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Holden answers the call to adventure, the first step in Joseph Campbell's Theory of the Quest, when he gets kicked out of school. The call to adventure makes the hero pass from one level of maturity to another. For Holden, the call is definitely a call to grow up. Holden's call to adventure came from himself. Since Holden did not apply himself in school, he was kicked out of school forcing him to learn the way of the real world. According to Campbell, the call can be refused (Campbell, 54), but if the call is refused the hero is really refusing to grow up. For Holden, he does not refuse the call and he goes on an adventure to grow up. Holden wrote his teacher a letter saying, "Dear Mr. Spencer. That's all I know about the Egyptians. I can't seem to get very interested in them although your lectures are very interesting. It is all right with me if you flunk me though as I am flunking everything else except English anyway. Respectfully yours, Holden Caulfield."(Salinger, 7). Holden knew that he was flunking and still he did not seem to care. By this he accepted the call.
According to Campbell, the hero may need Aid in choosing whether or not to go on the journey. The Aid can come from a variety of sources. The Aid can be from an accident or outside forces. For Holden, The Aid came from Ackley. Ackley, one of Holden's roommates in college, is an annoying friend who always bothers Holden. One night Holden gets into a fight with Stradlater, his other roommate, and Holden seeks friendliness from Ackley. Ackley ignores Holden. He says, "Wise guy. Someday somebody's gonna bash your-"(Salinger, 28) Ackley did not want to talk to him, he just wanted Holden to leave. This pushes Holden to leave Pencey right away and go into the real world.
Holden crosses The Threshold when he leaves Pencey Prep. According to Campbell the hero must leave the world he knows and travel to a world he does not know. He must go from the Known to the Unknown. The Unknown can take a variety of forms. The Unknown can look like a jungle, a forest, a lost continent, or another dimension. The Unknown usually has a characteristic of being strange. The Known to Holden is Pencey Prep because everything there is familiar and paid for. Holden goes into the Unknown, New York, where he does not rely on his father for money and is out on his own. New York is strange to him because he has never truly been out on his own.
Holden then goes through several struggles to bring him down. This is the fourth step of Campbell's Theory of the Quest, The Road of Trials. According to Campbell, The Road of Trials is the step the hero goes through that determines the outcome of the hero's journey. For Holden, several things make up the Road of Trials. For example, when Holden is alone all he can think about is Jane Gallagher, one of his good friends, and Stradlater together. This contributes greatly to Holden's depression. Holden goes to a club in the first hotel he is in and a bar that he and his brother D.B. used to go to. At the bar
Holden meets Lillian Simmons one of D.B.'s old friends. She invites him to sit with her but Holden refuses. He says to her, ""I was just leaving," I told her."I have to meet somebody.""(Salinger, 47) He had no one to meet.
Holden goes back to the hotel still desperate for human connection and makes a deal with the elevator operator whom also makes a deal, that a prostitute will come to his room. When Sunny, the prostitute gets to his room, Holden decides he does not want to have sex with her, but just wants to talk. He asked Sunny, "Don't you feel like talking for a while?"(Salinger, 51) She didn't want to talk to him she just wanted to get money. She leaves and wants more money than was agreed to. The elevator operator, her pimp, demands more money and fights Holden.
Holden again anxious for human relationship calls one of his old friends, Sally Hayes and makes a date with her. Since he does not have much money, Holden leaves the hotel and goes to Grand Central Station where he meets nuns. He has a conversation with the nuns and gives them a contribution. Holden then goes on his date with Sally, who in the end rejects him too. By now Holden is thinking about his sister Phoebe frequently. He wants to call her but is afraid of his parents.
Still wanting to make human connection he calls Carl Luce, and old friend and they decided to meet for a drink. This goes badly and Carl rejects Holden too. Holden begs Carl to stay with him. He says, ""Have just one more drink," I told him." Please. I'm lonesome as hell. No kidding.""(Salinger, 80) Holden is really fraught for human relation. He obtains a great deal of alcohol and wants one of the singers to sit with him. She also rejects Holden so he goes to Central Park to find out himself where the ducks go. He does not see the ducks and concludes they indeed have somewhere to go.
Holden is now so lonely that he sneaks into his apartment to see Phoebe. She is angry with him because he was kicked out of school. The only person he truly loves now rejects him. Finally Phoebe again accepts him and they have a conversation. The bond between them strengthens and we now see what the title means. Holden wants to be "the catcher in the rye" saving children from the real world. He wants to keep them in the rye field forever so they are always innocent.
Holden's parents come home so Holden sneaks out of the apartment and goes to another one of his teachers, Mr. Antolini's house. Here he does not find the understanding he wants to find and again feels rejected. Holden wakes up in the middle of the night to Mr. Antolini caressing his head and he gets scared. He gets so frightened he makes up a lie. He cries, "I have to go anywayâ€¦I left my bags and all at the station. I think maybe I better go and get them. I have all my stuff in them." Now Holden had nowhere to go so he starts off to Grand Central Station and sleeps on a bench.
In the morning, Holden wakes up weak and walks the streets. He finds himself asking Allie to help him cross the streets. He would say, "Allie, don't let me disappearâ€¦,"(Salinger, 106) over and over. Holden is getting worse and worse. When he sees all the graffiti on the walls he realizes he cannot erase it all and cannot be the catcher in the rye. Holden decides he wants to hitchhike to the West but he thinks of Phoebe and wants to tell her first. He leaves a note at her school for her to go to the Museum of Art. While he waits he goes into the bathroom and faints. He now is losing his health because he is not eating properly.
Holden finally awakes and finds Phoebe is late. She was late because she went home to pack to be with Holden. He does not want to endanger her so he yells at her. He shouts, "â€¦You're not going. I'm going alone. So shut up."(Salinger, 111) He finds that he would make her feel bad is he left her so he agrees to stay in New York. He takes her to the zoo because he feels bad about yelling at her.
Holden learns that he is happy with the way things are. According to Campbell, the fifth step of the Theory of the Quest is The Treasure. The Treasure is the lesson the hero learns from the trials. Holden learns that Phoebe is going to change and is going to have to face the real world. He realizes he cannot be the catcher he wants to be and that not everyone can be saved. He states, "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 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."(Salinger, 114) It cannot be determined if he can share his lessons because the novel does not tell what happens after Holden is in the rest home.
Whether or not Holden returns to the real world, Campbell's sixth step and becomes the master of both worlds, Campbell's seventh step, is not told by the book, ergo we do not see if Holden gets better, if he applies himself, if he goes back into the real world, or if he gets on with his life.
J.D. Salinger completed the task to create a human who embarked on a journey of discovery was accept as living creature filled with complexities when he wrote The Catcher in the Rye. The fact that Campbell's theory of the mono-myth, the Heroes Quest Cycle, not only works for superman, but for Holden Caulfield too, illustrates that impossible to escape it. Campbell's book challenges many myths some over a thousand years old, such as the Odyssey, to his theory and they all fit. It seems as if humans all humans think alike and will never change.