Innocence In The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger Essay examples
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In J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye, Holden Caulfield, a seventeen-year-old boy, transitions from childhood to adulthood. The death of Holden’s little brother signifies the beginning his loss of innocence and growth of maturity. As he enters adulthood, Holden views society differently from his peers by characterizing most of his peers and adults he meets as “phonies.” Thus, Holden takes the impossible challenge of preserving the innocence in children because he wants to prevent children from experiencing the corruption in society. The Catcher In The Rye embodies Holden’s struggle to preserve the innocence of children and reveals the inevitability of and the necessity of encountering the harsh realities of life. As a child,…show more content…
In J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye, Holden Caulfield, a seventeen-year-old boy, transitions from childhood to adulthood. The death of Holden’s little brother signifies the beginning his loss of innocence and growth of maturity. As he enters adulthood, Holden views society differently from his peers by characterizing most of his peers and adults he meets as “phonies.” Thus, Holden takes the impossible challenge of preserving the innocence in children because he wants to prevent children from experiencing the corruption in society. The Catcher In The Rye embodies Holden’s struggle to preserve the innocence of children and reveals the inevitability of and the necessity of encountering the harsh realities of life. As a child, Holden experiences the death of a loved one. Holden’s little brother, Allie, “got leukemia and died…on July 18, 1946” when Holden was thirteen (Salinger 38). Holden sees Allie as the nicest and “most intelligent member in the family” (Salinger 38). In addition, because Allie dies when he is eleven, Holden does not understand why someone with the amount of talent Allie possessed would have to die before growing up. Despite his death, Holden continues to think about Allie and does not “enjoy seeing him in that crazy cemetery…surrounded by dead guys and tombstones” (Salinger 155). Allie is someone that Holden formed a personal relationship with, and because of his death, Holden experiences a change in his perception of society and life. This
Explain the idea “Holden is a great rescuer, but fails to rescue himself.” How does Holden’s character change during the course of the novel?
In The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger perfectly captures a teenage boy’s struggle with adolescence. The story is told from the perspective of Holden Caulfield, who is widely regarded as “…the original sullen teenager” (National Public Radio, 2008). Throughout the novel, Holden takes the reader through a few days of his life, in which he flaunts his hostile attitude to the reader. Over the course of his journey, there is a subtle, yet important, pattern. The Catcher in the Rye includes the constant motif of Holden Caulfield rescuing others, while failing to rescue himself.
In the novel, Holden finds opportunities to rescue others, but he never focuses on bettering himself. For example, he highly respects women when it comes to sex. He explains that, when girls tell him he is going too far with them, he always stops because he “…get[s] to feeling sorry for them…they tell [him] to stop, so [he] stop[s]” (Salinger, 1951, p. 50). Later on, when Holden has his encounter with the prostitute, he pities her and does not desire to do anything sexual with her. He treats women as though he is trying to save their sexual purity. However, this does not help Holden at all. He saves these girls, but, as a result, he never has the opportunity to lose his virginity.
Another, less superficial, example of Holden’s rescuing others instead of himself is the way he acts toward his little sister, Phoebe. Specifically, when Phoebe claims she is not going back to school, he insists, “You have to go back to school” (Salinger, 1951, p. 112). Although he sets himself up to ruin his life by quitting school, he cannot allow Phoebe to follow his same destructive path. He saves her academic opportunities, but fails to save his own.
Holden’s desire to rescue Phoebe supports the ultimate example of him being a great rescuer, but failing to rescue himself. Toward the end, when Phoebe asks him what he would like to do with his life, he explains his desire to be a “catcher in the rye” (Salinger, 1951, p. 93). His aspiration to save children from falling off a cliff greatly represents his desire to save innocence. He wants to rescue Phoebe, as well as these children, so he can rescue the purity he believes can only be found within an innocent child. However, he has given up on saving his own purity, as he believes it has been lost. As a result of this, “Holden channels his grief into altruistic fantasies of protecting those whose existence remains unmarred by graffiti, phoniness, certainty, and death” (Tolchin, 2007, p. 37). He fantasizes about saving the children in the rye field because saving them means preserving the purity left in the world.
Consequential to Holden’s desire to rescue others, specifically their purity, he loses sight of the importance in rescuing himself. He does not believe himself to be pure, so he gives up on himself. Because of this, it seems that Holden’s character does not change throughout the novel. He remains static, his “…voice is the same at the end of his retelling as it is at the start,” and “He seems to have learned very little…” (Brooks, 2004, p. 357). By the end of the novel, it seems as though Holden will continue to rescue others and fail to recognize that it is he who needs rescuing.
Brooks, B. (2004). Holden at Sixteen. Contemporary Literary Criticism, 80(3), 353-357.
National Public Radio (2008, Jan. 20). Holden Caulfield: Giving voice to generations. National
Public Radio Books. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18225406
Salinger, J.D. (1951). The Catcher in the Rye. Retrieved from
Tolchin, K.R. (2007). Optimism, Innocence, and Angst in the Catcher in the Rye. Children’s
Literature Review, 181, 33-45.
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