Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for “Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in the text and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of “Catcher in the Rye” in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: Is Catcher in the Rye a Sexist Novel?
Catcher in the Rye’s main character, Holden Caufield, wants a relationship and he likes girls, but he is not exactly the most sensitive kind of guy. Consider the quotes that are included below regarding Caufield’s opinions of women. Based on these quotes, Caufield’s actions, and other evidence that you gather, argue for an interpretation of Catcher in the Rye as a sexist novel. If, on the other hand, you feel that Catcher in the Rye is not a sexist novel, find evidence and develop a solid argument to substantiate your claim. In either case, you may wish to address the sociohistorical moment in which the novel was written and reflect upon how that moment may have affected the content and values portrayed in the novel.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: The Role of Industrialization in “Catcher in the Rye”
There are occasional references to industrialization throughout Catcher in the Rye, which may pass by the reader’s awareness without notice. While these references are by no means the most important aspect of Catcher in the Rye in terms of the temporal and physical setting and the conflicts that are developed in relationship to it, they nonetheless have significance that can help the reader understand Caufield and the novel’s theme. Consider the quotes included in the list below, as well as others that you may identify in the text. Again, considering the sociohistorical moment during which Salinger penned this novel, offer an interpretation or analysis essay of the meanings of industrial objects, processes, and images in Catcher in the Rye. Be sure to address notions such as how the body and the mind mimic machinery, the ways in which human relationships can be as cold and impersonal as machines, and the like.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: Psychological Character Analysis of Holden Caufield
Our narrator, Holden Caufield, is a deeply troubled young man. Alternating between grandiosity and superiority and the acute consciousness of his alienation and the despair that it provokes, Caufield slowly decompensates over the course of the novel. Using theories from psychology, especially those related to mental illness, pretend that you are a psychologist or psychiatrist and use the textual evidence to determine whether Caufield could be diagnosed with a mental illness. Consider the symptoms that Caufield exhibits and determine whether these are consistent with the diagnostic criteria for a mood or personality disorder. You may wish to refer to the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) as a guide for the formulation of your ideas and as the basis for this argumentative essay on “Catcher in the Rye”
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: Adolescence and Adulthood: The Developmental Trajectory
One of the central ideas of this novel is Holden Caufield’s curious, conflicted relationship with adolescence and adulthood. Standing on the threshold between the two, Caufield negotiates neither successfully. Applying a developmental psychology framework for this essay, identify the points at which Holden’s ability to navigate adolescence successfully began to break down. Identify what Caufield could have done to achieve a more successful resolution of this complicated developmental period. Finally, you may wish to analyze this novel using the literary concept of the bildungsroman. In either case, be sure to demonstrate your understanding of the concepts that you are using as your analytic framework.
Thesis Statement/Essay Topic #5: The Significance of the Title
The title of this novel takes its name from a line in a poem by the poet Robert Burns. Search for that poem, read it, and analyze how Holden misunderstands and misinterprets the poem, applying his inaccurate interpretation to his own desires and frustrations. Consider whether an accurate reading of the poem might have altered Caufield’s perceptions and his actions. For this essay, address the theme of irony in “Catcher in the Rye” that is inherent in the misunderstanding of the poem and the way in which Caufield appropriates the misread line.
This list of important quotations from “Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “Catcher in the Rye” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the “Catcher in the Rye” they are referring to.
“What I was really hanging around for, I was trying to feel some kind of a good-by. I mean I’ve left schools and places I didn’t even know I was leaving them. I hate that. I don’t care if it’s a sad good-by or a bad good-by, but when I leave a place I like to know I’m leaving it. If you don’t, you feel even worse. “
“I don’t even know what I was running for – I guess I just felt like it.”
“People always think something’s all true.”
“People never notice anything.”
“I’m the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It’s awful. If I’m on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I’m going, I’m liable to say I’m going to the opera. It’s terrible.”
“It’s really too bad that so much crumby stuff is a lot of fun sometimes That’s the thing about girls. Every time they do something pretty, even if they’re not much to look at, or even if they’re sort of stupid, you fall half in love with them, and then you never know where the hell you are. Girls. Jesus Christ. They can drive you crazy. They really can.”
“I mean most girls are so dumb and all. After you neck them for a while, you can really watch them losing their brains. You take a girl when she really gets passionate, she just hasn’t any brains.”
“Take most people, they’re crazy about cars. They worry if they get a little scratch on them, and they’re always talking about how many miles they get to a gallon, and if they get a brand-new car already they start thinking about trading it in for one that’s even newer. I don’t even like old cars. I mean they don’t even interest me. I’d rather have a goddam horse. A horse is at least human, for God’s sake.”
“Anyway, I’m sort of glad they’ve got the atomic bomb invented. If there’s ever another war, I’m going to sit right the hell on top of it. I’ll volunteer for it, I swear to God I will.”
“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.”
Reference: Salinger, J.D. Catcher in the Rye. New York: Plume, 1987.