By Maria Stojanovic, Yuki Takahashi, Lucy Xue, Lea Solakian, and Marcella Guacci


Literary elements are used by authors to make their writing more interesting. Weaving literary elements into text is like putting jam on toast--no one wants to eat a bland piece of bread and no one wants to read boring text.


You should already know this:
  • FORESHADOWING: the author writes out clues and events that help the reader predict what will happen as the book progresses
  • FLASHBACKS: a past event that gets interjected into the story, usually in order to give the reader background information about a character and his or her actions
  • IMAGERY: using descriptive language to make a scene COME TO LIFE!
  • METAPHOR: a phrase that compares two things that are not similar in a literal sense
  • SYMBOLISM: like an extended metaphor, symbolism is using an object or idea to represent a bigger concept
  • SETTING: where the story takes place
  • IRONY: when something happened in the story which was the opposite or totally different to what the reader or the character expected
  • TONE: the style and mood in which the story is conveyed
  • POINT OF VIEW: how the narrarator is involved with the story, whether he or she is a character, an omnipresent being, or just telling the story with no connection to it
  • CONFLICT: a struggle that a character faces, whether it's internal (character vs. himself) or external (character vs. outside elements)
  • THEME: the unifying subject of the story, the main idea or message that runs through the work

The two major themes of in The Catcher in the Rye are lonliness and the preservation of childhood innocence. Holden has no real friends and he further isolates himself by labeling everyone as a phony. He's been kicked out of four different schools, eliminating his chances of making any long term friendships while becoming a bit of an outcast. The only two people who he really likes are his brother Allie, who died, and his sister Phoebe, who he rarely sees because he goes to boarding schools. Pheobe is actually the only member of Holden's family that didn't abandon him in some way or another. Allie dies, D.B. is "out in Hollywood, being a prostitue," and his parents are always keeping their distance from Holden (they send him away to boarding schools and then to a mental institution in California rather than New York). Holden is so lonely that he believes that he'll just d i s a p p e a r off the earth one day. He has expressed his concern both in the very beginning of the book and at the end of the book. It becomes clear that he feels more alone at the end of his three day adventure because in the beginning he simply states "you felt like you were disappearing every time you crossed the road" while at the end, he begs his brother Allie not to let him disappear as he crosses the street.

The way Holden acts also reveals that he is lonely. Holden would often resort to strangers for social comfort. Whether its dancing with older women he's never met at a pub, taking a cab instead of walking just to talk to the driver, or looking for the two nuns that he had lunch with, Holden tries to reach out and talk to people.

Holden also never wants to grow up. He knows the adult world is full of hate and pain and he doesn't want to become a part of it. He even admits that "It's really ironical, because I'm six foot two and a half and I have gray hair. I really do. I've had them ever since I was a kid. And yet I still act sometimes like i was only about twelve." One way Holden acts immaturely is by naively asking where the ducks in central park go during the winter. He knows that they fly south but he continues to ask people the question because it is something that all kids wonder about. Holden tries to live in the past and is always thinking back to an event that happened when he was younger. He likes museums because no matter how old you get, the exhibits stay the same under their glass cases. He also likes the carousel at the zoo because it always plays the same song, "Oh, Marie!", no matter how many years have gone by.

Holden becomes obsessed with the thought of stopping other kids from growing up too fast. He wants to be a catcher in the rye so he can protect kids and keep them from falling into adulthood. He partially achieved this goal when he visited Phoebe's school and rubbed the words "fuck you" off the wall. At the end of the book, Holden realized that he couldn't cover the children's eyes forever because "even if you had a million years to do it, you couldn't rub out even half the "fuck you" signs in the world. It's impossible." He also lets go of his dream at the end of the story while watching Phoebe on the carousel. "All the kids kept trying to grab for the gold ring, and so was old Phoebe, and I was sort of afraid she'd fall off the goddamn horse, but I didn't say or do anything. If they fall off, they fall off, but it's bad if you say anything to them."

