In the novel The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, Holden Caulfield has a deep-rooted desire to keep himself and the world around him from changing. In fact the novel was banned partially "based on the perception that Holden is an unregenerate, and unchanged person." However there is evidence that Holden does change near the end of the novel. It is incorrect to say that Holden stays unchanged from start to finish
, because by the end of the novel he is trying to rid himself of his defensive nature and accept change as a good thing. Holden has no desire to let himself or others change, yet through his experiences and looking back on what occurred, Holden realizes that change is inevitable and in order to grow as a human being he can only accept what must transpire.
From the beginning of the novel Holden alienates himself from society by ignoring helpful advice and holding on to his desire that everything in the world must remain unchanged. In the second chapter of the novel Holden purposely ignores Mr. Spencer's advice that "life is a game that one plays according to the rules" (Catcher 8) thinking to himself "Game, my ass" (Catcher 8). Holden disagrees with Mr. Spencer's claim that life is a game that should be played by the rules because if Holden played by the rules than he would have to be like everyone else, and Holden considers everyone else, for the most part, to be "Phonies." Holden's strong desire to prevent change is reflected in his talk with Phoebe later on in the novel. She demands that Holden "name one thing" (Catcher 169) that he likes to do, and Holden tells her that he would "just be the catcher in the rye and all", catching "everybody
if they start to go over the cliff
" (Catcher 173). We see Holden's desire to maintain an unchanged environment. Holden
would be content if he could prevent those children that are playing by the cliff from
changing. By alienating himself, Holden creates a resistance to change, because when no one can influence his decisions or the way he acts than he has become insusceptible to change. Yet as the novel progress Holden finds that trying to prevent change is a far-fetched dream.
As the novel reaches the last few chapters Holden slowly begins the process of inner change. He takes an obvious step toward change when he is at Grand Central station thinking about the time he spent with Mr. Antolini. He thinks back to when he woke up to Mr. Antolini "patting (him) on the head" and worries if "maybe (he) was wrong about thinking he (Mr. Antolini) was making a flitty pass at (him)" (Catcher 194). The fact the Holden worried about how he had judged an adult is a clear sign of change. Holden had written all adults off as being old and being phonies, so to re-think his judgment on an adult is a significant change for Holden. He than recognizes that he "was more depressed than (he) ever was in (his) whole life" (Catcher 194) and he decides to "say goodbye to old Phoebe"(Catcher 199). His visit with Phoebe serves as the major turning point in Holden's character change. While Phoebe is riding on the carousel, Holden watches as she keeps "trying to grab for the gold ring", Holden was "sort of afraid she'd fall off
but (he) didn't say anything" (Catcher 211). Holden than says that "If they fall off, they fall off"(Catcher 211). This statement signifies an enormous change in Holden's character, he has gone from having the desire to stand at the edge of a cliff and prevent children from falling off, to saying "If they fall off, they fall off"(Catcher 211). It is clearly evident that Holden has changed because although he still worries for them, he has no desire to interfere with their actions and that is a completely different mentality. Holden once said he had "to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff" (Catcher 173) and now he has given up his desire to prevent any sort of change.
In the last chapter of the novel Holden makes an interesting statement. "Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody" (Catcher 214). This statement shows the change Holden has undergone. By saying that he would "start missing everybody" (Catcher 214) he reveals an appreciation he has for those that surrounded him in the past. And yet in the beginning of the novel he looked at everyone around him as "phonies". Even friends from school were "big phony's" (Catcher 17), people Holden did not ever want to associate with. Now he is expressing an appreciation for those people that he has associated with throughout time. It has become very clear that Holden has changed over the course of the novel. He has grown to accept those that he may have disliked previously and he has shown an appreciation for the people that influenced his story. His transformation is solidified in this statement and it has become very obvious that he has changed as a person because he is showing attachment, something he ran from before.
Holden Caulfield is one of the most intriguing characters in literature. Some say that his character is unchanging, however it is clear that by the end of Holden's journey he has accepted change. As the story progresses it seems that Holden would do anything to prevent the world from changing. Yet when Holden finally settles down and looks back on all that he experienced he understands that change is bound to happen, and he accepts this fact. In doing so, Holden has made an obvious transformation away from the naïve young narrator we meet in the beginning of the novel. Once Holden accepted the fact that change is a part of life, he was able to understand that there is no stopping the inevitable.