Study Guide

The Catcher in the Rye Isolation

By J. D. Salinger

Isolation

Chapter 1

Anyway, it was the Saturday of the football game. […] I remember around three o'clock that afternoon I was standing way the hell up on top of Thomsen Hill. […] You could see the whole field from there, and you could see the two teams bashing each other all over the place. […] You could hear them all yelling. (1.3)

Holden clues us in right away: while everyone else is off at the game, he's isolated, aloof, and watching people instead of connecting with them. What a party animal, right?

Chapter 9

The first thing I did when I got off at Penn Station, I went into this phone booth. I felt like giving somebody a buzz […] but as soon as I was inside, I couldn't think of anybody to call up. My brother D.B. was in Hollywood. My kid sister Phoebe […] was out. Then I thought of giving Jane Gallagher's mother a buzz […]. Then I thought of calling this girl […] Sally Hayes. […] I thought of calling […] Carl Luce. […] So I ended up not calling anybody. I came out of the booth, after about twenty minutes or so. (9.1)

You just know that Holden’s Facebook newsfeed is empty: one by one, he’s blocked every single one of his friends for saying something “phony.” (We get it. Ours clears out pretty fast, too, at least during an election cycle.)

Holden Caulfield

"Well – take me to the Edmont then," I said. "Would you care to stop on the way and join me for a cocktail? On me, I'm loaded." (9.10)

Holden is so desperate for someone to talk to that he tries inviting the cabbie out for a drink, which… is actually kind of sweet. These days you can’t even get a cab driver off his cell phone long enough to make an invite.

Chapter 10

While I was changing my shirt, I damn near gave my kid sister Phoebe a buzz, though. I certainly felt like talking to her on the phone. Somebody with sense and all. But I couldn't take a chance on giving her a buzz, because she was only a little kid and she wouldn't have been up, let alone anywhere near the phone. I thought of maybe hanging up if my parents answered, but that wouldn't've worked, either. They'd know it was me. My mother always knows it's me. She's psychic. But I certainly wouldn't have minded shooting the crap with old Phoebe for a while. (10.2)

The one person he seems to feel closest to (and the one person he reaches out to) is his younger sister, Phoebe. Sure—but only because she hasn’t had a chance to disappoint him yet. Just wait until she hits puberty, Holds.

Chapter 16

But there was one nice thing. This family that you could tell just came out of some church were walking right in front of me – a father, a mother, and a little kid about six years old. They looked sort of poor. […] The kid was swell. […] He was making out like he was walking a very straight line, the way kids do, and the whole time he kept singing and humming. […] It made me feel better. It made me feel not so depressed anymore. (16.3)

Sometimes, just observing is enough to give Holden a sense of connection; watching the little boy makes him "not so depressed anymore." Careful: it’s a slippery slope to a restraining order.

Chapter 20

When I finally got down off the radiator and went out to the hat-check room, I was crying and all. I don't know why, but I was. I guess it was because I was feeling so damn depressed and lonesome. Then, when I went out to the checkroom […] the hat-check girl was very nice. […] I sort of tried to make a date with her. […] She said she was old enough to be my mother and all. (20.37)

Holden keeps tying together the words "depressed" and "lonesome," suggesting that being lonely makes him depressed. Notice how, once again, he tries to reach out to anyone around him, including the hat-check girl, as he earlier did with the cab drivers? But it’s a catch-22, because his depression ends up pushing people away. How … depressing.

Chapter 26

If you want to know the truth, I don't know what I think about it. I'm sorry I told so many people about it. About all I know is, I sort of miss everybody I told about. Even old Stradlater and Ackley, for instance. I think I even miss that goddam Maurice. It's funny. Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody. (26.3)

Maurice is the elevator pimp, so we have to ask: is this uplifting. Does it mean that Holden made enough personal connections to miss the people he interacted with? Or does it just show us that Holden is as isolated now as he was when all of this began?

I saw one guy, a gray-haired, very distinguished-looking guy with only his shorts on, do something you wouldn't believe me if I told you. First he put his suitcase on the bed. Then he took out all these women's clothes, and put them on. Real women's clothes—silk stockings, high-heeled shoes, brassiere, and one of those corsets with the straps hanging down and all. Then he put on this very tight black evening dress. I swear to God. Then he started walking up and down the room, taking these very small steps, the way a woman does, and smoking a cigarette and looking at himself in the mirror. He was all alone, too. Unless somebody was in the bathroom—I couldn't see that much. (9.14)

Notice how this “pervert” is all alone? It’s almost like that’s the worst part for Holden—that you’d go to all this trouble to dress up like a woman without even an audience.

Mr. Antolini

"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, you'll be excited and stimulated to know. 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. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It's a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn't education. It's history. It's poetry." (24.60-62)

Get out your highlighters, Shmoopers, because this is key: Mr. Antolini is telling Holden that education is important because it’ll make him feel less alone. It’s like an online support group for depressed people, but in actual books and literature. We love this.