Salinger writes in a first person perspective, making it seem as though Holden himself was telling the story to the reader. The way Holden talks sets the cynical tone of the story and from the start he makes it clear that he really doesn't want to talk by saying, "If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'd probably want to know is...and all that David Cooperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it if you want to know the truth." Holden uses foul language and name calling to make sure the reader knows how he feels about everything. In the third chapter, Holden expressed his hatred towards this one man, Ossenburger. When he was talking about him, Holden mentioned how he can picture "the big phony bastard shifting into first gear and asking Jesus to send him a few more stiffs." Holden doesn't hold back on any feelings or use any euphemisms towards people he believes are phonies.

In one of the last chapters, Holden cautiously sneaks into his parent's apartment to see his sister Phoebe. After talking to her, Holden has to leave but on his way out he is less cautious than he was coming into the apartment. He states that "It was a helluva lot easier getting out of the house than it was getting in, for some reason. For one thing, I didn't give much of a damn any more if they caught me. I figured if they caught me, they caught me. I almost wished they did, in a way." This foreshadows Holden's change in behavior at the end of the book. He wants his parents to catch him so they can find out that he flunked out of school and help him get back on his feet. Holden misses his happy childhood and seeks protection and shelter that younger children get from their parents.
Holden also hints at his mental breakdown in the first page of the book by saying "I got pretty run-down and had to come out here and take it easy." He also mentions how his brother D.B. visits him every weekend, as if he's in some sort of hospital, and how D.B. is going to drive him home soon.


Holden recalls the suicide of one of his classmates, James Castle, who jumped out of a window to escape from some bullies. All of the students who witnessed his fall just stood there, staring at his remains. The only person who was willing to approach the body and take it away was Mr. Antolini, Holden's English teacher. This flashback helps readers understand why Holden is disgusted by people---some students harassed a boy until he killed himself while others stared, frozen, at his splattered body. It also reveals why Holden called Mr. Antolini when he needed a place to stay. Mr. Antolini gained Holden's respect by being the only one courageous enough to pick up James Castle's body. This memory also explains why Holden was hesitant about jumping out of a window. He wasn't sure if a Mr. Antolini would be there to take his body away before people started to gawk at it.
Holden also thinks back to the day Allie died and talks about how he punched out all of the windows in his garage in fury and sadness. The reader then knows that Allie's death took an emotional toll on Holden. When Holden talks about how he didn't really care that he badly hurt his hand from breaking the windows, the reader knows that Holden is prone to harming himself to deal with his problems. It serves as an explanation when Holden drinks his problems away and when he thinks of jumping out the hotel window.

Before Holden leaves Pencey, he decides to visit one of his teachers, Mr. Spencer, at his house. The imagery Salinger forces the reader to picture Mr. Spencer and understand why Holden is depressed being around him. "There were pills and medicine all over the place and everything smelled like Vicks Nose Drops... old Spencer had on this very sad, ratty old bathrobe that he was probably born in or something...Their bumpy old chests are always showing. And their legs, they always look so white and unhairy." Holden starts feeling claustrophobic and uncomfortable around Spencer and because of the vivid details, the reader starts to feel the same way. Salinger also uses imagery to describe Holden's face after his skirmish with Stradlater. "You never saw such gore in your life. I had blood all over my mouth and chin and even on my pajamas and bathrobe. It partly scared me and it partly fascinated me. All that blood and all sort of made me look tough." Holden, admiring himself with bravado, is brought to life through the way Salinger strung his words together.

