In the novel The in the Rye, J.D. Salinger creates a fictional character, Holden, who refuses to grow up and preserve his innocence because he is obsessed on childhood. Holden chooses to be stuck between the innocent world of childhood and the complex world of adulthood. For instance, Holden detailed his two siblings, Allie and Phoebe, as if he idolizes them because of their youth. Throughout the novel, Holden struggles in his life because he can’t accept the responsibilities and consequences tied to adulthood.
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Holden Caulfield is a 16-year old boy who refuses to accept the responsibilities of an adult. So, Holden refuses to grow up and act matured. For example, in the beginning of the novel the readers were informed about Holden’s expulsion from Pencey Prep School. However, Holden is more afraid of what his parents’ reaction will be and afraid of facing the consequences of his expulsion. So, he refuses to go home and confront his parents. He says, “I didn’t want to go home or anything till they got it and thoroughly digested it and all” (51). This shows the immature side of Holden. Instead of explaining to his family why he flunked school, he chooses not to because he thought that his mother will be hysterical to him, “My mother gets very hysterical” (51). Asides from being immature, Holden is also afraid of talking to people close to him because he is afraid of something inappropriate they’ll say about him. This explains his lack of interaction with Jane Gallagher, the girl Holden spent with one summer, “the only reason why I didn’t do it [calling Jane] was because I wasn’t in the mood” (63). His lack of interaction with the people he knew makes him interact with the people he doesn’t know. Like when he talked to a cab driver about the ducks in the lagoon and ask where they go during winter, “You know those ducks in that lagoon right near Central Park South?” (60). Even though it’s a nonsense question, he still asked the driver about the ducks. He thinks that the cab driver, or any random people, would not judge him which gives him the courage to talk randomly and to lie to random people. Holden lies most of the time to get someone’s attention. This is one way Holden shows transition towards adulthood.
Even if Holden chooses to stay in the world of innocence, his thoughts and actions show some transition to adulthood. For example in chapter 13 when the elevator boy offers Holden a prostitute girl, he says yes and acts like he had slept with someone else before. However he says that he is still a virgin , “If you want to know the truth, I’m a virgin” (92), and when he comes pretty close to doing “it” with a girl and she says “stop” he stops, “she keeps telling you to stop, The problem with me is, I stop” (92). This shows a transition of Holden’s sexual desire; however, he struggles dealing with it. Another example of Holden is stuck between the childhood and adulthood world is when he is in the lavender room. When he sees the three ladies at the next table, he gives them an “old eye a little bit” (69). When Holden finally meet them, he told them that he “just saw Gary Cooper, the movie star, on the other side of the floor” (74). His actions show that he is trying to impress the three ladies like an adult man by giving them “old eye” glances and impressing them by lying. At the end of the chapter, after hanging out with the three girls, they left Holden with the bill to pay, “I think they should’ve at least offered to pay for the drinks they had before I joined them” (75). Due to his innocence and being a trying hard social climber, he ends up being the stupid one and easy to trick with. Another example is Holden’s concern towards the ducks in the lagoon. He says “I was thinking about the lagoon in Central Park, down near Central Park South. I was wondering if it would be frozen over when I got home, and if it was, where did the ducks go. I was wondering where the ducks went when the lagoon got all icy and frozen over. I wondered of some guy came in a truck and took them to a zoo or something. Or if they just flew away” (13). The ducks symbolizes Holden. He is wondering where he’s going to go in his life especially when things get “icy and frozen”. He is wondering if there will be someone to guide him or if he will just “fly away”. The lagoon, on the other hand, symbolizes his life. In Chapter 20, when he finds the lagoon he says “it was pretty frozen and partly not frozen” (154). The transition of lake from frozen to “not frozen” is like Holden’s transition from childhood to adulthood. The frozen part shows that Holden hates changes. For instance, when Holden is in the Museum of Natural History he says that he likes the museum because it never changes, the only thing that change is you, “Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you” (121). Just like his obsession, he doesn’t want to change and stays as a child to preserve his innocence. He sees his siblings as his inspiration for his obsession.
