English and Modern Languages


Master of Arts (MA)


Marybeth Baggett


adolescence, Erikson, Holden, identity, psychosocial, Salinger


Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature | Literature in English, North America | Literature in English, North America, Ethnic and Cultural Minority


Many consider The Catcher in the Rye the most poignant and popular story of adolescence in American literature, challenged only perhaps by Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Reading reviews, examining the public reception, and uncovering depths of research would evidence this well. However, the value of the novel rests not in its popularity—a simple sign of its inherent value—but in its ability to resonate truth. More than merely telling a story, Salinger creates a life, or at the very least a glimpse of a life, through the actions and attitude of his ornery adolescent character Holden Caulfield. This life serves as the most astute representation of the modern adolescent identity in literature. But the novel holds its own beyond the realm of literary imagination and resounds with the same such nuanced reality when viewed through a quite different lens. Theories of adolescence and the role of social factors on human development are relatively recent in the field of psychology. Salinger’s novel provokes a clear sense of what the modern adolescent looks like, what he says, what he does, what he believes. It is in Holden that many readers even see themselves 65 years after the novel’s initial publication. Presenting Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development as a lens through which to view and understand Salinger’s adolescent character provides a uniquely harmonious perspective, demonstrating the value of taking literature seriously, to the extent that a character is analyzed much like a real person would be. Sitting across the room and listening to his story, one sees Holden as a literary character come to life, the notion of the adolescent identity personified.