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The Catcher in the Rye is a novel written by J.D. Salinger. The novel The Catcher in the Rye follows a boy called Holden Caulfield. Holden is the narrator of the novel and is a tall, troubled sixteen year old teenager. Holden had just gotten kicked out of his prep school for his bad marks and for not applying himself. He leaves the school early and decides not to go home. He instead decides to stay at a hotel for his three days before he is expected home and have a little time to do whatever he wanted in New York City. He goes partying, gets into trouble, visited past acquaintances and even sneaks in to his own home to talk to his sister. In the novel The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger uses allusion, characterization and symbolism to describe how adult society is superficial, corrupt and phony while children are innocent, good and pure.
Jerome David Salinger was a brilliant American novelist and also a short story writer (Liukkonen 1). He grew up in New York City in a wealthy family (2). He like Holden was sent to Prep schools and didn’t have the best grades (2). Salinger was also known as a sarcastic person (2). Salinger is a very quiet and private man and often avoided publicity and reporters (9). “‘I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure,’ said Salinger in 1974 to a New York Times correspondent” (9). “Salinger continued to write, but nobody was allowed to see the work” (9). “From the late 60’s he avoided publicity” (9). Many of the events that happen to, beliefs held by, and characteristics of Holden are based after Salinger’s own life, characteristics and beliefs (8). Salinger began writing his short stories in the 1940s and wrote stories which were published in Collier’s, Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, and the New Yorker (6). The Catcher in the Rye was Salinger’s first novel and is best known for it (1). Salinger was drafted into the army and served in World War II. During his army days, Salinger formed his ideas about the phoniness of people and the corruption in the world (3). These ideas are expressed in The Catcher in the Rye through the character Holden who reflects Salinger himself (8).
The Catcher in the Rye was published in 1951. (7) Salinger wrote The Catcher in the Rye right after World War II (Cliffsnotes 1). This was a time of economic prosperity and boom. Wages increased and work hours were reduced (2). America was becoming a more conservative place at this time (3). They were paranoid of communist influence and blacklisted many people, groups and books (3). “This spirit of repression is the context in which The Catcher in the Rye appeared” (3). The Catcher in the Rye was Salinger’s response to this phoniness of society that he saw (3). The cold war had also begun in this time (3). The Soviet Union set off the first nuclear explosion (3). Fear then became wide spread in America (3). “Schools took time to instruct students on the best way to react during a nuclear attack. Although the intent was benevolent, the most likely result was fear and confusion on the part of impressionable young minds. This increased gap between adult values and childhood innocence may have affected Salinger . . .” (3). Salinger wrote The Catcher in the Rye with this idea of childhood innocence and adult corruption in mind and wanting to express these ideas (3).
Salinger uses an allusion to the poem by Robert Burns, “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye” to describe how children are innocent and pure, but as they enter the adult world, they become phony (SparkNotes Editors 14). When he sneaks into his own house, Holden talks to his sister, Phoebe, and he says, “Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around- nobody big, I mean- except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff- I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them.” (Salinger 224). The children playing games in this field of rye represents their innocence and purity. Falling off the cliff represents entering the adult world and society (SparkNotes Editors 14). It is a cliff because Holden believes entering the adult society is something bad (14). Holden believes that it will result in children losing their innocence and becoming materialistic and phony just like everybody else (14). Holden also says to Phoebe, “That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy” (Salinger 225). Holden is very concerned and recognizes that the adult world is superficial and phony (SparkNotes Editors 14). Holden wants to prevent good, innocent children from becoming like that as they grow up (14). Holden sees it as his job to do this (14). The title of the novel is “The Catcher in the Rye” (14). Salinger puts this allusion in the title of the novel (14). This reveals the importance of this allusion (14). It was Salinger’s intent and main point of the novel to describe how adult society is phony (14).
