Today, over 60 years since its publication, The Catcher in the Rye is still one of the most known and widely read works of American literature. Salinger, the author, became the writer of one literary bible of the teenagers communities to come. The work confirmed and sustained his reputation and gained him a position as one of the more important American writers of the younger generation. The novel has been sold in sixty million copies and has been translated into over thirty languages. It became one of the most convincing studies of adolescence ever to be written by an American. The protagonist, Holden, turned into the cultural icon in the United States of last few decades.
The Cather in the Rye was published in 1951. It was the time in history when Americans were scared of the vision of the nuclear war - and, more specifically, the bomb that embodied it. The forces that created limitless wealth, than became totally inverse and were able to destroy this idyllic world. So everywhere in 1950's and 1960's culture the signs of revolt could be seen. The lurking fears and phobias of the American citizens started to bubble just under "tranquillized" surface of certain American customs. Visible possibility of global death caused the manifestation of seditious protagonists in novels and movies. That is how the heroes - outsiders who moved between fragile mysticism and outright disaffiliation in their search for an alternative to the orthodox culture - course were created. Among these heroes Jim Stark from Rebel Without a Cause or Johnny Strabler from The Wild One and of course Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye could be found.
These protagonists (especially Holden) are adolescents - they are shifting between childhood and adulthood looking for a place on the earth to live. This essay will focus on the adolescence in accordance with The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger and it will try to answer the research question, which is "When considering Holden Caulfield's behavior, to what extent did the seditious attitude towards the adult world preserve his innocence?". So the work will investigate the connection between the protagonist's behavior and his will to stay innocent.
Among the most common beliefs about adolescence is that it is the time when teens form their personal identities. Egocentrism is being performed by adolescents which then forms self-consciousness of wanting to feel important in their peer groups and having social acceptance of fitting into the group. Holden Caulfield had some problems to get on with his contemporaries and this could be reason why level of his egocentrism was so high. He is an unhappy teenager who runs away from boarding school. And Salinger chose him as a protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye for sure purposely. An adolescent who is emotionally unstable is a perfect model to emphasize certain problems and conflicts. The clear conflict is that Holden judges and hates everyone, but at the same time he wants them to join him for a drink and chat it up for the evening. He seems perpetually caught in a limbo: judging a person, making a half-hearted attempt to reach out, and then being disappointed when that person is not there to support him, talk with him, or try to understand him.
According to the dictionary term "innocence" means freedom from sin, moral wrong or guilt through, simplicity and inoffensiveness, but also lack of knowledge or understanding and ignorance. According to Holden, it is everything what is different from adult world and seems to belong to childhood. But actually he is seeking for what the innocence is and can't find the answer. So how the boy wants to preserve something that he even cannot exactly define? Maybe that is the key - when a person realizes what is innocence he or she becomes an adult .
Salinger wanted to state a clear relation between adolescence and innocence. And he did it using Holden's homecoming. Adolescence is a period of life when you start to realize what the innocence is, and if you do it fast enough you will be able to try to preserve it. As Caulfield did.
The Catcher in the Rye is written in a subjective style from the point of view of its protagonist, Holden Caulfield, following his exact thought processes. There is flow in the seemingly disjointed ideas and episodes. The novel, written in the first person, is a masterpiece of extended monologue. It is all related in Holden's own defiant, ungrammatical slangy and cryptic wa of talkind, and yet manages to express great subtlety and insight. The plot of the novel is a three days long flashback period, during which Holden confesses himself. Thus all the events that were mentioned by Holden are entirely presented from the point of view of the protagonist. So the reader cannot be sure how exactly these three days had looked like. Holden is lonely, quixotic, compassionate, he is plagued by the 'phoniness' of his environment. And in the book, he tells the story of his flight to New York and his eventual nervous breakdown. It turns out, in the end of the novel, that he is recalling all this from a sanatorium.
The novel is a triumph in the vernacular and confessional mode, drawing the reader into the narrator's deep resistance to the world that surrounds him and, he feels, threatens to stifle him. It also offers us a hero who, in his sadly contracted way, reminds us of the many other rebels and dreamers, grotesque saints and would-be saviours, that populate American fiction.
Critical reviews agree that the novel accurately reflected the teenage colloquial speech of the time. The author used few words and phrases that appear frequently in the book. For example: 'phony' means 'superficial, hypocritical, and pretentious'; 'flit' is 'homosexual', so 'flitty' stands for 'homosexual behavior'; also 'crumby' can be found in the novel and that means 'inadequate, insufficient and disappointing', while phrase 'that killed me' corresponds to 'I found that hilarious or astonishing'.
