catcher in the rye

catcher in the rye

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The Catcher in the Rye is the definitive novel of a young man’s growing pains, of growing up in pain. Growing up is a ritual – more deadly than religion, more complicated than baseball, for there seem to be no rules. Everything is experienced for the first time.”

To What extent do you agree with this passage? Do you agree that Catcher in the Rye is the definitive novel of a young man’s growing pains, of growing up in pain? Do you agree that growing up is a ritual? You need to identify whether or not you agree with this passage, and then you need to justify/support your answer.

I do agree with the statement classing Catcher in the Rye as “the definitive novel of a young man’s growing pains.” I do not agree with the statement “growing up is a ritual.”

Certainly J.D. Salinger’s novel is focused around the pain of growing up; a novel about a young character’s growth into maturity, but this novel explores the process from a different perspective. Holden Caulfield is an unusual protagonist for supporting this theme because his central goal is to resist the process of maturity itself. According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, Holden’s last name Caulfield literally symbolizes caul, the membrane enveloping the head of a child at birth.” Holden fears change and is overwhelmed by complexity. Holden desires everything to be easily understandable and eternally fixed. During a visit to the museum of natural history Holden uses exhibits to explain his resistance to change,

“The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish. Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you (Salinger, 121).”

Holden resists maturity and is a frightened teenager, he is frightened because he is guilty of the sins he criticizes in others and because he cannot understand the world around him. Holden however, refuses to acknowledge this fear, expressing it only on a few occasions – for example, when he talks about sex admitting that “sex is something I just don’t understand. I swear to God I don’t (Salinger, 63).”

Rather than acknowledging that adulthood scares and mystifies him, Holden invents a fantasy that adulthood is a world of superficiality and hypocrisy, while childhood is a world of innocence, curiosity and honesty.

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Nothing reveals his image of these two worlds better than his fantasy about the catcher in the rye. Holden imagines childhood as an idyllic field of rye in which children romp and play; adulthood, for the children of this world, is equivalent to death – a fatal fall over the edge of a cliff “I keep picturing all these little kids playing some kind of game in this big field of rye and all. Nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. 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 have to come out of somewhere and catch them (Salinger, 173).”

Holden’s created understandings of childhood and adulthood allow him to cut himself off from the world by covering himself with a protective armor of cynicism. Phoniness for Holden, stands for an emblem of everything that is wrong in the world around him and provides an excuse for him to withdraw into his cynical isolation and avoid adulthood. Holden expends so much energy throughout the novel searching for phoniness in others, yet he never directly observes his own phoniness. Holden changes personality to suit the situation and is a compulsive liar. For example, on the train to New York, Holden perpetrates a mean-spirited and needless prank on Mrs. Morrow, “Old Mrs. Morrow didn’t say anything, but boy, you should’ve seen her. I had er glued to her seat. You take somebody’s mother, all they want to hear about is what a hot-shot their son is. Then I really started chucking the old crap around (Salinger, 56).” Holden would like the reader to believe that he is a paragon of virtue in a world full of phoniness, but that simply is not the case. Although Holden would like the reader to believe that the world is a simple place, and that virtue and innocence rest on one side of the fence while superficiality and phoniness rest on the other, Holden is his own counterevidence. The world is not as simple as he would like and indeed needs it to be; even Holden cannot adhere to the same black and white standards with which he judges other people.

Holden’s inability to adhere to the same standards with which he judges other people is a clear indication of the characters confusion. Holden is much more than a troubled teenager going through “a phase.” Unlike teenagers today, Holden does not understand and further more, has no desire to understand the world around him. Holden is experiencing his own growing pains, growing pains unique to him alone. Holden does not express normal teenage boy rebellion, he distrusts everyone in his life, only idolizing the image of his dead brother Allie and his sister Phoebe. He adores Phoebe because he can project his own idealizations of childhood onto her and Allie because the image of his dead brother can be whatever Holden creates.

Holden, despite no desire to understand the adult world, expresses genuine, youthful curiosity, when he searches for the ducks in Central Park. The disappearance of the ducks from Central Park also challenges Holden’s belief in change. The ducks and their pond are symbolic of his own life. Their mysterious perseverance in the face of an inhospitable environment resonates with Holden’s understanding of his own situation. In addition, the ducks prove that some vanishings and changes are only temporary. Traumatized and made acutely aware of the fragility of life by his brother Allie’s death, Holden is terrified by the idea of change and disappearance. The ducks vanish every winter, but they return every spring, thus symbolizing change that is not permanent, but cyclical. The pond itself becomes a mirror metaphor for the world as Holden sees it, because it is “perfectly frozen and partly not frozen (Salinger, 81).” The pond is a transition between two states, just as Holden is battling a transition between childhood and adulthood.

Catcher in the Rye is the definitive story of a young man battling the inevitable transition from childhood to adulthood that every teenage boy faces. Holden is “growing up in pain;” Salinger’s novel is the ultimate example of a young man’s growing pains. Holden ‘s thoughts and activities lead him down a path of unexplained depression, impulsive spending, erratic behavior, resulting in his eventual nervous breakdown. Salinger’s novel is not the definitive story of growing up into a man, it is a perceptive study of one individual’s understanding of his own human condition as he makes the transition. Growing up however, is not a ritual itself. Culture and society create a ritualistic air surrounding the process. Growing up is not a ceremony, or custom, it is not a set form or system of rites. Growing up is simply a process created by Mother Nature. The only ritual about growing up, as demonstrated in Catcher in the Rye, is the expectations and influence society and its culture impose onto the process.


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