The Catcher in the Rye
In The Catcher in The Rye the main character, Holden, is seen as a troubled teenager growing up in an imperfect society. Throughout the novel Holden struggles with the reality that young and innocent kids will grow up and then see the world from a different perspective. He becomes worried for all these future generations who will one day grow up to lose their innocence, just as he did. The theme of youth and innocence can be seen throughout the novel, as well as in the title of the book.
Holden grows from being an immature child who only cared about himself to a mature adult who wanted to make something of his life. In the beginning of the story we are introduced to Holden as a forgetful kid who just doesn't care; as the book goes on we find Holden in situations that show how he has matured. Then a funny thing happened. When I got to the Museum, all of a sudden I wouldn't have gone inside for a million bucks. It just didn't appeal to me" (122, Salinger). This shows that Holden is maturing; by him not entering the museum, it shows that the adult in him is taking over the child he once was.
Holdens innocence is revealed through different experiences but is slowly disappearing as he grows up in a corrupted world. This drives Holden to try to save other children from losing their innocence. Holden is expected to grow up and mature into an adult but he is scared of growing up because he doesnt want to leave the little innocence he has left. Holdens younger brother Allie dies when he is thirteen and this has an enormous effect on him. This creates a negative connotation with growing up and change for Holden. As a child, Holden has Allie and is carefree. As Holden grows up, he is forced to cope with Allies death and move on. Holden fears change because in his past, change is tragedy; his fear can be tied directly to his trip through an old museum he remembers from his childhood. While walking through the museum, Holden thinks to himself, The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was (Salinger 121). Holden wants the same simplicity the museum has. He wants his life to be frozen and free of change just as the museum is. In Holdens perspective, if his life is frozen, then he would never worry about growing up or losing loved ones ever again. Holdens fear of change can also be observed through his encounter with Sunny, a prostitute. Holden constantly thinks of sex, but he admits that he is virgin. He hires Sunny, but when she comes to his room, Holden backs out and makes an excuse. Holdens fear of having sex corresponds to his fear of change; he wants to have sex, but his fear of change prevents him from fully taking that step. He tries to act mature by smoking and drinking, but he still lacks the basic skills needed to grow up. Society expects Holden to grow up, but his fear of change prevents him from doing so and causes him to miss out on things he should be experiencing.
Through his experiences during the story, Holden devotes himself to saving the innocent children around him in order to prevent them from losing their innocence just as he did. Holden admires innocence and wishes he could return to simple days from when he was young.
When inside his younger sisters school, Holden sees profane graffiti on the wall. He immediately rubs it out and is furious. Holden wants to save Phoebe and the other kids at her school from experiencing the harsh world. When Phoebe asks Holden what he wants to be, Holden says, I keep picturing these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and nobodys around- no one big, I mean, except me. And Im standing on the edge ofsome crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start going off the cliff. (Salinger 173) Holden wants to be the one that will protect the innocent from growing up and experiencing pain. He wants to be the protector that he did not have in his childhood. Holden never fully recovers from Allies death, and instead of growing from the experience, he fears further experiences and backs away from maturity. It is Holdens inability to protect himself that causes him to save others from a fate he could not save himself from.
Towards the end of the novel, Holden finally begins to understand that everybody must eventually lose their innocence and grow up. When telling Phoebe that he wants to be the catcher in the rye, Phoebe points out that Holden has the wrong lyrics. The fact that Holden is wrong about the song lyrics shows that Holden is also wrong in his devotion to saving the innocent. Phoebe does not need saving, and neither do any other children. In the carnival scene with Phoebe, Holden observes the kids playing. All the kids kept trying to grab for the gold ring, and so was old Phoebe, and I was sort of afraid shed fall off the goddam horse, but I didnt 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 its bad if you say anything to them (Salinger 211). Salinger is using the carousel to symbolize growing up. Phoebe and all the other children are trying to reach for the gold ring and grow up while Holden wants to help Phoebe by stopping her from falling, but he realizes that all children must reach for the ring and grow up. Growing up, changing, and losing innocence is what life is and Holden accepting that fact lets him move on with his life and mature in the correct way.