Innocence, Compassion, and some Crazy Cliff A novel, which has gained literary recognition worldwide, scrutiny to the point of censorship and has established a following among adolescents, The Catcher in the Rye is in its entirety a unique connotation of the preservation of innocence and the pursuit of compassion. With certain elegance the writer J.D. Salinger, substantiates the growth and perils, which lie between childhood and adulthood. Embellishing the differentiation between innocence and squalor in the grasps of society. The bridge that lies between these contrasting themes are personified through the novels protagonist, Holden Caul-field and his visualization of a cliff, which depicts a dividing point between the evident beginning and end. The connection, which binds this gap in reality, was made clear through a new found compassion, consummating Holdens place in society through the realization of his surroundings from which he successfully crosses over. Focusing on the rebellious and confused actuality of adolescents stuck between the innocence of childhood and the corruptness of the adult world, this novel strikes a cord, which most adolescents can relate. The essence of the story The Catcher in the Rye follows the forty-eight hour escapade of sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield, told through first person narration. After his expulsion from Pency, a fashionable prep school, the lat-est in a long line of expulsions, Holden has a few confrontations with his fellow students and leaves shortly after to return to his hometown, New York City. In the heart of New York City, Holden spends the following two days hiding out to rest before confronting his parents with the news. During his adventures in the city he tries to renew some old acquaintances, find his significance in the adult world, and come to grips with the head-aches he has been having lately. Eventually, Holden sneaks home to visit his sister Phoebe, because alone on the streets he feels as if he has no where else to turn. Children are the only people with whom Holden can communicate with throughout the novel, not because they can help him with his growing pains but because they remind him of a simpler time (his inno-cence), which he wishes he could return. The trials of the adult world wear down Holdens vision of a place in society, portraying innocence as a form of retreat from a confusing world. On the subject of innocence and symbolism there of, which is repre-sented through Holdens thoughts and actions, S.N. Behrman writes: “Holdens difficulties affect his nervous system but never his vision. It is the vision of an innocent. To the lifeline of this vision he clings invinci-bly, as he does to a phonograph record he buys for Phoebe (till it breaks) and a red hunting cap that is dear to him and that he finally gives to Phoebe, and to Allies baseball glove.” Understanding Holdens notion of innocence and the role it plays throughout the novel helps to put in tune the underlying message found in Holdens description of the catcher in the rye. “I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobodys around–nobody big, I mean- except me. And Im 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 theyre running and they dont look where theyre going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. Thats all Id do all day. Id just be the catcher in the rye and all.” (Pg. 173) The princi-ple of the catcher in the rye is a means for Holden to devote his life to the protection of innocence. The significance of the catcher image lies in three areas of thought as implied by B. Ramachandra Rao: “First of all, it is a savior image, and shows us the extent of Holdens re-ligious idealism. Secondly, it crystallizes for us Holdens concept of good and evil; childhood is good, the only pure good, but it is surrounded by perils, the cliff of adolescence over which the children will plunge in the evil of adulthood unless stopped. But finally, the image is based on a mis-understanding. The Burns poem goes If a body meet a body not if a body catch a body, and the fact that Phoebe is aware of this and Holden is not, plus the manner in which these two words (catch and meet) are re-examined and re-interpreted by Holden at the end of the novel, shows us in a powerful and deeply suggestive way the center of Holdens diffi-culty.” Holdens view of life as it is and the way life should be is based on a misunder-standing of mans place in society. Having difficulty coming to grips with this misunder-standing, Holden crosses a threshold. Later he fatefully comes in contact with his sister once again, at the Central Park carrousel in the final scene of the novel. At the sight of his sister he is overcome by a love for all people when he sees how much his sister cares about him. Domenic Bruni, incorporates this theme in his statement: “Holden has accepted a new positionan undiscriminating love for all mankind. He even expresses that he misses all the people who did wrong to him He is not mature enough to know what to do with this love, but he is mature enough to accept it. In this world, realizing what is squalor and what is good, and loving it all is the first step in achieving identity and humility: compassion is what Holden learns.” The foretelling of the story