Literary Techniques From "Catcher in the Rye"

Written by J. D. Salinger and published in 1951, "The Catcher in the Rye" is now commonly regarded as one of the greatest novels in American literature. The novel focuses on Holden Caulfield, a teenager who runs off to New York City and embodies youth angst and rebellion in America. There are numerous literary techniques used by Salinger in the narration of "The Catcher in the Rye," most of which are common to the postmodern literary movement.


Subjectivity is a theme explored in many ways by the various facets of postmodern literature. This technique emphasizes the importance of perception and personal sentiments, as opposed to an objective view of reality. In "The Catcher in the Rye," Salinger uses a first-person perspective, narrating the novel from Holden Caulfield's largely biased point of view. At times, the narration is a direct stream of consciousness from Holden's mind. These techniques emphasize subjectivity, because the reader is only given Holden's viewpoint of the world. This creates a complex juxtaposition between the historical reality of the novel and the reality as it is presented to us through Holden.


Allegory is a literary technique in which an author parallels a historical occurrence or theme through a non-literal narration. In the novel, Holden's self-destructive journey can be read as a broader allegory for the ideals of youth as opposed to the adult reality of America. Holden is often a cynical and disillusioned character in reaction to the material world he lives in. This discontentment, though hyperbolized, is allegorical to Salinger's own experience of New York at the time of the novel's setting.


Allusion is a literary technique in which an author references or indirectly refers to another artistic work or historical event. The very title "The Catcher in the Rye" is an allusion to a Robert Burns song "Comin’ Thro’ the Rye." However, Salinger substitutes the word "catch" for the word "meet" in the original song lyric. This seemingly simple allusion defines Holden as a character in many ways. He is painfully nostalgic for childhood innocence and views himself as a sort of martyr who can catch lost children in the field of rye before they fall into the disillusioning adult world.


Symbolism is a technique in which an object or occurrence in a literary work is symbolic of an abstract theme or idea. Though both the techniques of allegory and allusion incorporate symbolism, there are also numerous other uses of symbolism throughout "The Catcher in the Rye." Perhaps the most important use of symbolism in the novel is Holden's red hat. Holden often mentions the outlandish hat when wearing it, showing his self-consciousness. He views the hat as a means to stand out from the crowd. However, he also refrains from wearing it in certain social situations. This illustrates Holden's internal struggle of individuality versus the desire to fit in.

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