Throughout the novel, Holden always describes his sibling as nice, responsible, smart children. This gives the reader another reason of Holden’s obsession of preserving his innocence. He sees innocence through his siblings. In chapter 5, Holden describes Allie, his dead little brother, as “fifty times as intelligent” (38) than him. He exaggerates that Allies is so smart. In chapter 10, Holden describes Phoebe as “a little kid so pretty and smart” (67). He also convinces the readers that the readers would “like her” (67). This shows a reason why he wanted to stay like a child is to be like by everyone. Holden convinces the reader that both of his siblings are smart and everyone likes them. In Chapter 23, Holden’s mother gave Phoebe a goodnight kiss and said goodnight to her. All of a sudden, Holden started to cry, “Then, all of a sudden, I started to cry” (179). This gives the readers an idea that one reason why he wanted to preserve innocence is he wanted to feel to be love and to feel the care of his love ones especially from his mother that he never felt before. He idolizes Allie and Phoebe because his parents give them so much attention, love and care. For Allie, they always visit his grave, “my parents go out quite frequently and stick a bunch of flowers on old Allie’s grave” (155), and because Holden have a “lousy childhood” (1), he his jealous of his siblings because they get the attention, care, and love from their parents that he’s been longing for so long. However, his treatment towards his siblings, and children, doesn’t influence his jealousy. In fact, he wanted to be the “catcher in the rye” to protect them from adulthood.
Due to Holden’s obsession in preserving innocence, Holden chooses to be “the catcher in the rye” (173). He wanted to catch the children, who are playing in a field of rye, from falling off the cliff. The field of rye symbolizes the childhood world, a world that is full of children playing, while the cliff symbolizes adulthood. Holden doesn’t want the children to struggle in life, like he is dealing with. He wanted children to stay children and preserve their innocence because he doesn’t want them to fall in the corrupted and complicated world of adulthood. In chapter 25, Holden tries to erase the “Fuck you” word written in the wall of an elementary school, “but I rubbed it out anyway, though.” (201). Holden tries to protect the children from reading the swear word that could poison their mind. The red hunting hat is another symbolism of innocence in the novel. Holden always wear the red hunting hat to protect himself from the “hunter”, the society. He gave the hunting hat to Phoebe, “she took off my red hunting hat – the one I gave her” (207), to protect her from the society. He wanted Phoebe to have her innocence as long as she needed it. Erasing the swear on the wall and protecting Phoebe from the society are Holden’s ways of protecting the children from “jumping off the cliff”. However, at the end of the novel, Holden learns to let go of his obsession. When Holden and Phoebe visit the zoo, they see a carrousel which Holden usually ride when he was younger. But this time Holden decided not ride the carrousel, instead, he decided to seat down and watch Phoebe ride the carrousel, “I went over and sat down on this bench, and she went and got on the carrousel” (221). This shows that finally Holden let go of his childish desire of preserving the innocence and being a child as long as he could be. Holden also stops his ambition of being “the catcher in the rye” when he sees the children reaching out for the gold ring in the carrousel. He says “if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off, that fall off” (211). This shows that Holden finally given up from saving the kids from falling to adulthood. The gold ring symbolizes adulthood, which Holden didn’t do anything to stop the children from reaching it.
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In the novel The Catcher in the Rye, Holden is obsessed in preserving his innocence. Holden cannot accept the responsibilities and consequences associated with adulthood. He tries to run away from the people he knew and focuses his attentions to the people he did not know. Holden is stuck between the world of innocence and the world of adulthood. Without even noticing it, he tries to act and think like an adult. Holden is also jealous of his two little siblings because they get most of the attention, care, and love of their parents that he has never felt before. He wanted to preserve his innocence to feel the love from his parents that he has been longing for so long. Due to his obsession of preserving his innocence, he wishes to be “the catcher in the rye” to protect the children from falling off the cliff. He finds the adult world corrupted and poisonous. However, in the end of the novel, Holden finally let go of his obsession and decided to act as an adult. Even though he struggles in his life and finds adulthood complicates, corrupted, and poisonous he decided to come out of his box to evolve, explore, and experience what the world could offer.
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