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Catcher in the Rye Essay: The Innocence of Holden

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The Innocence of Holden in The Catcher in the Rye

 

In J. D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield, the protagonist, spends several days wandering around New York. During this time, he learns many things about himself. He seems to have some sort of mental problem, but this problem fortunately begins to be less serious by the end of the story. But more interesting that the things he knows about himself are the things he does not know about himself. Holden is constantly holding children on a pedestal and dismissing adults as "phonies." Holden, though he does not know it, subconsciously protects the innocence of childhood within his mind.

 

In the book, Holden constantly reminisces about Jane Gallagher, a friend of his that he met a few summers ago in Maine. The day that Holden leaves Pencey, Stradlater tells him that he is going on a date with Jane. Upon hearing this, Holden says to Stradlater:

 

"...I used to play checkers with her all the time."

"You used to play what with her all the time?"

"Checkers."

"Checkers, for Chrissake!"

"Yeah. She wouldn't move any of her kings. What she'd do, when she'd get a king, she wouldn't move it. She'd just leave it in the back row. She'd get them all lined up in the back row. Then she'd never use them. She just liked the way the looked when they were all in the back row." (31-32)

 

Holden later becomes jealous of Stradlater when he suspects that he had sex with Jane. As Holden later wanders around New York, many times he has an impulse to call Jane but does not. He never gives a reason, but subconsciously, he realizes that if he calls Jane, he will have to face a new person, who may have lost the innocence of a girl who plays ch...


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... in his life to stay the same, for this keeps things simpler. Holden's need for simplicity also translates into a need for wide-eyed, childlike innocence. This worldview is simpler than the cynical, materialistic, experienced worldview of the adults Holden knows. This is why Holden prefers for people to stay innocent, and why he subconsciously protects that innocence.

 

Holden views the world of adults as a harsh, unforgiving place. He realizes that he has been forced into this world against his will and this has hurt him. Subconsciously, he strives to keep children out of this world for as long as possible, and serves as a protector of innocence within his own mind. While he does not protect this innocence in the external world, within his mind he longs to keep children from reaching adulthood and to preserve the naïveté of childhood for them.



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