The narrator of The Catcher in the Rye is an adolescent obsessed with saving children from the dirtiness he sees in the adult world. The novel deals with innocence in many forms, but focuses often on the sexual. Because the narrator sees sex in any form as dirty, he feels the need to sequester children (and himself, somewhat) from it, instead of easing into it as a natural step to becoming an adult.

The Catcher in the Rye explores that traumatic effects that first-hand experiences with death can have on an individual. The narrator, seventeen-year-old Holden Caulfield, lost a younger brother to leukemia four years before the story is told. He was also witness (at least by ear) a young boy's suicide at prep school. These events leave him – and therefore, the story he narrates – plagued with nearly constant thoughts of death and mortality. The Catcher in the Rye is riddled with symbols of death and disappearance, which Holden often focuses on to avoid interacting with the real and living world around him.

The Catcher in the Rye presents a clear distinction between the world of children and that of adults. Children are genuine, caring, and kindhearted, whereas adults are "phony," self-centered, and generally "bastards." Because the story of told from the point-of-view of a disillusioned seventeen-year-old, we of course have to challenge the bias inherent in this perspective. The novel examines the gray area between these two worlds – namely adolescence – and the painful process of transitioning from one to the other.

Isolation in The Catcher in the Rye refers to the personal, social, and mental isolation of one individual, seventeen-year-old Holden Caulfield, from the rest of the world. The novel explores the tension between the desire to observe, judge, and alienate with the need to meet, converse, and connect. We constantly see the desire to reach out mitigated by hesitation and passivity.

Sexuality and Sexual Identity
Sexuality is a big concern for narrator and protagonist Holden Caulfield, a seventeen-year-old boy. He presents the point of view that sexuality is inherently degrading for a woman, and therefore cannot reconcile acting sexually toward a woman that he respects. The Catcher in the Rye also includes mention of possible childhood molestation, and examines the way in which such events affect young adults as they try to understand their own sexuality.

Sadness permeates The Catcher in the Rye. Main character Holden Caulfield finds nearly everything depressing, from receiving gifts to hearing people say "please." The conclusion drawn, however, is that isolation and alienation from others is the greatest source of unhappiness. The difficulty comes from the fact that escaping this isolation is a battle in itself – one that can often be, unfortunately, quite depressing.

Wisdom and Knowledge
The novel implicitly gets at the question of knowledge vs. wisdom. How relevant is formal education as compared to the experiences one gains by simply living life? Several points of view are presented within the novel: that institutional education is only intended to teach kids how to make money; that there is an inherent value to knowledge and learning that formal education is a necessary step by which to avoid squandering native talent. The conclusion is left up to the reader.

The big question in The Catcher in the Rye is whether or not the central character is crazy. The story begins with a seventeen-year-old Holden Caulfield telling his own story of a year earlier, with mentions of his having come "out here" to "rest up." What is normal adolescent behavior, and what is psychotic? This novel explores that very question, but the conclusion is left up to the reader.

The Catcher in the Rye treats religion much the same way as it does education. There may be an intrinsic value to it, but it's been ruined by institutions and the people that run them. To the seventeen-year-old narrator, the biggest problem with religion is the social barriers that religion creates (which he directly compares to the social barriers created by money).

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