Catcher in the Rye Essay: Holden and the Complexity of Adult Life

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Holden and the Complexity of Adult Life

What was wrong with Holden, the main character in The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D.Salinger, was his moral revulsion against anything that was ugly, evil, cruel, or what he called "phoney" and his acute responsiveness to beauty and innocence, especially the innocence of the very young, in whom he saw reflected his own lost childhood. There is something wrong or lacking in the novels of despair and frustration of many writers. The sour note of bitterness and the recurring theme of sadism have become almost a convention, never thoroughly explained by the author's dependence on a psychoanalytical interpretation of a major character. The boys who are spoiled or turned into budding homosexuals by their mothers and a loveless home life are as familiar to us today as stalwart and dependable young heroes such as John Wayne were to an earlier generation. We have accepted this interpretation of the restlessness and bewilderment of our young men and boys because no one had anything better to offer. It is tragic to hear the anguished cry of parents: "What have we done to harm him? Why doesn't he care about anything? He is a bright boy, but why does he fail to pass his examinations? Why won't he talk to us?"

A remarkable and absorbing novel, J. D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye," may serve to calm the apprehensions of fathers and mothers about their own responsibilities, though it doesn't attempt to explain why all boys who dismay their elders have failed to pass successfully the barrier between childhood and young manhood. It is profoundly moving and a disturbing book, but it is not hopeless. Holden Caulfield, sixteen years old and six foot two inches in hei...

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...Boy, I was shaking like a madman."

The Catcher in the Rye is not all horror of this sort. There is a wry humor in this sixteen-year-old's trying to live up to his height, to drink with men, to understand mature sex and why he is still a virgin at his age. His affection for children is spontaneous and delightful. There are few little girls in modern fiction as charming and lovable as his little sister, Phoebe. Altogether this is a book to be read thoughtfully and more than once. It is about an unusually sensitive and intelligent boy; but, then, are not all boys unusual and worthy of understanding? If they are bewildered at the complexity of modern life, unsure of themselves, shocked by the spectacle of perversity and evil around them - are not adults equally shocked by the knowledge that even children cannot escape this contact and awareness?

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