The Plight of Innocence and of Growing Up

This 1951 copy of J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye is one of 88 books on display as part of the Library of Congress'

This 1951 copy of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye is one of 88 books on display as part of the Library of Congress’ “Books That Shaped America” exhibit.

**Warning: contains spoilers and analysis of Catcher in the Rye, Gatsby, Grapes of Wrath, and Scarlet Letter.

Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of the Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, is often seen by teenagers as brooding and whiny.  But are Holden’s views really wrong?  He speaks about things that people see, or should see but don’t want to acknowledge or analyze in further depth– the sad truths of our society.  Although he doesn’t analyze his sadness in detail, he speaks of sadness when he has Sunny, a stripper, in his room.  He sees her green dress, green usually the color of youth and innocence, and Sunny herself, who Holden states does not seem much older than himself.  Another incident is when he recounts the story of Dick Slagle, a former student of Elkton Hills, obsessed and blinded by material wealth.  Slagle wants to appear wealthy and puts Holden’s suitcases on the rack when people are over to insinuate that he has wealth.  In truth, Slagle is ashamed by his own possessions that are “lesser” when compared to Holden’s.  Slagle is an example of a character who doesn’t mean what he says; he is clearly in envy of Holden’s belongings as shown by his actions and motives, yet brushes it off as “bourgeois” to appear nonchalant about the topic.  Seeing this contradiction, Holden laments the behavior and sites it as something that made him sad and a bit frustrated– the shallowness and addiction people have with status (which unfortunately very much applies today).

Connecting back to previous literary work we have analyzed in AP English Language and Composition, Holden is like the narrator of The Grapes of Wrath, insightful and saddened by society.  Similar to the universality of Grapes of Wrath, Holden stereotypes a majority of the people he meets into the categories: people who are corrupt, shallow, and apathetic and the innocent children.  In the Grapes of Wrath, the narrator’s obvious bias and tone (slightly discussed in a few posts of the past, Click, Click. Are we Machine or Are We Human? and We are President Snow), pit the audience against the “machine.”  The “intangible idea” that runs society.  A system created by humans, that is now out of man’s control.  Similarly, Holden depicts a world generally apathetic to a teenager struggling to accept the real world and its realities.  Practically nobody [insert Odyssey joke here *cue Polyphemus’ rage*] listens to the things Holden wants, bordering needs, the answers to.  Children shun him because he is too “old” to play with them, while adults disregard him because they don’t share his curiosity and are fixated with society, the blind and busy population solely focused on finances.  Ironically, Holden is obsessed with the concept of preserving the innocence of children; being the “catcher in the rye,” the force pulling kids away from the edge as they are oblivious to the drop below– the drop into cold, harsh reality.  And like how Gatsby is obsessed with turning back time five years.  Although it is worth noting that Holden is able to ratify his views at the end, whereas Gatsby, unable to change and accept, is led to his watery death.  It is as though Holden, still much like a child, has a second chance at life.  Gatsby, a full-fledged adult, does not get this opportunity.

Also, much like the scarlet letter displayed on Hester’s breast, the carousel and Phoebe scene Holden sees becomes the beacon of light that drags them out of the pits of darkness.  Holden out of the depression of change and Hester out of sin and naivety.

Aside (slightly off topic): As a narrator, it is worth noting from the start that Holden is not a reliable narrator.  A majority of the time, me doesn’t say what he means and mean what he says.  This concept is clearly displayed when he talks about beating up Stradler.  He oscillates between stating that he can totally sock Stradler in the face and that he is not a violent person.  But despite the inconsistencies in his storytelling, as an audience, we have the power to try interpreting the truth of his words.  That’s one of the magical aspects of reading: every individual can feel and connect with a text differently. 

For me, the timing of reading this novel is perfect.  I, as a 17 year old, am reading this and trying to view the world from Holden’s eyes and unsurprisingly, many of the things he states are things that I’ve noticed.  Reading Holden’s point of view on life reminds me that as people grow older, they often lose their windows to the world.  Our minds become packaged and bombarded to think in a certain way that society dictates.  And that’s what’s important about reading; it is the rope that pulls you out of a never-ending well that narrows as gravity (society) pulls you through.  It shows you a view of the world that may be different from your own.  It makes readers think.  Scholars debate.  That is the magic of reading.  The power of language.  The strength of words.


Analysis of a different kind of text:  One key lesson from English this year is that all things make a point; everything is an argument. So I decided to exercise this notion with an analysis I made on thinglink.

A/N: The image above is the 1951 cover of The Catcher in the Rye aka I take no credit for it.


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