The purpose of this essay is to show how the
notion of irony manifests itself through the novel “The Catcher in the Rye.”
Jerome David Salinger was an American writer born in 1919 in New York City.
Some of his major works include “The Catcher in the Rye”, “Franny and Zooey”
and “Nine Stories”. Salinger died in 2010. “The Catcher in the Rye” is a novel
published in 1951. The novel revolves around the main protagonist Holden Caulfield,
who is a young rebel. It deals with many issues and it is a stream of consciousness
novel. This work still remains very popular and read, and it is one of the most
famous novels written in the 20th century.There are many instances of irony in
the novel  “The Catcher in the Rye” and
they are all connected to the main character Holden Caulfield.

Already in the beginning of the novel, the
main character introduces us with irony.

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“That’s also how I practically got t.b. and
came out here for all these goddam chekups and stuff. I’m pretty healthy,
though.” (Salinger, 4)

Holden is telling his readers that he is healthy after mentioning that
he almost got tuberculosis. An example of irony is Holden’s conflict with
religion. He claims that he is an atheist, while on the other hand, he
considers his dead brother Allie to be in Heaven. Holden’s attitude toward
religion is unclear because he does not speak or behave as an atheist and yet
he declares himself as one. (Rosales, “Motifs, Symbolism and Irony”) Holdes
was, and still after his brother’s death, is fond of him because he loved him a
lot and he describes him as a saint. This is the reason why he is angry with
the world and everything around him – the loss of a family member. Moreover,
the way Holden speaks about Allie as a living being while he is buried in a
grave is also ironic. Not only does he mention that his brother’s soul is in
Heaven, but he also talks about his body still residing in the cemetery. Although
Allie is dead, he still is somewhere, and that is at the cemetery. According to
Holden Allie still lives on in a way because he knows that his soul is in
Heaven and he left a strong mark on Holden because he had many virtues. Therefore,
it is impossible for Holden to forget about Allie and consider him “completely”

Another instance of irony in the novel is the
way Holden talks about Christians. He sees most Christians as “phony” people
and he criticizes them, but on the other hand, he is very kind to the two nuns
he meets. (Taylor, 661) He does not swear in their presence, which is something
he does very often, but he appears surprisingly nice and composed. They delighted
him with their kindness and humbleness, and he has nothing but words of praise
for them. There are many times later on in the novel when Holden remembers them
and feels better when only thinks about them. He even gave ten dollars to their
collection and they were not even collecting money at that moment. That is the
proof that he saw a spark of hope in them. Of hope that good still exists in
the world. Holden blames Catholics for being introverted and does not realize
that he is no better because he also thinks about leaving his family and
distance himself from the rest of the world as well. His problem is that he
blames and criticizes others a lot, but does not notice his own flaws and
disadvantages. (Taylor, 661)

Furthermore, it would be an irony to call
Holden sociable. Although he appears that way, most of the time he is extremely
lonely and does not succeed to strike up a proper conversation with people.
(Privitera, 204) For instance, when he stays in the hotel after leaving Pencey,
Holden dances with three ladies and he is very good at dancing, but when it
comes to speaking he more or less bores people. That is why the communication
between him and those ladies was quite bad. Holden also bores his roommate
Stradlater when they talk about Jane Gallagher. Stradlater gives him an obvious
hint that he is not interested to hear what was Jane like when she was younger
and what she and Holden used to play, but Holden still keeps on talking about

Perhaps the best example of irony in “The
Catcher in the Rye” would be the fact that Holden Caulfield wants to save
children from adulthood and he cannot save himself from it. He would like to
keep them away from the troubles and difficulties that this period of life
brings with it.

