East Meets West: the Influence of Buddhism in the Catcher in the Rye

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J.D. Salinger, the author of The Catcher in the Rye, witnessed the atrocities of the Second World War firsthand as a soldier. In doing so, the horrors that he saw gave him concerns about his society. The fact that his native society could do such things repelled him. As a result, he began to read about Eastern Philosophy after the war. The eastern principles he learned about were appealing to him, so he decided to model Holden Caulfield, the protagonist in The Catcher in the Rye, after Siddhartha Gautama, who is commonly known as The Buddha. Siddhartha was a Prince whose father hid from him the atrocities of humankind, but when Siddhartha eventually did see poverty, he was dejected. He decided to become an ascetic, a lifestyle where one supplies himself with minimal materials. Eventually Siddhartha achieved enlightenment, and he created the principles of Buddhism. In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden is born into a wealthy family and attends a prestigious boarding school, although he is kicked out early in the novel. Salinger makes Holden’s life very similar to that of Siddhartha Gautama’s. Holden’s story mirrors that of the Buddha’s because poverty and sickness call them into action, they are displeased by the idea that people are not created equally, and they both veer of the path that has been set out for them.

Holden and Siddhartha come across the unpleasant things in life for the first time in very different ways. Siddhartha is twenty-nine years old when he first sees an old man, after being sheltered for the early portion of his life, while Holden is just thirteen years old when his younger brother, Allie, grows sick and dies. When Siddhartha comes across poverty, it inspires him to devote the rest of his life to trying to end suffering. On the night that Allie died, Holden slept in the garage and, “…broke all of the goddam windows with my fist” (Salinger 39). Holden is irate because he couldn’t save Allie from death, the same way Siddhartha was...
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