In The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, the author takes us on a journey with Holden Caulfield, a sixteen-year-old boy, going in and out of many boarding schools. When he gets kicked out of Pencey the story begins. In fear of coming home to his parents, Holden takes a trip to New York; which leaves him at the point of mental, physical, and emotional insanity. As the novel goes on his obsession with keeping children from losing their purity grows. The adult world seems fake, and Holden does not respect people who made the transition. In Gerald Rosen’s “A Retrospective Look At The Catcher In The Rye” he explores Holden’s connection to other characters in the book. He also analyzes the difficulties in crossing over to the adult world. Holden qualms the crossing over due to the fact that losing one’s innocence will force one to face reality, and will at times cause adults to “fall” into a deeper hole.
Holden’s mania of keeping children from transitioning to adult hood shows all throughout The Catcher in the Rye. Rosen explains that during the period of time Holden was in the museum he made it known that everything always stayed the same. The purpose of the “glass cases” acts as a defense against touching, or tainting. “Like the children in the museum, to protect the innocent, the catcher must strictly refrain from touching; he must ‘just leave them alone’’’ (Rosen). This moment in the book compares the protected artifacts to the innocence of a child. He feels that if the children had someone to protect them from getting affected (“touched”) by the hard and cruel times in life they could hold onto their purity for as long as possible. Holden expresses the fact that he wants ensure security and stability during these times in life.
This point seems to be the first point in the novel where Holden shows a desire to keep children from corruption. “Anyway, I keep picturing all these kids playing some game in the big field of rye and all…What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start going over the cliff” (Salinger 173). Holden wants to “catch” the kids from their transition into an adult. He does not want them having to deal with losses they will have to overcome in life. He believes that going into adulthood marks the point where society shows its true face.
Since Allie, Holden brother’s, death he sees how reality twists and warps in sick ways. While walking around the museum he sees profanity. “I went down by a different staircase, and I saw another ‘Fuck 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. If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn’t rub out even half of the ‘Fuck You’ signs in the world. It’s impossible” (Salinger 173).When Holden see those words written on the wall he realizes that the youth has already gone through exposure to corruption and cannot go backwards. Holden now understands his inability to save the children from “falling”, growing up.
Since Holden has spent most of his time refraining other from going into adulthood, he did not see how much he himself has fallen. Holden has many similar qualities to a former classmate, James Castle. “Holden is identified with Castle by Castle’s having killed himself while wearing Holden’s sweater and by Castle’s appearing just before Holden on the roll call and school. This carries the implication that Holden maybe next in line for Castle’s death” (Rosen). James Castle’s way of and to death influenced Holden’s view of life. He suddenly became ostracized in society surrounded by a bunch of “phonies”. Death was the start and end of Holden’s loss of innocence.
Holden never truly had an adult figure in life. His parents detached themselves from him, in times of his need. Feeling like he needed to communicate with someone he called his former teacher, Mr. Antolini. Holden wants to catch children from falling, where as Mr. Antolini wants to save Holden from a rough way down. “I have a feeling that you’re falling, a terrible,terrible fall” (Salinger 186).Mr. Antolini says this because ever since Allie’s death Holden has had a series of falls. Even though Allie was younger than Holden, he idolized him and thinks very highly of him. Mr. Antolini symbolizes Holden’s loss of Allie, loneliness, and inability to posess self-esteem.
Holden wants to provide insurance for children so they do not experience the reality of society and from “falling” into a deeper hole. Making sure he succeeds, he does everything to keep them from going over the edge. Holden grows up through the novel, and realized that losing one’s innocence in is an unavoidable part of life. In this stage of life one makes the most mistakes and learns from them. If one never went through experience necessary to grow into an adult, they would seem very naïve and easily taken advantage of. People that have gone through the difficult crossing over want to protect children from the hard-ships.
Rosen, Gerald. “A Retrospective Look At The Catcher In The Rye.” American Quarterly 457-462
Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. Boston: Little, Brown, 1951.