The Catcher in The Rye: Fear of Adulthood and Responsibility

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J.D. Salinger introduced Holden Caulfield as an emotional teenager that had been kicked of his boarding school. Holden faced difficulty when he left and felt alone in the world. His parents were not there for him and his sister, so he had to take up a responsibility that he was not ready for. He was not ready to protect his sister or find love and he felt disgusted by the world. He could not accept his failures and wanted to be a saint so that he could protect others. In The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, Holden has difficulty transitioning from childhood to adulthood, due to fear and depression and because of these emotions, he feels alienated from society.

Holden’s difficulty of transitions originates from his childhood and the fact that he lacked strong parental figures. As he grows up, he wants to become the person that his parents were not. Holden’s parents sent him to boarding school and left him there to fend for himself. He felt that he could not live up to his parents’ expectations and therefore struggled in school, which caused him to get expelled from Pencey Prep. When he left Pencey, he ran away to New York where he tried to live his life independently. This was difficult because he had no help and feared responsibility. He could not make money because jobs were an adult responsibility and he did not like adulthood. He wanted to stay young so that he could avoid becoming an adult with responsibilities. As a younger person, he could relate better with children.

Salinger writes, “Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye… And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff—I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all” (224-225).

In this excerpt, Holden is labeling himself as “the catcher in the rye”. He wants to be the protector so that he can save the children from falling off of the imaginary cliff. He wants to “catch” them and essentially save them. This could relate to the death of Allie, his brother, and how he was not there for him when he died from leukemia. But, this is difficult for him, because he does not have anyone to catch him if he falls. Critic, Baumbach, says, “Apparently, Holden’s wish is purely selfless. What he wants, to effect, is to be a saint—the protector and savior of innocence. But what he also wants, for he is still one of the running children himself, is that someone prevent his fall” (59). The author explains that Holden wants to be a protector. Holden has never experienced strong feelings of protection from his parents and he does not want to see others struggle. At the same time, he wants to be saved from falling into a state of depression. In order to become a protector (a catcher in the rye), he must find someone to show him the way. Holden felt that he lacked the skills to be a strong parental figure and he let his emotions and sexuality cloud his judgement. He chose to protect Phoebe from himself.

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