Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of "The Catcher in the Rye," was so fascinating a rebel that his creator, J.D. Salinger, didn't want him represented in film or art. His character and the controversy he continues to elicit, however, are fair game for the student researcher, and there are a number of fruitful research paper topics that the Salinger novel invites.
Holden Caulfield, Archetype
The L.A. Times called Holden Caulfield "an archetype of adolescent alienation" -- a valid literary research paper could examine Salinger's work as a bildungsroman, the odyssey of a young man moving toward ultimate rebellion, and compare him to similar creations. Beowulf, Geoffrey Chaucer's Wife of Bath, William Shakespeare's Hamlet and Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn are literary protagonists who compare to Caulfield in discontent and need for revolution; all of them live in morally compromised situations, all commit morally ambiguous acts in response. Huck and Holden even wear symbolic protective hats.
West Point, High and Low
Holden begins to shape his rebellious nature when he responds to his hypocritical treatment at Pencey Prep, Salinger's fictional counterpart to his own military school, Valley Forge. A fruitful research paper might examine the treatment of rebellious cadets at a military academy: does a prep school instill discipline and values, or is it, as Holden discovered, a social tradition without real merit? Consider West Point, a resounding success with military-oriented individuals such as George Patton, a failure with more withdrawn rebels such as Edgar Allan Poe.
Salinger sets his novel in 1951, a period of both prosperity and discontent following the Second World War; it's the perfect setting for a spoiled rebel to point up the flaws of the picture-perfect society where he finds himself. A strong research paper topic could examine post-WWII attitudes and the reasons for disillusionment. Events such as the Cold War, the development of the atomic bomb and the advocacy for equal rights for both women and African Americans formed a society that Salinger represented as the subtext to Holden's, and America's, prosperous unhappiness.
Holden Caulfield in Media
Holden Caulfield holds a lasting influence in current media; an episode of "Family Guy," for example, features a character by that name, painting the emblematic "PHONY" on Peter Griffith's car. Fascinating research work could be done on the influence of Salinger's book on current media, in music, art and literature, all of which, Salinger's wishes to the contrary, Holden Caulfield has invaded as part of our cultural psyche.
- The Catcher in the Rye (paperback ed. 1991); J.D. Salinger
- The Atlantic Wire: Holden Caulfield, It's Time We Let Go
- The Los Angeles Times: Walking in Holden Caulfield's Footprints through Manhattan
- The Bildungsroman Project: What Is A Bildungsroman?
- The Bildungsroman Project: The Symbolic Importance of Holden's Hat
- The Jewish Virtual Library: J.D. Salinger
- Bio.: Famous West Point Alumni A to Z
- Digital History: Overview of the Post War Era
- Wordpress.com: The Real Holden Caulfield: Family Guy
- Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images