In JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield is a boy aimlessly traveling New York City after being expelled from a classy boarding school. Holden poses a great deal of trepidation when it comes to sexual relationships, especially those of Jane and Sunny. Furthermore, Holden tends to misjudge the maturity of his fellow characters. The combination of this misconception, the tension between sexual trepidation, and an adult life with adult relationships, results in confusion for him. In Holden’s life, there have only been a few people he’s cherished more than his childhood neighbor, Jane Gallagher.
They were close childhood friends, and when his roommate Stradlater brings her up years later in high school, all he can talk about is the innocent fun they used to have: playing checkers, watching her dance ballet in the summer heat, and how her Doberman always came into his yard. However, he also reminisces on how her “boozehound” stepfather would always “run around the goddam house naked” (42). He suspects that her stepfather had harassed Jane, who “had [a] terrific figure, and [he] wouldn’t’ve put it past that bastard” (103).
This really bothers Holden, as does when Stradlater insinuates that he made sexual advances onto Jane on their date. To Holden, sexual encounters mean an adulteration of innocence, and he hates that Stradlater or Jane’s stepfather may have corrupted Jane. Many times, Holden promises himself that he “outa go down and say hello to her” (40), or that he should “give old Jane a buzz” (195), but he never does. Subconsciously, he fears that Jane will have grown up, and calling her or seeing her will surely alter the young, innocent, checkers-playing version of Jane that he has in his mind.
This is confusing for Holden because Jane has grown up, yet he still thinks of her as a little girl, not the grown woman that she is. Holden “knew that she wouldn’t let [Stradlater] get to first base with her, but it drove [him] crazy anyway” (104). This shows Holden’s potential misconception of Jane’s innocence. It is unlikely for a post-teenage young woman to be as sheltered and have as much innocence as she did when she was a little girl. However, this is something Holden cannot grasp.
This dilemma is a direct result of Holden’s irrational respect for innocence, influenced by sexual confrontations in Holden’s past. When Holden agrees to have a prostitute come to his room in the hotel, he is soon greeted by Sunny at his door. Holden is immediately unimpressed with Sunny’s maturity; how she was “jiggling this one foot up and down”, she “never said thank you”, and she “had this tiny little wheeny-whiny voice” (123). He also notices that she appears very young, and said things that were really childish.
This ends up making him feel “more depressed than sexy” (123), and he decides not to have sex with her after all. The depiction of this young girl making money as a prostitute seems to upset Holden, and he ultimately concludes that having sex with her would spoil her innocence. This is where Holden is again misguided. Just as it is unlikely for Jane to retain the same degree of innocence through the years, it is improbable that Sunny, being a prostitute, will have not had sex with many people in the past, therefore preserving her innocence.
But all Holden can see in Sunny is the childish and immature, which results in a conflicted view of the world. The importance of innocence to Holden is something that results in nervousness towards others’ sexual identity and activity. His perspective of Jane and Sunny’s innocence is also misguided to the point where he sees innocence in them when there is none. Overall, the importance of innocence to Holden results in contention that is less than innocent.