Existentialism and The Catcher in the Rye

Background and Literary Thought
Existentialism Explanation
 This term is related to the psychology of Karl
Jung who holds that behind each individual’s
“unconscious”(blocked off residue of his/her
past) lies the “collective unconscious” of the
human race---blocked off memory of our
racial past, even our pre human experiences.
The Unconscious
 The “unconscious” is shaped by the repeated
experience of our ancestors, and is expressed
through myths, religions, literature and
Existentialism and the Literary
 The literary critic applies the term to an image, a
descriptive detail, a plot pattern, or a character
type that occurs frequently in literature, myth,
religion, or folklore; therefore, believed to evoke
profound emotions in the reader because it
awakens a primordial image in his/her
unconscious memory; thus, calls into play
illogical, but strong responses (the archetype).
 The archetypal critic tends to see each work
of literature as a portion of the total human
Point of View (P.o.V): In
 Point of View is how you perceive your
environment. In a literary sense, the author’s
point of view is determined by the way he/she
manipulates reality.
2 Types of P.o.V
 Romantic P.o.V: manipulates the character,
conflict, and environment so that events are
resolved (life makes sense).
 Ironic P.o.V(existential): life makes no “real”
sense---only the “sense you choose to make
of it. Deals with the absurd series of events
that each person tries to make sense of.
Things to think about…
 “Reality” is the way people perceive the world
around them.
 Does everyone see or think reality the same
 Objective Reality: “we” share it equally
-physical presence
 Subjective Reality: the individualized way
each of us “sees” experiences.
More to think about…
What is NORMAL?
-What everybody thinks is average
-Society, in general, views “normal” as everybody being the same
-Normal is situational
-Can the same reaction be normal and abnormal?
-Is normal an individual response or is it a collective?
-behaviour is the way in which someone acts, or the way someone acts towards
-Behaviour, in clinical terms, an organism’s response to external stimuli. Behaviour
depends upon FORMER experience.
-stimulus is something that causes a response to any sort of environmental activity or
The Catcher in the Rye
 Published in 1951
 Written by J.D. Salinger
 Holden Caulfield, 16 is the protagonist
 Written in 1st person, existential point of view
 Set in 1950s, first chapters are set at an all
boys boarding school Pencey Prep, rest of the
book takes place in New York City
More About Holden…
 Sees everyone and society as fake or phony(he
uses this word excessively)
 He is smart, well-read, and handsome, but he is
viewed as a failure and loner
 He has been expelled from several prestigious
 He is from an upper class family, he is the 2nd
oldest of 4
 He often feels like he does not fit in, he gets
depressed, he smokes, wants to drink, and uses
profanity frequently
About J.D. Salinger
 He was a recluse---never went out of his house, lived in
seclusion for more than 50 years.
Died Jan. 27, 2010 at 91
thought at one time to be the most important American
writer to emerge since World War II
sympathetic understanding of adolescence and its fierce
if alienated sense of morality and distrust of the adult
world, the novel struck a nerve in cold war America
The Catcher in the Rye continues to sell more than
250,000 copies a year in paperback.

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