Motifs are reoccurring intentional structures, contrasts, and literary devices that formulate and develop a novel’s major themes. It is the thread that knits the story all together. The motif of violence can be traced throughout the book of The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. It is predominantly visible through the words and thoughts of Holden, the main character, and is not necessarily displayed physically. However, there are several scenes where the motif is physically portrayed. They are strong, but inconsistent and scattered throughout the plot. Salinger implements the motif of violence to illustrate and develop the character of Holden and a major theme.
The first function that the motif of violence serves as is the characterization of Holden Caulfield. Violence is demonstrated through Holden’s constant usage of obscenities and criticism towards others. Salinger utilizes it to reveal Holden’s immaturity and critical and judgmental view on the world. It also develops Holden’s character by highlighting his isolation, loneliness, and depression he undergoes. The violence and aggression he expresses is a result of the death of his young brother Allie because “[he breaks] all the windows in the garage” the night Allies dies (Salinger 39). Salinger additionally uses hostility to mask Holden’s weakness since “[he’s] one of those very yellow guys” (88). The motif of violence develops the character of Holden by portraying his sense of hopelessness, abandonment, and emotional instability and distress.
Salinger uses the motif to also develop the theme of; the journey through adolescent life bares many difficulties. This theme is made evident during Holden’s physical and violent encounter or confrontation with the pimp, Maurice, and elucidates that the adult world is a cruel, harsh environment, which further depresses Holden. Furthermore, through the motif, Salinger magnificently illustrates the challenges Holden endures as he grows up and matures, due to his own isolation and cynicism of the world. Additionally, Salinger conveys that the transition from childhood into adulthood is tough. Lastly, the author develops this theme in hope of “catching” children from making the same mistake as Holden, who “[goes] down, down, down” plummeting straight into the iniquitous world of adulthood (197).
In conclusion, Salinger employs the motif of violence to characterize Holden and develop the theme that the journey of adolescent life contains many challenges. Furthermore depression, isolation, and abandonment are the emotions Holden experiences and suffers from, which is made discernible through this motif. In addition, this motif of violence intensifies as the plot progresses through this fictional novel. Finally this repeated intentional pattern is what forms the framework and connects all the pieces together in this great novel which unveils so much truth on the realities of adolescence.