Holden Caulfield is a prep-school boy, whose parents live in New York. Holden in many ways exaggerates the normal tendencies of adolescence: he is hard-boiled and sophisticated in his own reveries but immature when confronted with a practical situation, he is basically good-hearted, even tender, but gruff and matter-of-fact on the outside, and he has a typical adolescent attitude toward sex: theoretically he is cynical and all-knowing, but in practice he is naÃ¯ve and chaste. His real difficulty, the reason he does not fit easily into the life of the Pennsylvania prep school, is that he is more sensitive and idealistic than the boys around him - that makes him bitter and unhappy and to his teachers and others he seems a troublemaker and misfit.
But is there any connection between this characteristic and the novel's title? Indeed - it refers to Holden's desire to preserve innocence: not his own - that, he senses, is already lost - but the innocence of those still to grow up. He keeps picturing 'little kids playing some game' in 'this big field of rye and all', he tells his sister Phoebe. 'Nobody big' is around, except him. He is 'standing on the edge of some crazy cliff'. 'What I have to do', he explains to Phoebe, 'I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff'. He has, in short, to stop them from experiencing a fall that recalls both the mythical fall of Adam and Eve into knowledge and the universal fall from innocence into experience, from childhood into adulthood. Images of falling and flight pervade The Catcher in the Rye. Holden dreams of heading west or lighting out for the country. He cherishes anywhere that time seems to stand still. Equally, he fears any kind of fall, for himself and others. At one point he event finds it difficult , frightening, to step down from the pavement on the street.
The dominant theme of The Catcher in the Rye is helplessness of the adolescent - half child, half adult - in an adult society. Holden is too old for childish amusement, yet is punished cruelly when he tries to force his way into the adult world. He is punished as well for his finer qualities, his sensitivity, tenderness are not virtues that are highly regarded by the normal inmates of prep-schools. In my opinion the innocence in accordance with the novel's plot is mentioned getting over "staying alive" in society, as Holden observed on one occasion, you've got to say "stuff" like "glad to've met you" to people you aren't glad to have met. So innocence is being unaware of the mechanisms that control the world, thus being frank to one's own manners.
Holden wants so strongly to preserve the innocence because he knows that even the strongest go down to defeat. The majority are either victims or slobs. Decency may still be a preserve of childhood, but the adult world is repugnantly gross.
Despite all this instances, Holden never makes himself out to be a victim - as if he knew that this would hold the process of becoming an adult back. He doesn't seem to notice that he gets taken advantage of - repeatedly. This part if his own youth and naÃ¯veté. Despite his judgmental exterior, Holden is surprisingly eager to please - and to make friends.
Episodes home returning
Holden Caulfield uses the word 'nice' to describe what he likes just as he uses 'phony' to describe what he dislikes. Holden deems everyone to be phony. So how can he be enthusiastic about meeting people? /in his mind, everyone is social-climber, a name-dropper, appearance-obsessed, a secret slob, a private flit, or a suck-up. Holden finds any semblance of normal adult life to be "phony." He doesn't want to grow up and get a job and play golf and drink martinis and go to an office. and he certainly doesn't want anything to do with the "bastards" that do. Except that, really, he sort of does.
Basically, if Holden calls everyone a phony, he can feel better when they reject him. Theoretically, of course. It's not his fault the three girls in the Lavender Room weren't terribly interested in giving him the time of day. They were just phonies who couldn't carry on a conversation. He can't feel bad if Ackley doesn't want to let him stay and chat. Ackley's just a pimply moron. If Stradlater doesn't want to hang out, it's because he's a jerk. It's preferred not to use tired, old terms like "defense mechanism," but it is certainly tempted to in this case.
In chapter nine Holden is looking out of his hotel window into other rooms, namely, a "distinguished-looking" man prancing about in women's clothes, and a couple squirting water or highballs or something into each other's mouths. Holden declares the hotel is "full of perverts" and launches into his thoughts on sex and perverts in general.
Holden sees sex as inherently degrading, no matter how it's done. If he cares about a girl, he can't have a sexual relationship with her because it would turn her into an object. He admits, is that if you really like a girl, you wouldn't want to "do crumby stuff" to her. This means Holden has to either fulfill his sexual urges with girls he doesn't care about, or not fulfill them at all. The second problem, is that when he's fooling around with a girl and she suggests they stop, he actually stops. Other guys, he says, just keep going, but Holden actually stops. Sex-related episodes in the novel are constantly ambiguous. This ambiguity makes them - as Holden perceives - phony.
