The Catcher in the Rye

by: J. D. Salinger

Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is central to the narrative structure of The Catcher in the Rye. The novel opens with Holden living with his brother D.B. in Los Angeles after having been placed in an unspecified medical facility. He then goes on to recount the events leading up to his hospitalization. As Holden puts it to the reader: “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 and take it easy.” His use of the word “madman” and the euphemism “run-down” suggest the nature of his breakdown without explaining it in full, but Holden’s narrative allows the reader to speculate about possible reasons for his hospitalization.

The Origin of Holden’s Breakdown

Throughout the novel, Holden frequently states that he feels depressed, and often entertains morbid thoughts. For example, after Maurice punches him in the gut, Holden thinks, “What I really felt like, though, is committing suicide. I felt like jumping out the window.” Holden’s suicidal thoughts in this scene are echoed later in the novel, when he recalls James Castle, a classmate at a previous prep school who jumped out a window. Holden’s fate seems linked to that of Castle, who happened to be wearing a turtleneck he borrowed from Holden when he died. The reader also deduces that Holden has a history of violent outbursts. For instance, Holden explains that his parents planned to have him “psychoanalyzed” after he “broke all the windows in the garage” following his brother Allie’s death. The reader also witnesses Holden’s violence directly when he attacks Stradlater, trying to hit him “right smack in the toothbrush, so it would split his goddam throat open.”

Holden’s Return Home

When Holden decides to leave Pencey Prep a few days early, he says he “sort of needed a little vacation” before returning to his family’s house, but automatically tells the cab driver to take him to his parents’ house, foreshadowing his eventual return home. During his time in New York Holden attempts to live like a sophisticated, independent adult. He rents a hotel room, goes to fancy nightclubs, and moves around the city on his own. But Holden is in many ways still a child, and his attempts to return to his parents’ house indicate that he is not ready to be independent. When he leaves his house after talking with Phoebe, he wishes his parents would wake up and find him: “I figured if they caught me, they caught me. I almost wished they did, in a way.” Then, when Phoebe makes him promise to go home instead of running away, he tells us “I really did go home afterward.” Throughout the novel, Holden has been attempting to resist the draw of his childhood home, and at the end, he gives in.