The Catcher in the Rye Theme of Isolation
(Click the themes infographic to download.)
If we had a dollar for every time our parents told us to just wait until we got to college, and then we’d find all kind of people to be friends with, we’d … have a few dollars. Our point is that, in Catcher in the Rye, Holden feels isolated partly because he lives in such a confined circle. All his schoolmates are rich, privileged kids with narrow worldviews—but he’s also too rich and privileged to connect with anyone who isn’t a rich, privileged kid. (College probably isn’t going to help much, because it’s just going to be full of the same rich, privileged kids.) Maybe he could try hanging around with the Beat Generation?
Questions About Isolation
- Is Holden lonely because others alienate him, or because he alienates others? What prevents Holden from alleviating his loneliness?
- Holden interacts with a lot of people during his two days (or so) in New York. Does he form a real, genuine connection with anyone?
- We can probably all agree that Holden and Phoebe have a real, personal connection with each other. What makes their relationship different from the relationships Holden has with others in the novel?
- Which events or scenarios make Holden feel particularly lonely? Why might this be?
- Is Holden more or less isolated (or the same) at the end of the novel than he was at the beginning?
Chew on This
Although Holden feels alienated from the entire world throughout the book, the last line of the novel shows us that the act of speaking his story connects him to his audience—and saves him from isolation.
Although Holden blames other people and their "phoniness" for his loneliness, it is clear that the fault is entirely his own.