Catching a True Role
The symbol of the carousel and adolescence used by J.D. Salinger in the Catcher in the Rye develop Holden’s character into a young man. Holden Caulfield is an adolescent that refuses to grow up. He begins his life in the book as a confused young man in search of saving humanity. Through the realizations Holden has, he is able to recognize his true role in life. Holden understands that he is not able to stop every child from taking risks, that allowing them to take risks is part of growing up.
Holden’s character changes drastically during the course of the book. Holden grew up viewing adults as phonies. “Phoniness” is Holden’s way to describe the superficiality, hypocrisy, pretension, and shallowness that he encounters in the world around him (Seng 14). To him, children are still pure, and he tries to preserve that in them. At his old school, Pencey Prep, Holden strongly disliked the teachers because he believes that they were unjust and treated him unfairly. “Pencey was full of crooks. Quite a few guys came from these wealthy families, but it was full of crooks anyway. The more expensive a school is, the more crooks it has -- I'm not kidding” (Salinger 2). In his mind, everyone is appearance obsessed, a secret slob, or a suck up (Irving 118). Holden finds any semblance of a normal adult life to be “phony.” He does not want to grow up and be like them; he does not want to get a job or a house or go to an office, and he certainly does not want to do what those “bastards” do. Holden deals with the thought of phonies in interesting ways. If Holden calls everyone a phony, he can feel better if they reject him. For example it was not his fault that the girls in the Lavender room did not want to be with him, they were just phonies who could not understand him. It is his defense mechanism.
One way to understand his abnormality is to look at his childhood. The events in his childhood were not pleasant, sometimes too traumatic for little Holden to deal with, resulting in his strange behavior in many parts of the novel. A big impact on Holden’s personality is his brother Allie’s death. Allie was one of only a few adults Holden views as still “pure.” Allie’s death diminishes him, and he has an obvious hard time dealing with it. Holden’s confession about how he broke all the windows in the garage the night Allie dies is and important one; Allie’s death has a huge impact on Holden’s life. Holden’s psychological distress is shown greatly, as he can not control his emotions and lets them all out. The thought of Allie reoccurs many times throughout the book, with Holden always referring to Allie in tough times. Furthermore, Holden is also self-destructive at times, contemplating suicide on many occasions. He says he would volunteer to sit on top of an atomic bomb, just so his life may be over. Holden states: “I'm sort of glad they've got the atomic bomb invented. If there's ever another war, I'm going to sit right the hell on top of it. I'll volunteer for it, I swear to God I will” (Salinger 181). Other times, he seems terrified at the though of his own death. While in New York City, Holden is afraid to step off of the block to cross the street, thinking that he may fall off and never be able to get up. To save himself from falling, Holden talks to Allie at the end of each block, saying: “Every time I’d get to the end of a block I’d make believe I was talking to my brother Allie. I’d say to him, ‘Allie, don’t let me disappear. Allie, don’t let me disappear. Allie, don’t let me disappear. Please, Allie.’ And then when I’d reach the end of the street without disappearing, I’d thank him” (Salinger 204). Holden needs someone to watch out for him, to save him when he is in need. The significance of the imagery of falling is evident in how Holden lives his life. Falling is used as a parallel to maturing. Since Holden views adults as “phonies,” he cannot stoop so low as to mature and become “one...
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