A World of Poor Choices
The exciting novel The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger expresses the free will of choice. Salinger cleverly conveys how decisions can alter a person’s perspective of their peer. Holden Caulfield, the protagonist, is a young teenager who has emotional instability and behavioral concerns. Holden acts immaturely extensively throughout the book. Holden invents a world where adulthood is the emblem of superficiality and “phoniness”, while he chooses to convey childhood as a world of innocence. Holden’s observation of himself being the catcher in the rye is highly symbolic.
When Holden states he wants to walk off beyond the cliff and catch the children playing in the rye, it can be seen as him exceeding the line of puberty and becoming a young adult. There are a multitude of instances that portray Holden’s childhood as an unvarying plateau. Holden’s interrogation Carl Luce as if they were back in Whooton School, the symbolism of the ducks in the lagoon and the Museum of Natural History, and the contradicting message in the carousel scene, paradigms of his constant immaturity are shrewdly portrayed by Salinger.
Holden conveys his immaturity primarily with his appointment with his old school companion, Carl Luce. Holden and Carl had gone to high school together and Holden remembers Carl as the guy who knew everything and anything there was to life. Holden insisted on asking Carl questions as if they relived high school. Carl becomes very disappointed in Holden on account of his lack of maturity. J. D. Salinger displays Holden’s immaturity when he portrays him asking Carl “How’s your sex life” (144). Carl’s response to Holden was “… just sit back and relax, for Chrissake” (Salinger 144).
Holden’s persistence exacerbates his circumstances with Carl. Carl blatantly asks Holden “when are you ever going to grow up? ” (Salinger 144). Holden didn’t have an acceptable answer for any of Carl’s questions. Shortly after a brief discussion Carl told Holden that “naturally, your mind is immature” (Salinger 147) and decides to leave him. This scene inevitably illustrates Holden’s immaturity on an escalating level. In an excerpt “The Catcher in the Rye Should Not Be Censored” by Edward P. J. Corbett he states “the language is crude and profane in the Catcher in the Rye.
It would be difficult to argue, however, that such a language is unfamiliar to our young people or that it is rougher then the language they are accustomed to hear in the streets among their acquaintances, but there is no question a vulgar message in print is much more shocking than if it was spoken” (Corbett 102). Donald P. Costello also agrees that Holden’s language embodies the typical teenage speech. But, the “overpowering degree of his language helps characterize him” for whom he truthfully is (Donald P. Costello 83). Holden’s vulgar language “reveals his age, even when he is thinking he is older” (Costello 84).
Holden feels he obliged to use “Chrissake” and “goddam” to illustrate a strong expression. In the sense of Holden’s language a clear display of his adolescence is portrayed. Holden’s refusal to believe in change and disappearance renders his immaturity immensely. There are several symbolic encounters that demonstrate Holden’s rebuttal of change. One encounter is when Holden visits the Museum of Natural History he is engrossed in the Eskimo figures. The Eskimo figures are appealing to Holden because they are molded into their places and therefore unchanging.
The museum is Holden’s fantasy world because it is a world where everything is simple, and fixed. Another symbolic occurrence is the death of his brother Allie. The death staggers Holden because it required change and disappearance. Another powerful illustration of Holden’s immaturity is the symbolization of the ducks in the central lagoon. The ducks in the lagoon vanish every winter and return every summer. This cycle shows that change does not last forever. Out of curiosity Holden asks his cab driver “do you know where the ducks go when it gets all frozen over? (Salinger 60). The pond resembles the midpoint between two states in reference to Holden’s position between childhood and adulthood. In these scenes, Holden’s attitude aids the reader to discover that his childhood is his predominant state, and it prevails over his chances at becoming an adult. In the passage “Symbolism in The Catcher in the Rye” Clinton W. Trowbridge believes “Holden has tested several ideal images of himself only to find each of them phony” (Clinton W. Trowbridge 43). When Holden proclaims that he wants to be the catcher in the rye, it sounds outlandish.
The suggestion of Holden becoming the catcher in the rye has remarkable significance and conveys two images. The first image conveys as Holden “being a savior and his religious idealism” (Trowbridge 45). Secondly, it analyzes Holden’s perspective of good and evil. Childhood represents the only good characteristic, surrounded by perils. The evil cliff signifies the transition over from childhood to adulthood. Holden fears “the children will plunge into the evil adulthood unless stopped” (Trowbridge 45). Holden’s immaturity is most evident though his fear of falling off the cliff.
At the books climax, Holden allows Phoebe, his ten year old sister, to ride the carousel. While riding the carousel the objective is to reach off your horse and grab the gold ring. Phoebe rides the carousel and begins trying to retrieve the gold ring. Typically most parents would not let their child strive for the gold ring because they have a high risk of falling off. Holden notices Phoebe going for the ring and doesn’t care to reprimand her. Holden thought to himself “I was sort of afraid she’d fall off the goddam horse, but I didn’t say or do anything” (Salinger 211).
Holden’s attitude misguides readers into believing that Holden has matured. However, one must consider that he has been immature most of his life, and will always struggle with acquiring a sense of adulthood. At the end of the story Holden says “that’s all I’m going to tell about. I could probably tell you what I did after I went home, and how I got sick and all, and what school I’m supposed to go to next fall, after I get out of here, but I don’t feel like it. I really don’t. That stuff doesn’t interest me right now” (Salinger 213).
Holden blatantly admits, within this quote, that he is still the same Holden Caulfield, the one that was always uninterested in school and academics. Clearly the carousel scene manifests in the revelation of the fact that he will always be a child at heart. In the excerpt “Robert Burn’s Poem Comin’ Thro’ the Rye and Catcher” Luther S. Luedtke believes that Holden has learned “innocence and goodness, epitomized in the condition of the child, are not static conditions; just as the child must grow up through adolescence into adulthood, so must innocence and goodness risk this passage through experience and evil” (Luedtke 49).
Luedtke is telling the readers of his excerpt that Holden has matured greatly by allowing Phoebe to grab the golden ring. Holden’s ironic confession in the final chapter tells otherwise. Holden states that he is not interested in achieving academic goals anymore. In J. D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye, Holden’s heartless approach toward the world around him blockades his path to maturing. Through Holden’s talk with Carl Luce, the symbolization of the lagoon and the Museum of Natural History, and the contradicting message in the carousel scene all prove Holden’s immaturity throughout the novel.
Although Phoebe’s conscientious struggle to aid Holden in maturing did not succeed, Phoebe shouldn’t be held responsible for his immaturity. Holden’s immaturity comes with his free will of choice and his plateau of juvenile behavior that he cannot surpass. Holden’s judgmental personality toward adults authenticates his immaturity to a towering extent. Holden’s failure to emotionally evolve throughout the entirety of the novel ultimately barricades Holden’s depression within himself and results in his unhappiness.