Salinger also uses allusions to pop culture to illustrate the superficiality and phoniness of society. Before Holden’s date with Sally which he set up the day after he arrived in New York City, he thinks, “It was a benefit performance or something. I didn’t much want to see it, but I knew old Sally, the queen of the phonies, would start drooling all over the place when I told her I had tickets for that, because the Lunts were in it and all. She liked shows that are supposed to be very sophisticated and dry and all,” (Salinger 152). The Lunts is a show known for being “sophisticated”. Sally and other people simply like a show because it is considered “sophisticated”. This reveals the superficiality and phoniness of people in society. In chapter ten when Holden meets a group of girls at the bar, one of the girls tells Holden, “I and my girl friends saw Peter Lorre last night . . . The movie actor. In person. He was buyin’ a newspaper he’s cute” (93). The girl is so overly happy and enthusiastic that she met a celebrity. There should be no reason to be this excited. This shows that people are so superficial and materialistic that they consider such shallow and meaningless things like meeting celebrities to be of importance. Later when Holden was dancing with that same girl, he decided to fool and mess with her, “I told her I just saw Gary Cooper, the movie star, on the other side of the floor . . . I’d just broken her heart- I really had. I was sorry as hell I’d kidded her” (96). The girl is so superficial and materialistic. She is so unnecessarily upset that she didn’t get to see the celebrity. Society is so phony that they have all their priorities wrong and upside down. Meeting celebrities shouldn’t be something of significance, but it is in the phony and superficial state that society is in. While on the train to New York City after leaving his prep school, Holden meets a woman on the train and he describes this woman, “She started reading this Vogue she had with her” (76). People in society nowadays are so obsessed with trends and things that are popular or in style. This obsession reveals the how materialistic and superficial people are. They hold such shallow and superficial things as important.
Salinger also uses allusions of things to do with entertainment to show how society is corrupting the innocence and purity of the young. While on the way to buy tickets before going on a date with Sally, Holden thinks, “There was this record I wanted to get for Phoebe, called ‘Little Shirley’s Beans.’ It was a very hard record to get. It was about a little kid that wouldn’t go out of the house because two of her front teeth were out and she was ashamed to” (149). Society is influencing the young in their phony and superficial ways. Society is influencing children already to be phony and superficial like them. Society is causing a young kid to be so ashamed of the way that he looks that he won’t leave the house. The young are being corrupted. When Holden is talking to his sister, Phoebe, in chapter twenty one, she tells him about the play she’s in, “‘A Christmas Pageant for Americans.’ It stinks, but I’m Benedict Arnold. I have practically the biggest part” (210). The school is making a young girl play Benedict Arnold. Benedict Arnold is an evil, corrupt man who betrayed his country. Even the schools are corrupting the innocence of children. Phoebe also tells him, “Guess what I did this afternoon! What movie I saw, Guess… The Doctor… It’s a special movie they had at the Lister Foundation… It was all about this doctor in Kentucky and everything that sticks a blanket over this child’s face that’s a cripple and can’t walk. Then they send him to jail and everything” (211). Children are even being corrupted at the movies. Children are exposed to movies about murderer doctors who suffocate crippled kids. They are being influenced in bad ways everywhere they go.
