An Analysis of Failure: the Catcher in the Rye

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“Once you have a fair idea of where you want to go, your first move will be to apply yourself in school. You’re a student –whether the idea appeals to you or not” (189). In the novel, The Catcher in the Rye written by J.D. Salinger, the main character, Holden Caulfield fails himself and others by unsuccessfully adapting to the nature of a school setting. Holden consistently fails to harness his potential and strive in academia. He is unable to engage in social practices within his school and finally, he struggles to develop into a mature and responsible student. Holden is unsuccessful in satisfying the academic expectations set by his family and teachers. He shows no concern or motivation to succeed in his studies despite having the intellect to do so. This is apparent when Mr. Spencer and Holden converse about his failure in history class, “Do you blame me for flunking you, boy? He said... What would you have done in my place? Well you could see he felt pretty lousy about flunking me. So I shot the bull for a while. I told him how I would have done the exact same if I`d been in his place…” (12). This reveals how unimportant Holden finds formal education, as Mr. Spencer seems more apprehensive about Holden’s expulsion than he does. Moreover, it implies that Mr. Spencer recognizes Holden’s academic potential, yet observes him failing to apply this intellect and further his capacity for knowledge. In addition, Holden’s poor performance in academia due to his apathetic attitude towards school is perceived as failure in the eyes of his family members. This is evident when Holden says, “I’m the only dumb one in the family” (67), and also when Phoebe discovers his expulsion from school, “You did get kicked out...Oh, Holden… Daddy`ll kill you!” (65). The notion that Holden’s parents and siblings are successful in their academic or work related pursuits while he is unable to strive in this manner, clearly demonstrates Holden’s failure to achieve the standards set by his...
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