The Rite of Passage in The Catcher in the Rye
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A Separate Peace The rite of passage, according to Encarta, is an event or act that marks a significant transition in a human life usually referring to adulthood (Online 1). In many Indian tribes, ceremonies were held for youths trying to pass a series of tests in order to become an adult, many times the tests? involve a display of physical prowess. In Western Civilization reaching a rite of passage into adulthood can occur in many ways. The young adult must achieve an understanding about ones self and the community around him. However, this level of maturity is rarely reached without suffering emotional pain or confusion (Helfand/Bliss 1). In both A Separate Peace and The Catcher in the Rye the main characters, Gene and Holden, experience great emotional trauma and confusion as they attempt to make the rite of passage into adulthood.
In the book The Catcher in the Rye Holden Caulfield is expelled from Pencey Prep because of his failing grades, however, he does not want to confront his parents immediately after getting expelled, instead he decides to go to New York for three days to allow the news of him getting expelled to sink in with his parents. In New York, Holden struggles to find himself amongst a world of adults. His confusion and misconceptions of how an adult acts sets him on course for an emotional breakdown.
In A Separate Peace Gene attends Devon Prep School with Finny, his best friend and roommate during World War II. Gene is a brilliant student and good athlete who admires Finny for his incredible athleticism and his unique personality. Gene believes he is in competition with Finny. Gene is a good athlete and has the best grades in his class and Finny is the best athlete but barely gets passing grades. Gene?s confusion and over analysis of Finny drive him to jealousy and the eventual destruction of his best friend.
Holden and Gene are both trying to gain the rite of passage into the adult world, however, their emotional reaction to the scenarios they face are different. Holdens view of the adult world is remarkably naïve. Holden is repeatedly accused of acting twelve years old and his interpretation of his role in society is awfully skewed (Behrman 322). During an intense emotional argument with Phoebe, one of the few people Holden looks up to, she asks him what he would like to be. Holden replies.
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’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. (Salinger 224) Holden shows his immaturity through his idealistic childhood fantasy of his role as the protector of innocence (Sparknotes Online 1). Holdens attempts to act older than he is are in constant conflict with his immature ideas and feelings as this quote shows. In order to pass the rite of passage into adulthood we must all leave behind our childhood.
Holden struggles to understand why anyone would want to become an adult and be exposed to all the corruption. He expresses his desire to be the catcher in the rye and preserve the childhood innocence of anyone wandering to close to the edge. William Glosser puts its perfectly when he says Holdens dilemma throughout the book, is that he is unable to prevent his impending loss of that uncorrupted spirit possessed by children.. (465). At the peak of Holdens emotional trauma and confusion he comes to a realization at a very odd time.
At the end of the novel Salinger indirectly implies his passage into adulthood. As Holden watches Phoebe ride around on the carrousel the assumption can be drawn that Holden?s happiness is a result of his passage into adulthood. William Glasser says that if we view the carrousel as a symbol composed of a complexity of opposite qualities and tenuous ambiguities, all existing together within a harmony of music and motion, typifies the sense of reality Holden finally perceives?(465). Using the symbolism of the carrousel Holden has now reached adulthood by accepting his world as it is. That the corruption and evil of the world is unavoidable and that he must live in it. Furthermore, the two aspects of his nature, his emotions and his intellect, become integrated into one, which is a sign of maturity (Glasser 465). Holden?s rite of passage into adulthood is not surprisingly one of many ways to become an adult.
Gene Forrester is faced with a unique problem involving his rite of passage into adulthood. Unlike Holden who does not exactly know the underlying source of his problem Gene is very aware and at tuned to what is going on. Gene feels that there is a level of competition between Finny and him. In order to justify the fact that Finny is the best athlete in the class Gene feels he must be the smartest in his class by becoming valedictorian. Gene waivers back on forth on the status of their competition. When Gene suspects Finny of attempting to draw him away from his studies Gene becomes angry and jealous. When Gene and Finny attempt a double jump from a tree into a river, Gene jostles the limb and Finny falls out of the tree, paralyzing him from the waist down. Finny represents the childhood innocence and freedom that Gene is trying to let go. When Finny becomes paralyzed and can no longer do all the athletic sports or events that symbolizes the slow maturation of Gene, which involves Culture, it has been said, is like a veil. Our upbringing, our life and work, how we speak, how we integrate our own experiences?all these elements of our lives are woven together to cocreate our view of the world.
As two therapists who have seen thousands of men and boys in the confusion and pain of growing up, we believe any attempt to re-vision our lives, as men, will fail without the incorporation of a Rite of self-discovery. Like those found in every ancient culture and every surviving piece of wisdom literature, this Rite involves stripping away the layers of self, family, and worldview (the veil of culture) to discover, fundamentally, what we?re made of and who we are. It is a journey of soul and spirit.