J.D. Salinger described The Catcher in the Rye as a novel about “an individual’s alienation in a heartless world.” Indeed, one of the primary themes that is highlighted throughout Holden Caulfield’s whirlwind narrative of mental breakdown is alienation. Holden seems only to connect with children younger than himself, those who have not yet been scarred or corrupted by the heartless world around them. He increasingly isolates himself by finding fault with others (everyone is a “phony”), getting tossed out of school after school, ruining every chance he has to establish a romantic relationship, and voicing his paranoia and disdain about the world to anyone who will listen. This narrative gives readers a look into the mind of a character whose world is crumbling around him, and his crumbling with it.
A growing trend in literature, on screen, and on stage has moved to produce more flawed human protagonists. Gone are the days of perfect role models - paragons of virtue who are brave, capable, and who always do the right thing. Instead of these inspirational heroes, many works feature a complementary archetype: the anti hero.