized Christmas has become, he “would’ve thrown up.” Second, Jesus gives special treatment to those who are marginalized by society. Holden observes this when thinking about the biblical account of Jesus restoring sanity to a man who had gone mad. Holden, who often refers to himself as a “madman,” thinks that Jesus can heal him as well. Holden longs for a sense of spiritual foundation, yet he finds institutional religion disgusting.

As Holden sees it, humans become hypocrites when they adhere to externally imposed rituals, religion, and dogma. Holden acknowledges Jesus as a spiritual leader but doesn’t believe in the religion that bears his name.


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