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Innocence And The Catcher In The Rye

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The innocence of childhood is eventually ripped away from us all. In J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye Holden Caulfield wishes to dedicate his life to preserving the innocence of everyone. Holden wants to save what was so cruelly ripped away from him with the death of his brother. Holden at first believes that he can be “The Catcher in the Rye,” but he eventually comes to understand that it is both impossible and wrong to attempt such a thing.

At first, Holden wants to dedicate his life to the preservation of innocence. When he was a child, his innocence was lost when his brother Allie dies. He cannot come to terms with the death, and wishes to return to his happy childhood with Allie. However, he believes he can find solace by saving the innocence of others. Even his name seems to imply that he is trying to “hold on” to childhood. Perhaps he even is trying to regain his own lost childhood through others. “I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff…. I just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be” (173). His only goal in life is to save children from taking a terrible fall, in essence sheltering the children from their own mistakes. Holden is so obsessed with this concept that he even refuses to sleep with a prostitute that he has paid for. He is so saddened by her lost innocence that he cannot bring himself to go through with it. Also, he is disproportionately upset that his roommate may have had sex with his childhood friend because he still thinks of her as the sweet innocent girl of his childhood. The fact that she may have lost her innocence drives him even further into depression.

Finally, Holden’s little sister Phoebe is the ultimate symbol of his obsession with his lost childhood. She represents the last remaining figure of sweet innocence in Holden’s life. In fact, when asked to name the people he likes, of the three people he can come up with, Phoebe is the only one that is still alive. When she threatens to lose her innocence and become like Holden, he begins to despise her for it. “I almost hated her. I think I hated her most because she wouldn’t be in that play anymore if she went away with me” (207) Holden becomes utterly obsessed with becoming “the Catcher in the Rye” and preserving the innocence of everyone.

Holden finally comes to understand that it is impossible to be the catcher in the rye. He first begins to understand this when he sees the “fuck you” written on the wall at Phoebe’s school. Although he keeps erasing them, he keeps seeing more and more written on the wall. The “fuck you” written on the wall represents the loss of innocence. He starts to understand the futility of his dream of shielding all the innocent children from the vulgarity of the world. Next, Holden goes to the Egyptian tomb. The tomb has not changed since his childhood, and it represents Holden’s ideal static, innocent childhood. Then he sees a “fuck you” written of the wall of the tomb. This ruins Holden’s last refuge, and forces him to come to terms with reality.

“You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think there is, but once you’re there, someone will sneak up and “Fuck you” right under your nose” (204). This shows that Holden is beginning to understand that he cannot really shield anybody. There is further evidence that Holden has realized that it is both impossible and wrong to attemp to protect everybody. He shows that he has finally grasped this concept when he says, “The thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off, they fall off, but it’s bad if you say anything to them” (211). Holden finally comes to terms with the fact that it is impossible to be a “catcher in the rye,” and it is wrong to even try.

Holden tries to regain a piece of his lost childhood innocence by shielding others from losing theirs, but he eventually realizes that this is impossible. Although what Holden tried to do seems noble, in the end it would lead to more pain when the children are finally forced to accept the harsh reality of life. Holden finally learned to let others take the same fall that he himself took, and in doing so, had a nervous breakdown. Perhaps now he will learn to cope with Allie’s death, and leave his childhood behind.

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