There's also a theory out there - which seemed very credible to me and possible since the first time I've read The Catcher in the Rye - that Holden is gay. That's one solution to why he feels confused and alienated and so forth. What strengthen this theory is the way Holden often focuses on the physicality of the male body (like with Stradlater, Ackley, or Mr. Spencer). One could say he reads homosexuality into others when it actually may not be there (like Carl Luce or Mr. Antolini). And he's not comfortable with the thought of having sex with a woman.
But Holden can also point (very few) elements of the surrounding world that are positive. As he calls them simply "nice". One character called so is Allie - protagonist's dead brother. Allie's death was one of the traumatic events in Holden's childhood. He confessed that he'd broken all the windows in the garage the night Allie had died. This confession is an important one, when considering the whole plot - it tells us right off the bat that Allie's death has had a huge impact on Holden's life. That Allie pops up over and over throughout the course of the narrative confirms this. The death of James Castle, too, seems to be significant, since it was the second time Holden had a close and personal encounter with death. Because of these events, Holden is plagued with thoughts of morality.
People with whom Holden can communicate - these "nice" people - are the two young boys at the museum, the girl with the skates at the park, and Phoebe. All of them are - how surprisingly - children, who can't help him in his growing pains but reminds him of a simpler time, one to which he wishes he could return. Perhaps the most significant occurrence of the word "nice" is in Holden's statement near the end of the book that the sight of Phoebe going around and around on the carousel makes him happy just because she is innocent. And that is so nice to him.
However, Holden becomes an adult and unintentionally he has to get familiar with adult world's patterns. But it occurs to be for him harder then it may seem. For example Holden admits that whenever he is given a present, he ends up feeling sad. During his stay in New York he gets hurt. And the more he gets hurt, the sorrier he feels for others - what is not common behavior among the adults. Even though he doesn't like the girl whose presence makes him leave the night club, he feels "sort of sorry for her in a way". He is still a virgin because whenever he has tried to "make out" with girls and has been told to stop, he (as it was mentioned before) has stopped because he gets to "feeling sorry for them". He even feels sorry for Jesus because the disciples let him down. Significantly, Holden supposes that the disciples proved a disappointment because Jesus had to pick them totally randomly.
Although Holden seems to hate everyone, he also "sort of" misses people, if he doesn't see them for a while. And here the reader realizes (or at least should realize) "kind of" childish characteristic of the almost adult Holden - of the adolescent.
At the end, Phoebe - "nice" character in the novel - becomes the witness of Holden's specific, break-down-way, confession. According to the song about the catcher in the rye, who wants to hold the kids back from jumping of the cliff, Holden describes to his sister the situation in a very picturesque and symbolic manner, but he essentially tells Phoebe that he wants to prevent children from growing up. He blames the world's corruption on adults and believes that when he stops the children from growing up he will preserve their innocence and (kind of) save the world.
It takes most of the book before Holden begins to realize that he is helpless to stop this corruption. Finally, he realizes that not only is there nothing that he can do, but there is nowhere he can go to hide from it. Holden takes a while to comprehend these concepts. One good example is when Holden wants to deliver the note to Phoebe. He encounters a "fuck-you" written on the wall. Later on he finds similar caption scratched somewhere with a knife. He discovers that he can't efface that one. Even in the timeless peace of the Egyptian tomb room at the museum there is another "fuck-you" written with a permanent marker. This incident is the beginning of Holden's realization that his dreams are unfeasible.
Ironically, it is Phoebe who challenges his plan to escape out west. As he is telling her that she cannot run away, he discovers that he too cannot run away. "You can't ever find a place that is nice and peaceful, because there isn't any."
The protagonist's break-down comes near the end of the book when he is watching Phoebe on the carousel. "All the kids kept trying to grab for the gold ring, and so was old Phoebe, and I was sort of afraid she'd fall off the goddam horse, but I didn't say anything or do anything. The thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off, they fall off, but it's bad if you say anything to them." Holden thinks.
In the above passage from the novel, Holden hits the final breakdown. Being "the catcher" becomes obviously unrealistic. The gold rings are ironically not gold but really brass-plated iron. The gold rings are symbols of the corrupted world which always "wears" a shiny surface to hide its evil. It is at this point that Holden sees that he can't stop children from growing up and therefore losing their innocence. They will fall if they fall, there is nothing that can be done.
Shortly after this point Holden has his nervous breakdown. His breakdown is due to this depressing realization that the world is corrupt and filled with evil and all the phony stuff. He knows now with a sickening certainty that he is powerless to stop evil and preserve innocence (his and no one's). As a matter of fact, it is "bad" to do so.