Research Paper Topics for 'The Catcher in the Rye'

Studying the sources of Holden's angst can provide a rich research opportunity.
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More than 50 years after its publication, J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" continues to resonate with young readers. The story of teenager Holden Caulfield's struggle against conformity, grief and entrance into adulthood also offers the opportunity to investigate its historical, literary and psychological elements by writing a research paper that explores these aspects of the book. Analyzing Holden as a character, as well as his environment and the book's impact on pop culture, can help you find a research topic that will engage readers and shed light on this classic novel.

1 Investigate Holden's Mental Health

Depression and grief are major themes of "The Catcher in the Rye." Holden deals with both and tells readers his story while he's confined to a psychiatric facility. Do research on depression in teenagers, including potential causes, specific conditions and treatments. Write an essay that presents a diagnosis for Holden's mental health and supports it using scholarly sources, as well as evidence from the text. You might especially consider how Holden's life experiences, particularly the death of his brother and his feelings of alienation from society, may have contributed to his condition.

2 Explore the 1950s

"The Catcher in the Rye" takes place amid the prosperity of the post-World War II era, when many Americans were living comfortably and enjoying the luxuries of consumerism, television and suburban homes. By contrast, though, the burgeoning civil rights movement reflected the frustrations of minorities excluded from mainstream society, while the Beat poets were expressing discontent with the uniformity of culture. Write a research paper that sets Salinger's novel against the social backdrop of its era, exploring how these events reflect Holden's feelings of disillusionment, alienation and hatred for conformity. You might consider exploring Holden's concept of the adult world's "phoniness" and creating a definition for it based on the historical context.

3 Explain the Book's Controversy

In the early 1980s, "The Catcher in the Rye" received widespread attention for its connection to the murder of John Lennon and the attempted assassination of former president Ronald Reagan. Lennon's killer, Mark David Chapman, was discovered reading the book when he was arrested, while police found a copy of the novel in would-be assassin John Hinckley Jr.'s hotel room. Research these two cases and explore the novel's connection to the events. Then discuss how Holden's character as a loner and the book's themes of alienation and isolation may have influenced the Chapman and Hinckley and provided rationale for their actions. Use direct quotes from the book, as well as specific examples from your research, to back up your assertions.

4 Compare "Catcher" with Modern Fiction

"The Catcher in the Rye" is not only a literary classic but also a milestone for young adult literature. Read a recently published young adult novel that features a protagonist who struggles with forming his identity, such as John Green's "Looking for Alaska" or "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky. Write an essay exploring how "The Catcher in the Rye" seems to have influenced your contemporary selection. Consider comparing and contrasting Holden and the book's main character, describing the book's similarities in style and tone or discussing what the book reveals about Salinger's ongoing impact on young adult literature.

Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.