“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. I know it’s crazy.” (Salinger,

In the novel, it is not directly stated that
Holden wants to save children from adulthood, but based on the context of the
whole piece we can conclude that this is what he meant by speaking of himself
as a catcher in the rye. He does not take education seriously and is not
concerned with the future. He wants to run away from responsibilities and leave
school. He cannot save himself from adulthood because we find out that he does
not go on the ranch with horses, instead he goes home with Phoebe and in the
end he says that he will go to another school. He wants to maintain his
innocence, but he does not like being perceived as innocent. Holden is very
tall and has gray hair, and sometimes he uses these characteristics to appear
older. This is mostly the case when he wants to buy alcohol and cigarettes. He
also lied to the prostitute that Maurice set him up, that he is not a minor.
Holden swears a lot and uses the word “goddam” in a plethora of occasions, he
smokes, drinks alcohol, and criticizes others a lot. (“Stylistic Features in
the Catcher in the Rye”) He wants to keep his family and friends far away from
him, but by doing that he discovers a lot about them and himself. Based on
these conclusions he brings them closer to himself.

spite the fact that he hates phony people, Holden also is and acts phony in a
number of occasions. A situation when he acts phony is when he is talking to
the mother of a boy from his school and lies to her that he needs to have an
operation. He also lies many times about his age in order to be able to buy
alcoholic drinks, which is also very phony of him. (“The use of Irony”) Holden
lies to Phoebe when he does not want to tell her that they kicked him out of
Pencey. She realized that very soon, but he kept denying the truth as long as
he could. He says that he despises phony people and phony things, but does not
realize that he is that way as well. The interesting thing is that he spends a
lot of time with these “phony” people and is in their vicinity. Another ironic
element of the novel is the part when Mr. Spencer tells Holden that life is a
game. (Carl F. Strauch, 10) This is very ironic because this is not what Holden
thinks of life. He takes it pretty seriously and he is aware of the evil and
troubles present in the world. He is afraid of death and he has a much deeper
view of life than his peers do because the tragedy of his brother’s death
marked his life. Holden knows what adulthood means and that it is no fun and games.
In the end of “The Catcher in the Rye” readers can come to understand that
there is irony in the dialogue between Holden and Phoebe where he explains to
her that he would like to be a catcher in the rye, when in fact he is the one
who gets caught, he is the “catch” and not the “catcher”. Phoebe is the catcher
because she caught Holden – she saved him. (Taylor, 667) It is thanks to her
that he goes home and later on talks about how he is going to attend a new
school. If there were not for Phoebe who knows what would have happened with
Holden. He might have went to the ranch with horses, ruined his life in every
way possible, killed himself… There are a number of options what could have
been his destiny. Phoebe certainly did not save her brother from adulthood, but
she probably saved him from a lousy life, which is a huge accomplishment,
especially for such a young person.

is also irony when it comes to Jane Gallagher. Holden is telling his readers
that he is very fond of her, that he remembers her as a wonderful girl and that
they used to spend a lot of time together. Throughout the whole novel he says
that he should give her a call, but he does not do that. He also thinks about
her very often, but still does not do something like set a date with her.
Instead, Holden meets with his old friend Sally Hayes and they go to the
theater together. And he says that he cannot stand Sally, he talks bad about
her and considers her phony. Therefore, it is quite ironic that he spends time
with the girl he does not like and does not even call the girl he likes.

An ironic situation happens in the end of  “The Catcher in the Rye” when we can easily
realize that Phoebe understands the outcome of Holden being kicked out of
school better than Holden does. (“The use of Irony”) She knows that this is
very bad and it makes her sad. She also keeps telling Holden that their dad
will kill him and that is how the reader can come to understand that Phoebe is
very bright and mature for her age. The aforementioned situation is ironic
because Phoebe seems brighter than Holden and she is only a child. Holden is
older than her and it appears that he is not aware that it is a terrible thing
that he was kicked out of school and that his future is not bright.

To sum up, it is easy to conclude that “The
Catcher in the Rye” is a novel in which the main protagonist means the opposite
of what he says. He is not ready to accept the challenges of adulthood, and is
more interested in criticizing others and their flaws than finishing school. He
says one thing and does not act in accord with that, but does something
completely different in a lot of occasions. In a way, Holden is driven by
irony. It is hard for him to tell the truth and not to exaggerate. He likes
Jane, but does not let her know that, but instead he goes on a date with a girl
he cannot stand, Sally. Holden is very immature for his age, and even his
younger sister Phoebe understands how things work better than him. Holden
declares himself as an atheist, but at the same time he thinks about the nuns
and finds them very kind, believes that his brother Allie is in Heaven. Since
the irony is already in the title itself, we can see that the novel is a true
masterpiece and that is has a much deeper meaning than it first appears.   


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