The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

Essay by rower16High School, 11th gradeA+, December 2007

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The significance of the first and last chapters of The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger is apparent because they introduce Holden Caulfield and the way he thinks, and end the book with evidence of Holden’s psychosis. The first chapter establishes the perimeters of Holden’s personality. From the first sentence, the reader is bombarded with Holden’s angry, pessimistic thoughts and view on life, as well as introduced to Holden’s psychological problems. The last chapter is significant because it ends the book, giving proof of Holden’s psychotic break with very subtle hints.

The first chapter of The Catcher in the Rye is significant because it introduces the protagonist, lays the foundation of his thought process and views throughout the novel, and declares Holden’s psychological issues. The first chapter is the chapter of the novel which introduces Holden, the protagonist of the story, a sixteen year-old boy who moves from school to school, continuously kicked out.

The story begins with teenage defiance, as Holden speaks of most people wanting to hear about his childhood and history, and all that “David Copperfield kind of crap” (Salinger, pg 1) but he defies the reader and does not speak of his history. This defiance is a part of Holden’s character, part of what makes him so uniquely interesting. Holden is not just a whiney teenage boy who is mad at the world, but actually a sadly jaded adolescent narrator. Holden sees the negative in everything, and barely comments on the positive things hesees. Holden’s psychological issues are introduced in the first chapter, when he says, “I’ll just tell you about this madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas just before I got pretty run-down and had to come out here to rest.” (Salinger, pg 1) It is both funny and ironic that Holden uses the word madman to describe the happenings at Christmastime, when he is actually the madman, and he says he had to rest, when really he was being hospitalized.. Holden’s tributes to his madness are minimal and he seems to avoid mentioning it.

The way Holden thinks is crucial to the novel, and such a viewpoint is introduced in the first chapter. If Holden did not think so negatively and exude such pessimism toward life in general, the novel would be little more than a whiney teenager’s cry for attention. He does not care what others think of him and is rebellious toward all things popular, “The whole team ostracized me the whole way back on the train. It was pretty funny, in a way.” (Salinger, pg 3) Holden thinks people being angry at him is funny, and that is a little odd. Most teenagers like fitting in, but Holden doesn’t care. Not only does Holden have completely apathetic attitudes toward the world’s perception of him, but he also has antipathetic views toward institutes of learning, such as his school, Pencey Prep. He expresses hostility and annoyance when he speaks of Pencey Prep’s ads, “They don’t do any more damn molding at Pencey than at any other school. And I didn’t know anybody there who was splendid and clear-thinking.” (Salinger, pg 2) Holden’s view of his peers is cynical, but it makes the novel. Were Holden the ‘good-morning sunshine’ type, the novel would be nowhere near as raw, real, and hilarious as the end result is. The manner in which Holden presents his thoughts; in an easy-to-understand, adolescent thought process which is easy for teenagers and anyone who has been one to relate to.

The last chapter of the novel is a very important component because it very accurately ties together all the happenings of the novel. In the last chapter, Holden’s manner of being still has the same negative aura, and he makes another comment about his psychological problems, “A lot of people, especially this one psychoanalyst guy they have here, keeps asking me if I’m going to apply myself when I go back to school next September.” (Salinger, pg 213) This comment is the only comment about Holden’s psychosis other than the comment on the first page. The two chapters are significant in this manner because Holden makes no other mention of his mental problems, and it is important to the reader that they are aware of this fact. The last chapter also makes the reader aware of how estranged from people Holden makes himself, on purpose. He makes a comment that demonstrates his apathy toward the rest of the human race, “It’s funny. Don’t tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.” (Salinger, pg 214) This of course demonstrates that Holden feels, and actually has feelings toward other human beings, and he isn’t as unfeeling as he tries to come off as during the course of the novel.

The first and last chapters of The Catcher in the Rye are the most important chapters of the novel because they introduce and make closing comments about Holden’s personality and his psychological problems. Holden’s personality, were it softer and more genteel, would not complete the novel as it does, nor would the presence of his psychological issues. The first and last chapters also demonstrate that while Holden wants to come off as unfeeling, he really has a heart underneath that seemingly harsh exterior.

BibliographySalinger, JD. The Catcher In The Rye. Boston, Mass; Little Brown and Co, 1951