Salinger’s characterization in the Catcher in the Rye of Holden and his beliefs reveals how adult society is phony, corrupt and superficial. When Holden goes to a bar to meet his friend, Luce, he thinks, “It’s one of those places that are supposed to be very sophisticated and all, and the phonies are coming in the window” (Salinger 184). Holden is characterized as concerned about the phoniness of society (Novel Guide 2). He sees that people go to places just because they think it is sophisticated. He sees how people are superficial and phony (2). When waiting for Sally to arrive for their, Holden thinks, “Guys that always talk about how many miles they get to a gallon in their goddamn cars. Guys those get sore and childish as hell if you beat them at golf, or even just some stupid game like ping- pong. Guys that are very mean. Guys that never read books, Guys that are very boring” (Salinger 160). Holden finds it frustrating that there are all these horrible, phony guys in the world. Holden despises how society is fundamentally superficial, corrupt and phony, and that the phony guys that he described are accepted in society (NovelGuide 2). He considers this a major problem and it angers him (2). When talking to Phoebe after sneaking into his own house, he says to her, “What I may do, I may get a job on a ranch or something for awhile. I know this guy whose grandfather’s got a ranch in Colorado. I may get a job out there” (Salinger 214). Holden is afraid of the adult world and doesn’t want to be phony, corrupt and superficial like the rest of them (Stoddard 9). He does not want to enter that world so he wants to go isolate himself and work on a ranch (9). When Holden gets a prostitute to come to his hotel room, he says, “I don’t feel very much like myself tonight, I’ve had a rough night. Honest to God. I’ll pay you and all, but do you mind very much if we didn’t do it? Do you mind very much?” (Salinger 125). Holden doesn’t want to lose his innocence by losing his virginity (Stoddard 7). He doesn’t want to grow up and do adult things like having sex (7). He wants to stay pure and innocent like children (7).
Salinger’s characterization of Holden’s siblings in The Catcher in the Rye show that children are innocent, good and pure but are corruptible by adult society. In the very beginning of the novel, Holden thinks about his brother, “He just got a Jaguar . . . He’s got a lot of dough now. He didn’t use to. He used to be just a regular writer, when he was home . . . . Now he’s out in Hollywood, D.B., being a prostitute” (4). D.B. has been corrupted and has become phony (Stoddard 2). D.B. used to be innocent and “just a regular writer”, but then he sold out and went to Hollywood. D.B. became superficial and materialistic just like everyone else (2). Holden hates D.B. for what he did and it disgusts him (2). Selling out and becoming corrupt and phony then becomes his pet peeve. While still back in his prep school in his dorm room, Holden thinks about his brother, “My brother Allie . . . You’d have liked him. He was two years younger than I was, but he was about fifty times as intelligent. He was terrifically intelligent . . . His teachers were always writing letters to my mother, telling her what a pleasure it was having a boy like Allie in their class. And they weren’t just shooting the crap. They really meant it. But it wasn’t just that he was the most intelligent member in the family. He was also the nicest, in lots of ways. He never got mad at anybody.” (Salinger 49- 50) Allie is a pure, young innocent boy (Trevenen 7). Allie is intelligent, everybody loves him, and is very sweet and kind (7). Allie shows the innocence and purity of the young (7). Allie to Holden is someone who won’t change and become phony (7). He won’t ever lose his innocence and sell out (7). Holden holds Allie dear to his heart and loves him very much (7). When Holden had just arrived in New York City, he thought about his sister, Phoebe, “You never saw a little kid so pretty and smart in your whole life. She’s really smart . . . You’d like her. The only trouble was that she’s a little too affectionate sometimes” (Salinger 87-89). Phoebe is also a young girl who is innocent and pure (Ross 2). She is smart, affectionate, pretty and sweet (2). She also is an example of the innocence and purity of the young (2). Phoebe however is vunerable to society’s influence and to corruption. Phoebe to Holden is one of the children that he decides that he must protect from being phony, selling out and entering adulthood (2).
