Innocence in the Catcher in the Rye

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It is evident that J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye is a tale that remains just as relevant in today’s society as it was in the 1950’s. The novel’s primary character, Holden Caulfield, displays similarities that correlate so pertinently to the youth of today, such as his contemptuous opinions of individuals, his hedonistic take on life, and his overpowering desire to defy authority – which is, primarily in his case, education. Thus, it may seem strange to attribute the theme of innocence to this story of a rebellious teenager who has been cornered in a world that is, through his eyes, materialistic and “full of phonies” (Salinger 131). However, the theme of innocence plays a highly significant role when considering the development of Holden’s character and persona throughout the novel. Initially, his world-weary mindset and boorish, cynical approach to life signify that he has lost his innocence – however, through the duration of Salinger’s classic novel, Holden’s persona appears to soften, and perhaps he acquires a part of his innocence that he had evaded some time ago. One can observe that Holden’s surroundings and acquaintances, including both family and companions, certainly affect the development of his innocence throughout the novel. Through close examination of the key events and symbols in the novel, as well as Holden’s interactions and relationships with others, the importance of innocence in The Catcher in the Rye is discovered.

In order to examine said innocence, it is absolutely vital to attain a thorough understanding of the most imperative events and components of the novel. The Catcher in the Rye is oftentimes referred to as a buildingsroman – that is, a piece of literature that progressively forms and contours the characteristics and viewpoints of a protagonist. This character shaping is typically accomplished by means of the individual in question embarking on a figurative journey. Indeed, this is exactly what occurs with the novel’s protagonist. Holden Caulfield, a rebellious youth, is introduced as an immature child yearning to live his life with the innocence that he had previously lost. However, after Holden is essentially removed from his school and he begins a lengthy and unorganised voyage around the streets of New York City, he learns that reliving such innocence is not possible. Of course, this realization cannot be justified without first examining various crucial portions of Salinger’s piece of literature. Initially, it is important to discern Holden’s current state of mind and temperament, and how he arrived at such a disposition in the first place. Subsequently, Holden’s relationships with his family and companions – particularly his younger sister, Phoebe, and his deceased brother, Allie – must be considered, as they are both key catalysts to Holden’s mental progression. These factors, alongside various symbolic items that are associated with Holden and his acquaintances, ultimately congregate and mould together under the same issue. Each instance contributes to Holden’s fall from innocence – and, consequently, his acceptance of this figurative fall – and thus, must be analysed and understood in order to unearth the exact connotation of the theme of innocence in The Catcher in the Rye.

A crucial term that should first be identified is the very essence of this paper – innocence. Such a word may adopt very dissimilar definitions amongst various individuals, although in The Catcher in the Rye, it appears to take on a relatively distinct implication. Innocence is treated as an attribute of childhood, and is perceived as synonymous with “naïve”. The general perception is that innocence is found in children, who are not jaded and sullied by the hypocrisy of a damaged, corrupt world. Throughout the novel, the narrator inadvertently treats this term as an idyllic state of being through his reverence of those who possess this supposed “innocence”.

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