ends abruptly but we learn that Holden in the end goes out west and is seeking psychological treatment in California. Through his recovery and the experiences of those two lonely days, he gains compassion towards everyone, in-cluding himself. While his vision of the catcher in the rye was a hope, a dream, and a job Holden realizes that such a dream is impractical in the world. Although innocence is not lost in Holdens case, it is apparent that it was only passed by but by facing the world and loving it indiscriminately, such compassion will fill his need for acceptance and place in the world. Substantially giving Holden an admission into society and the acceptance of the responsibilities of adulthood. J(erome) D(avid) Salinger, is an American author, who controversially dared to cross the line of literary standards. In his first and only novel The Catcher in the Rye, proved to be Salingers most important and influential literary work, establishing him as a leading author and cultural icon. As the popularity of his novel grew, Salinger became increasingly reclusive and has incidentally avoided the public eye for over thirty years. Under an apparent cloak of secrecy, the real story of Salinger lies incomplete and myste-rious. Although much about his life is uncertain, it is clear that Salinger was born on January 1 1919 in New York, New York, the second child and only son of Sol and Miriam Salinger. Since much of Salingers early days are clouded and unknown, the only link to his apparent adolescence is through the statement that his “boyhood was very much the same as that of the in the book Holden.” Salinger attended public schools on Manhattans upper West Side and during his high school years he transferred to the pri-vate McBurney School, where he flunked out after one year. In 1934, his father enrolled him at Valley Forge Military Academy, a private prep school in Pennsylvania. After graduation in 1936, Salinger enrolled in a short-story writing course at Columbia Univer-sity in New York and began publishing some of his short stories. Salinger was inducted into the service in 1942, at the age of twenty-three, the following year, he was transferred to the Counter-Intelligence Corps and later joined the American Forth Division, he landed on Utah Beach five hours after the initial assault on D-Day. After the war, Salin-ger began publishing again and featured his stories in the Saturday Evening Post and Colliers. By 1951, Salinger has established his reputation exclusively in The New Yorker and the popularity of his work was emerging among college students. And so, he re-leased The Catcher in the Rye, after working on and off on it for ten years. Although it was not an immediate hit it did give Salinger an increasing critical praise and respect. Eventually, as critical acclaim grew, the letters, autograph seekers, and interview-ers began hunting him down and so he became annoyed and moved to Cornish, New Hampshire, where he has lived ever since. While secluding himself from the rest of the world Salinger began work on Nine Stories, which includes a number of published short stories and introduces the Glass family, the central figures of his later works. Nine Sto-ries was published in 1953, after which Salinger published four lengthy short stories about the problems of the extremely bright and overly sensitive children of the Glass family. The books in this short story collection include Franny and Zooey (1961), and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction (1963).
Catcher in the Rye
CATCHER IN THE RYE
The book, Catcher in the Rye, has been steeped in controversy since it was banned in America after its first publication. John Lennons assassin Mark Chapman, asked the former Beatle to sign a copy of the book earlier in the morning of the day he murdered Lennon.Police found the book in his possession upon apprehending the psychologically disturbed Chapman. However, the book itself contains nothing that might have lead Chapman to act as he did.It could have been just any book that he was reading the day he decided to kill John Lennon and as a result, it was the Catcher in the Rye,a book describing a nervous breakdown, that caused the media to speculate widely about the possible connection.This gave the book even more recognition.The character Holden Caulfield ponders the thoughts of death,accuses ordinary people of being phonies, and expresses his love for his sister through out the novel.So what is the book Catcher in the Rye really about?
Superficially the story of a young man getting expelled from another school, the Catcher in the Rye is, in fact, a perceptive study of one individuals understanding of his human condition.Holden Caulfield, a teenager growing up in 1950s, New York, has been expelled from school for poor achievement once again.In an attempt to deal with this he leaves school a few days prior to the end of term, and goes to New York to take a vacation before returning to his parents inevitable irritation.Told as a monologue, the book describe Holdens thoughts and activities over these few days, during which he describes a developing nervous breakdown. This was evident by his bouts of unexplained depression, impetuous spending and generally odd, erratic behavior, prior to his eventual nervous collapse.
