Critic Jonathan Baumbach explores the significance of innocence in J.D Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. He claims that the novel is not only about innocence, but actively for innocence-as if retaining one’s childness were an existing possibility. Not only that, but he states that Holden wishes to be a saint: the protector and savior of innocence by preventing them from falling into the cruel adult world of corruption and fickleness. Although he also wants someone to prevent his own fall since he is in fact still a child himself. Baumbach states that this is Holden’s paradox, saying that he must shed his own innocence to protect innocence. These statements are what send Holden off into the three day soul-searching quest that dooms Holden to sinking into insanity in our novel.
The critic opens with a rather descriptive insight about how others view and critique Salinger’s first and only novel, as well as pointing some of the flaws that Catcher has: “The novel is sentimental; it loads the deck for Holden and against the adult world, the small but corrupt group that Holden encounters is not representative enough to permit Salinger his inclusive judgments about the species.” Baumbach claims that Holden does not have enough information to comment on the phoniness of humanity as a whole based on his observations of only a select few.
As the critic investigates further, he makes a few interesting points. Some of which regard Mr. Antolini: Holden’s former English teacher. Baumbach claims that Antolini’s kindness to Holden is triggered by a homosexual interest that he has in the protagonist. Pointing out the flaws in his teachers marriage, as well as ambiguous actions that he had done while with Caulfield. Based on Baumbach’s misguided interpretation the reader could be lead to think that of Mr. Antolini’s gesture as one of a perverted old man rather than as one of concerned mentor.
Additionally, the critic moves on to discuss Holden’s concern of where the ducks go during the winter. He claims that what Holden really wants to know is whether there is a benevolent authority that takes care of the ducks; for if there is one for the ducks, there is must be one for people as well. Next, Baumbach switches focus to Holden’s prayer to Allie, which takes place before he goes to visit his family’s apartment. The critic postulates that Holden’s prayer to Allie is not so much an act of anguish as an act of love. However, if one closely examines the scene in the novel, the reader will realize that Holden’s prayer is actually the act of one wallowing in self-pity, of one that has truly hit rock bottom.
After examining Jonathan Baumbach’s critique I can gather that he is a wonderful writer, he uses a colorful vocabulary and his sentences are perfectly structured. Although a line should be drawn when using more complex vocabulary; for while reading the critique the reader will likely find themselves having to look up several words to understand the points the critic is trying get across. Not only that, but the critic makes several assumptions based on very little information or goes out on a limb to make a point. Moreover, Baumbach’s points regarding Mr. Antolini’s homosexual nature, the significance of the Central Park ducks, as well as Holden’s prayer to Allie are not entirely concrete, and leave themselves open for dispute.
When a reader goes through a book more than once, they find things they never caught while reading it through the first time. One would realize that Holden views Mr. Antolini as a father figure and a role model and comes to him looking for all the answers to the questions no one has figured out yet. For example, during the story when Holden arrives at Mr. Antolini’s apartment, He knows that Holden is spiraling downward and is basically aiming to fall into that insanity he has been drifting towards throughout the novel, he warns him of this and eventually the two head to sleep. Now the controversial action that causes some of the audience to believe that Mr. Antolini is sexually interested in Caulfied, is that he awoke to find him stroking his hair.
Holden misunderstood and made such a rash decision to put everyone into that Phony corrupt persona that he believes humanity is composed of, and storms off out of his home. If Holden was thinking more clearly he would’ve probably been able to handle the situation more responsibly, realizing that Antolini was only stroking his hair in more of a concerned fatherly way. The reader can tell by the way Holden refers to Mr. Antolini they have a strong relationship and he views him as a surrogate father, and not some perverted old man that Baumbach has painted him out to be.
Additionally, As far as the Central Park ducks are concerned…Holden’s obsessive curiosity about what happens to the ducks during the winter shows the more child-like side to his character. Although Baumbach believes that Holden is searching for a higher power, instead helps him relate to that child innocence he is so fond of. It gives him the hope that change isn’t always permanent. It also helps the reader compare Holden’s perfect world in which time stands still (Like in the Museum of Natural History), to the real world which is constantly changing. Proving that he isn’t searching for some sort of “higher power” in the ducks, but it was a way to keep in touch with his innocence of his childhood.
Lastly, when Holden hits rock bottom in the novel he says a prayer to Allie, in which Baumbach claims that it is an act of love and anguish. Although, this isn’t entirely true. Holden is actually wallowing in his own self-pity, how could he pray to Allie for help when while Allie was alive he wouldn’t even allow him to go on his bike with him and a friend? Sure, he feels regret for it now that he is dead and no longer with him, but it happened yet again when Phoebe wanted to run away with him and Caulfied turned her down the same as he had done with Allie. Proving that after hitting rock bottom Holden is desperate enough to pray although he doesn’t actually believe in God, but is hoping that there is one to not only save him but the soul of his deceased brother as well.
In conclusion, Baumbach as a critic did write a well-written review of J.D Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye although it was a bit difficult to understand at times, he made a clear point and backed up his point with facts from the novel. He had colorful vocabulary and his critique flowed well together. Although the critique was a bit on the longer side I did enjoy reading it. The Catcher in the Rye which is believed to be J.D Salinger’s most famous work, had been an everlasting favorite of teens and tweens of the literary scene. This novel known for its stylized prose and focus on themes of angst, alienation, and rebellion has received wide acclaim for its extraordinary sense of originality. This novel will endure as a lifetime favorite of adolescence everywhere because it has life and is probably the most original piece of its time.
Courtney from Study Moose
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