There is a moment in every child’s life where he or she realizes that growing up is not as desirable as they once thought. Before this moment they fantasize about not having a bedtime or driving or finally being able to drink. But then they feel the weight of the adult world with its responsibilities and restrictions of a society that doesn’t value the individual and expects its citizens to morph into mature, controllable adults. This is the time parents hate, the time when their children try to rebel or run away to escape their future as adults, but time, alas, cannot be outrun. The adult world expects many things of its inhabitants—a job, a family, taxes, sex, and much more. Unfortunately, most young adults feel as though they will be crushed under this strange new world. Holden Caulfield is no different. When we meet Holden and when we leave him at the end of the novel he is in a mental hospital because of a recent break down. J.D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye is Holden’s reflection on the events that led to this mental break down. He is a young adult still trying to hold on to the world of children for as long as he can. The child world is a place with very few things to worry about. It is a place of innocence and a time when anything is possible. The adult world could not be more different. As Holden is starting to see, the world of adults is cold, uncaring, and unfair. When people make the transition from children to adults they change forever—they become what society believes acceptable adults to be. Holden is reluctant to make the transition and conform to the adult world because he believes that in conforming he would lose his innocence and disappear.
Holden is reluctant to leave his childhood behind because that would mean conforming to the public opinion of what adults should be. There are very few examples of adults in this novel for Holden to see what an exemplary adult is and does. One of the few adults we meet is Mr. Spencer. Even if Holden doesn’t fully respect Mr. Spencer he does like the man enough to go and see him before leaving Pency Prep. During that visit Mr. Spencer tells Holden that “life is a game that one plays according to the rules” if they want to survive in this world (Salinger 8). The problem is Holden has no desire to follow anybody’s rules just because some one tells him he has to—there is no reason for Holden to learn faulty and unnecessary rules. Holden believes that life is only a game for the people who are winning. The winners only believe in the rules because they work for them. Holden, according to Mr. Spencer, is not one of the winners because he won’t shut up and do what the adults tell him to do. The thing is, Holden doesn’t fully understand what the rules are because Holden doesn’t truly understand the world of adults. A side effect of this, as Peter Shaw points out, is that Holden is “most reliable when dealing with the world of children, and less reliable when addressing the adult world” (Shaw 124). Holden doesn’t want to understand the world of adults; he doesn’t ever intend to enter the game so why should he learn the rules? Holden scoffs at the “phonies” who have succumbed to life’s rules. He only hates these phonies because he is afraid of turning into one himself.
All throughout the novel, Holden is reluctant to join the world of adults because he is afraid of changing into something he’s not. Literary critic Alsen agrees by saying that Holden is afraid that he is going to turn into a phony of he is forced to live around them in the near future (Alsen 3). He is out on a date with the queen of phonies Sally Hayes when he reveals how he believes he can escape the adult world. It is then that he shows us how he believes he is going to escape the adult world; he says he’s going to live in a cabin “with a brook and all” where he would pretend to be a deaf-mute so he wouldn’t have to deal with anybody (Salinger 132). This way, Holden avoids all of the things that...
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Moore, Robert. “The World of Holden.” English Journal 3rd ser. 54 (1965): 159-65.
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Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.
Shaw, Peter. “Holden Caulfield Is Dealing With Expected Psychological Angst of
Adolescence.” Depression in J.D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2009.
Trowbridge, Clinton W. “ The Symbolic Structure of The Catcher in the Rye.” Sewanee
Review 74.3 (1966): 21-30. Print.
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