Holden talks about how his gray hair makes him look a lot older than he actually is and how his brother Allie and sister Pheobe have this crazy red hair. Our group believes that Salinger uses hair color as a symbol. When Holden mentions Allie, he talks about how he was a great kid. In the beginning of the book he says, "He used to laugh so hard at something he thought of at the dinner table that he just about fell off his chair." When he talks about his sister, he says that "you never saw a little kid so pretty and smart in your whole life." Both Allie and Phoebe were described as happy and energetic, with a hair color to match. Holden on the other hand, is depressed with dull gray hair color, equally as depressing as he is. This symbol showed how Holden was very different and alien compared to his siblings.
His cynicism, strange behavior, and social awkwardness leave Holden with little friends. He loves to wear this red hunting hat, a hat unlike any other, in a strange "backasswards" way. The hat, another example of symbolism, isolates him and makes him even lonelier because no one else has a hat like his. He often wears his hat when he fools around, such as when he was saying, "Mother darling, give me your hand. Why won't you give me your hand?" repeatedly for no other reason than to annoy Ackley.
In a way, the hat also represents his relationship with his siblings, especially Phoebe. The hat is the same color as his siblings' hair, which is red. Whenever he wears the hat, although he may be isolating himself, he feels more at ease. Right before he leaves his home after sneaking in, he gives his hat to Phoebe, and it makes him recall a fond memory of his sister. "I'll bet she slept with it on. She really likes those kind of hats." Later on, when Phoebe insists on accompanying Holden on his "trip", they have an argument and in anger, she takes out his hat and throws it back in his face.However, at the end of the story, when they make up again, right before Phoebe gets on the carousel for her second ride, she pulls out Holden's hunting hat from his pocket and puts it on his head to shield him from the rain.
Sunny is not only a a symbol of Holden's obsession with staying young but also his loneliness. When Holden first calls the prostitute to his hotel room, he has every intention of having sex with her. Once she arrives, he shies out of the deed and just wants to sit and talk to her. By doing so he shows of both his desire for keeping a childlike innocence and his longing for company. He tells himself that "In my mind, I'm probably the biggest sex maniac you ever saw," but he never confirms that through actions.

Holden becomes very emotional in Chapter 20 when he is talking about Allie and his graveyard. He talks about the cemetery as if it's a prison, saying that "It rained all over the place. All the visitors that were visiting the cemetery started running like hell over to their cars. That's what nearly drove me crazy. All the visitors could get in their cars and turn on their radios and all and then go someplace nice for dinner - everybody except Allie." Holden also poetically describes Allie's grave as his stomach, saying that "People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you're dead? Nobody." In the first part of the book, Holden uses metaphors in a bit of a lighter mood. On the train back to New York, the boy's mother who was keeping Holden company called her son sensitive and shy. To that, Holden chuckled and thought "Sensitive. That killed me. That guy Morrow was about as sensitive as a goddamn toilet seat."


The story begins at Pencey Prep, a fancy, ivy league type high school full of phonies that Holden can't stand. After he leaves Penecy, Holden finds himself at the Edmont Hotel, a shady looking hotel that was "full of perverts and morons. Screwballs all over the place." Holden spends most of his time in bars throughout the city. To him, all of these bars looked the same. They were all full of phonies and annoying waiters who wouldn't give him alcohol. The only places Holden really enjoyed in New York were the museum and the carousel because no matter how much he changed, they would both stay the same.

Holden HATES phonies more than anything but he acts like one all the time by lying. Some people would say that he is a compulsive liar, but that's just a fancy way of saying he's a phony. Holden also behaves in an ironic way because, after bragging about being an amazing liar, he often tells the reader to "trust him" and that "he swears." An example of situational irony is how Holden talked about how much he hated Sally Hayes but he ended up calling her for a date and even asking her to marry him. Holden thought about Jane Gallagher a lot and made it quite clear that he's in love with her yet he never bothered to call her. The reader would think that he would call Jane and forget about Sally, but Holden ends up doing the opposite. Holden uses verbal irony when talking to Ackley. He often calls him a prince and tell him to "relax, I wouldn't abuse your goddamn hospitality."----both fueled comments.

Most movies and books have conflicts that involve a character vs. the environment or another character but The Catcher in the Rye focuses primarily on conflicts where its the character vs. himself. Holden does get into fights with other characters (Stradlater and Maurice) but most of the damage done to Holden is a result of his own actions. Holden flunks out of all his schools because he refuses to apply himself. Holden has no friends because he labels them as phonies and refuses to talk to them. Whenever someone reaches out to help Holden, he backs away. Mr. Antolini pointed this out towards the end of the book by telling Holden that "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. They gave it up before they ever really even got started."