Some critics have argued that Holdens character is erratic and unreliable, as he has many of the middle-class values that he claims to reject.Later on critics began to have praised the twisted humor of the main character.These critics have commented that the structure of the novel helps you understand Holdens unstable state of mind.Alastair best remarked: “There is a hard, almost classical structure underneath Holdens rambling narrativ.The style, too, appears effortless; yet one wonders how much labor went into those artfully rough-hewn sentences” (qtd. in Davis 318)
A large field of critics took a positive view of the novel.Paul Engle commented that the story was “emotional without being sentimental, dramatic without being melodramatic, and honest without simply being obscene”(3).Engle also wrote the authenticity of Holdens character, the idea that his voice was typical of a teenager, never childish or written down at that age level.Engle wrote “The effort has been made to make the text, told by the boy himself , as accurate and yet as imaginative as possible.In this, it largely succeeds”(3).Many people repeat Engles viewpoint, the Catcher in the Rye is not just about age it is a unique story of a unique child.Engle writes, “The story is engaging and believableFull of right observations and sharp insight, and wonderful sort of grasp of how a boy can create his own world of fantasy and live forms”(3)
Holdens continuous thoughts on the death are not typical of most teenagers.His near obsession with death might come from having experienced two deaths in his early life.He constantly dwells on Allie, his brothers death.From Holdens thoughts, it is obvious that he loves and misses Allie.In order to hold on to his brother and minimize the pain of his loss, Holden brings Allies baseball mitt along with him where ever he goes.The mitt has additional meaning and significance for Holden because Allie had written poetry, which Holden reads, on the baseball mitt.Holdens fixation with death can be seen in his viewing of a dead classmate, James Castle. It tells the reader something about H…..olden that he lends his turtleneck sweater to his classmate, with whom he is not at all close.
The book The Catcher in the Rye is thought by many people to be a tragedy, but by some critics it is to be considered humorous, keen, and intelligent.Whenever a character is nearing the point of no return in a Salinger piece, it is usually done by route of comic (Stevenson 216).Many other critics have made a point that much of the humor in The Catcher in the Rye comes from Holdens misunderstanding about adulthood. An example of this is shown in Holdens relationship with an old schoolmate, Carl Luce.Although he is older and more experienced than Holden, he is not as mature as Holden believes him to be.After a try at communication with Luce fails,Holden flees to Phoebe, the only person he completely trusts (Davis 318).The humor in Holdens character comes from his communication with the outside world.In some ways his need for love and stability in life is very sad but Holdens character makes it funny by almost not caring.
However, during his psychological battle, life continues around Holden as it always had, with the majority of people ignoring the “madman stuff” that is happening to him, until it begins to affect their well defined social codes.Progressively throughout the novel we are challenged to think about societys attitude to the human condition.Does society have an “ostrich in the sand” mentality, a deliberate ignorance of the emptiness that can characterize human existence?And if so, when Caulfield begins to probe his own sense of emptiness and isolation, before finally declaring that the world is full of “phonies”, each one out for their own phony gain.Is Holden actually the one who is going insane, or is it society which has lost its mind for failing to see the hopelessness of their own lives.
Holden has strong feelings of love towards children as evidenced through his caring for Phoebe, his little sister.He is protective of her, erasing bad words from the walls in her school and in a museum, in order that she not learn from the graffiti.His fondness for children can be understood when he tells her that, at some time in the future, he wants to be the only grown-up with “all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all.”Hell stand on the edge of a cliff and catch anybody who starts to fall off the edge of the cliff.He got this image from his misinterpretation of a line from Robert Burns poem, “if a body catch a body comin through the rye.”
It is obvious by studying the reviews of The Catcher in the Rye that most critics enjoy picking apart the character of Holden Caulfield, studying his every action and the basis for that action.Reviewers of the novel have gone to great lengths to express their opinions on Salingers main character.Some consider Holden to be considerate, others consider him arrogant, but a large majority of them find him completely entertaining.
One character that Holden is compared to in some ways is Hamlet.Like Hamlet, as Charles Kegel wrote,Holden is a “sad, screwed-up guy”(54), bothered by words which only seem true, but really quite phony.The integrity and truthfulness that Holden cannot seem to find in others he tries to maintain within himself.Holden often makes a point of using the word “really” to state the fact that something is really so, to prove to the reader that had not become a phony himself.Holden is frightened often by the occasional realization that he too, must be phony to exist in the adult world.
Catcher in the Rye will continue to be apart of public and critical debate. When we are honest we can see within ourselves unrevealed elements of the forces operating within Holden Caulfied, and because of that I would recommend this thought inspiring novel as a delightful and enlightening description of our human condition.However, be careful, for that very reason it is not comfortable reading.