Salinger uses the symbolism of Holden’s belongings in the Catcher in the Rye to describe how we must not enter the phony society and become superficial and materialistic. Towards the start of the novel, Holden just thinks to himself while still back in his prep school, “It was this red hunting hat, with one of those very long peaks. I saw it in the window of this sports store when we got out of the subway, just after I noticed I’d lost all the goddam foils. It only cost me a buck. The way I wore it, I swung the old peak way around to the back- very corny, I’ll admit, but I liked it that way” (24). The red hunting hat is a way he stays unique and separates himself from others by trying to be different (Lorcher 7). Holden wants to separate himself from the world and society because he doesn’t want to enter the society which is phony and corrupt (7). The hat symbolizes Holden’s isolation. When he just arrived in New York City, he thinks about his siblings, “She [Phoebe] has this sort of red hair, a bit like Allie’s was . . .” (Salinger 88). The red hunting hat’s color is also the same as Allie and Phoebe’s hair (Lorcher 7). Holden wants to be like them, young, pure and inncocent (7). The hat also symbolizes Holden’s desire to be young, pure and inncocent (7). He doesn’t want to grow up and enter the phony adult world (7). When thinking of what to write about for Stradlater’s composition in chapter 5, he thinks about his brother’s baseball glove, “My brother Allie had this left- handed fielder’s mitt” (Salinger 49). The glove represents his brother’s and children’s pureness, goodness and innocence (Lorcher 6). He hangs on and keeps the glove just as he wants to keep the pureness, goodness and innocence in children and in himself (6).
Salinger uses symbolism in the setting of The Catcher in the Rye to describe how we must not enter the phony society and become superficial and materialistic. At the museum while Holden was trying to find Phoebe, he narrates, “I kept walking and walking, and I kept thinking about old Phoebe going to that museum on Saturdays the way I used to. I thought how she’d see the same stuff I used to see, and how she’d be different every time she saw it… Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone” (Salinger 158). The museum is a symbol of staying the same or staying unchanged (Ellis 8). The museum is how Holden wants children to be (10). Holden doesn’t want children to corrupt, conform and become superficial and phony; he wants them to stay good and innocent (10). When going to the school to give Phoebe a note, Holden narrates, “Somebody’s written ‘F*** you’ on the wall. It drove me damn near crazy. I thought how Phoebe and all the other kids would see it, and how they’d wonder what the hell it meant . . .” (Salinger 260). The graffiti on the school wall symbolizes the corruption of youth (Lorcher10). Holden is disgusted by this, and doesn’t want children to lose their innocence and become phonies (10). Holden, when leaving the school, sees more graffiti and he narrates, “I went down by a different staircase, and I saw another ‘F*** you’ on the wall. I tried to rub it off with my hand again, but this one was scratched on, with a knife or something, It wouldn’t come off. It’s hopeless, anyway” (Salinger 262) Holden tries to get rid of society’s corruption of children (Lorcher10). Holden see’s at as his duty to do so, but he fails, is unable to and loses hope (Lorcher10). This trying to remove the graffiti represents Holden’s bigger mission to get rid of all of society’s corruption of children (Lorcher10). At the very end of the story, Holden takes Phoebe to park’s carrousel, “She went and got on the carrousel . . . All the kids kept trying to grab for the gold ring, and so was old Phoebe” (273). The carrousel symbolizes childhood (Trevenen 36). The gold ring is what the children are reaching for and that represents the lure of the adult world. Falling off the horse represents falling into the corrupt phony adult world (36).
How the society is superficial, materialistic and phony while children are pure and innocent is described by the three literary devices, allusion, characterization and symbolism, used by Salinger in the novel. Salinger creates the character Holden to portray and reflect himself and his ideas about the phoniness of society. Salinger also writes The Catcher in the Rye to express what he sees is happening in his time period, the adult world is phony and corrupt and is corrupting the innocent and pure children. The poem by Robert Burns, “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye” is an allusion used by Salinger to describe how children are innocent and pure, but as they enter the adult world, they become phony. Allusions to pop culture are used by Salinger to show the superficiality and phoniness of society. Allusions to entertainment are used by Salinger to illustrate how society is corrupting the innocence and purity of the young. How adult society is phony, corrupt and superficial is revealed through Holden’s characterization. In The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger characterizes Holden’s siblings to illustrate how children are innocent, good and pure but are corruptible by adult society. That we must not enter the phony society and become superficial and materialistic is revealed by Salinger’s use of symbolism of Holden’s belongings. Salinger uses symbolism in the setting to show how we must not enter the phony society and become superficial and materialistic.
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