Growing up is a current issue nowadays with children and youngsters seeming to enter the adult world earlier and earlier and having to take on the responsibilities of adults. When does a child become an adult? For many the right answer is that it has nothing to do with age; it is determined by the behaviour. In this essay I will not go into the issue of when a child turns into an adult but rather think about how the issue is treated in “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess, “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger and “High Fidelity” by Nick Hornby.
From the point of view of growing up, the novels are quite similar. They are all from the point of view of the youngster, and we don’t really see too far what happens after the process of growing up, whether it turns out to be a good thing or not. There are differences as well, though: For example the main characters’ attitude towards growing up. In High Fidelity, Rob would like to grow up and get on with his life. He isn’t happy with his record shop Championship Vinyl or with the fact that he has exactly two friends, his employees, Barry and Dick, who know nothing about his personal life and his thoughts. Rob envies everyone who is successful in life, and despises people who host dinner parties and talk about dogs’ names and use pens with little lights when writing notes at the cinema. He would like to grow out of it, but doesn’t know how to; he needs the initial push which starts with Laura leaving him.
Contrary to this, Alex in A Clockwork Orange doesn’t want to grow up. He loves his life on the streets, robbing and beating people up. However, he makes a crucial mistake, he lets his ambitions get the best of him which leads to his friends turning their backs on him and Alex has to go to prison. Because of his immaturity he wants to be the leader of his gang and that is the process that starts the growing up, against his will.
Adults are seen in quite the same way in all three novels. They are boring, dull and have no content in their lives. Rob doesn’t tell his parents beforehand that he is coming to visit them; he relies on them being home because Casanova is on on television. Because they don’t like videos, he assumes that his father would never miss it. He is astonished and even a little disappointed that his parents aren’t just sitting at home, bored – but when he finds out that his parents are at a wine-tasting party next door, he is angry that they have a life. In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden only sees children as genuine, reliable beings. Adults are “phony” and unreliable. In the world of these three novels, adults have almost stereotypical roles they are forced to. Society, especially youth culture, determines, that adulthood is not a desirable state, and everyone wants to avoid it. But however hard they try, all the characters still grow up. This conveys that becoming an adult is inevitable; try to make the most of it.
An interesting aspect to this question are the relative ages of the men in the novels. Holden is the youngest; he still goes to school, or at least should, and Alex is a little older than him. Rob is already in his thirties. You can see how the age affects the way the characters view growing up: Rob’s view is that growing up is getting married, having children, and leading a happy life until one day you come home and you realise that your wife has cancer. He is afraid to settle down for fear of attaching himself too tight; he doesn’t want to be shocked, he doesn’t want to cry no matter who dies. Overall, growing up is seen as giving up on something. Alex loses his life on the street, Rob has to commit to Laura and Holden loses his barrier keeping him separate from the surrounding world.
In “The Catcher in the Rye”, growing up is an issue throughout the novel and it is largely focused on Holden’s surviving to adulthood. In the other novels, growing up is the conclusion, the solution. Alex starts dreaming of a son and chooses that over his new gang. Rob gets Laura back and puts his fears of losing her some day aside. In the end, no matter how badly the characters tried to resist it, they all grew up. It marked a start of a new era for them, and it seems like it was a good thing in the end.