May 7 2012
Phoebe Caulfield : The True Catcher in the Rye
Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye reveals a teenager’s dramatic struggle against death and growing up. The book is composed of stories after the protagonist Holden Caulfield’s expulsion from a private school. He leaves school early to explore New York before returning home, interacting with teachers, prostitutes, nuns, an ex-girlfriend and his sister along the way. We characterize Holden as an innocent child that possesses an ideal fantasy of becoming a catcher in the rye, protecting an unsophisticated world of love, passion and justice. It seems Holden, a “guardian” towards childhood and innocence is the hero or “catcher” without any questions. Throughout the entire book, however, I find that there is more than meeting the surface, especially to the core of this book the catcher in the rye. There are plenty of evidences showing that the true catcher in the rye is Phoebe, not as many people believed, Holden Caulfield.
Holden Caulfield resembles Salinger but he is not the Catcher. The historical background demonstrates that parallels indeed exist between Holden Caulfield and Salinger himself: both grew up in upper class New York, both flunked out of schools. Salinger’s experience in World War II, which robbed millions of young men and women of their youthful innocence, cast a shadow over Holden’s opinions and expressions. Having witnessed the slaughter of thousands at wartime, Salinger entrust Holden his own view of adult society – mistrusting and cynical. Holden views growing up as a slow surrender to the “phony” responsibilities of adult life, such as getting a job, serving in the military, and maintaining intimate relationships.
Always, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they are running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. (Salinger 172)
In this metaphor Holden truly plays a role of catcher, but clearly he is doing nothing more than keeping the children from falling off the bridge. This oversimplification does not explain how to preserve innocence and purity from a complex world. To understand the true meaning and what a “catcher in the rye” is, we shall understand this concept from three perspectives.
First, from the perspective of the adult world, grown-ups are catchers who abandoned their nature duties. “Nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me” clearly reveals this statement. People are not where they are suppose to be, at least not paying attention. There is a gnawing scene in the book – Holden is wandering aimlessly along the Broadway and there is a little boy and his parents walking in front of him. ”The cars zoomed by, brakes and screeched all over the place, his parents paid no attention to him and he kept on walking next to the curb and singing ‘if a body catch a body coming through the rye’”(Salinger 115). At the end of the story, when Holden takes his sister to carrousel, worrying Phoebe falling off the horse, Caulfield watched her carefully as a catcher. Suddenly the rain pours, and “all the parents and mothers and everybody went over and stood right under the roof of the carrousel , so they wouldn’t get soaked to the skin or anything”(Salinger 212). All these description are epitomes of the world in which adults abandoned their responsibility of taking care of the children. As a 16-year-old child, Holden experienced expulsion three times. He lies, makes fun of Ackley and pretends to be outsider from the world around him only to conceal the fact that he is fragile. He doesn’t receive any warm cares or even any attempts to understand...
Cited: J.D.Salinger. The Catcher in the Rye. New York. Little, Brown and Company.
Lubasch, Arnold Hamilton, In Search of J.D. Salinger: A Writing Life (1935–65), New York: Alfred A. Knopf Inc, 1987. Print.
Pamela Hunt Steinle, The Catcher Controversies as Cultural Debate. In Cold Fear: The Catcher in the Rye Censorship Controversies and Postwar American Character. Columbus, Oh.: Ohio State University Press, 2000.106-139.
Peter Shaw, Love and Death in The Catcher in the Rye. New Essays on The Catcher in the Rye. Cambridge University Press, 1991. p97-114. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Jeffrey W. Hunter. Vol. 138.
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