The Catcher in the Rye Term Paper

In 1951 at a time when social conformity was the norm, J.D. Salinger decided to publish “The Catcher in the Rye“. In it he put profanity, an immoral protagonist, and the adolescent sexuality. Salinger (and his book) brought about issues of vulgarity, sexuality and the hardships of teens. Many teens identified with and felt sorry for Holden Caulfield the main character that felt depressed and sad about almost anything life threw at him.

From the start J.D Salinger would incorporate symbolism as necessary tool for showing the full detailing of his novel. The novel begins with Holden isolated from the rest of his friends. He detaches himself from Pency’s social norm by sitting atop Thomsen Hill while the rest of the school attended a much celebrated football game. This would set the mood for the rest of the novel. Holden perceives himself as one of the few truly good and sincere people in his world and so he exemplifies this by sitting upon this hill, setting himself up above the rest, above and away from the school’s phonies and superficial characters. He despises these people and is ironic when nearby is a cannon. He might have noticed this and tells us so as to convey its potential.

The audience goes on to see that Holden has much difficulty getting along, socially inadequate. Holden is extremely judgmental and overly analytical. Through his whining he often finds humor in his “obviously” inferior peers. That “sexy bastard Stradlater and the ever rude, hovering Ackley. The most notorious word in Holden’s vocabulary is “phony”. He applies this term loosely to anyone too typical or conventional; people who mask what they are really feeling and thinking. It is enticing for the reader to follow his train of thought because he too wishes to persecute the ignorant and the fake but to take time to study why this is is to see that it is not so much that his phonies are superficial but are his views. Such as judging Stradlater by his good looks and Ackley with his acne ridden face. Holden often avoids more profound interpretations for simple generalizations and usages of labels such as being a “phony”.

For J.D. Salinger’s generation, sex had become a taboo matter only spoken of during very fleeting and private moments. In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden openly explorers his sexuality with girls and the possibility of himself secretly being a “flit”. Homosexuality was not tolerated when first published but Holden’s character would revel in all that was unmentionable. Holden indeed had an odd outlook on the subject of sex for he often tells of his arousal towards girls he hates, does not like, and does not respect. All the meanwhile being Catcher’s protagonist he is strangely entranced by forms of kinky foreplays that include degrading his partner; such as spitting in their face. At one time he hires a prostitute through and elevator-working pimp. A young girl shortly arrives at his hotel room door. He is fascinated that she is so young and so casual about the act of sex. Very fleetingly does she show any of the child innocence that Holden holds to such high esteem. When this young girl “fell” she was without her “catcher” to save her. His passing affections usually began with great desire but always ended with his own great disgust.

When Holden first re-unites with Sally Hayes:
“She looked really terrific. She really did.” “The funny part is, I felt like marrying her the minute I saw her. I’m crazy. I didn’t even like her much, and yet all of a sudden I felt like I was in love”. “He depicts the end of his ambivalent relationship with Sally as such: “I sort of hated old Sally by the time we got in the cab”. “She gives him, –  a royal pain in the ass”. “I was pretty goddamn fed up by that time.” He desires human affection yet rejects it at the same time. His inability to achieve a happy median leaves Holden often fed up with humanity.

Through out the narrative Holden contradicts himself over and over again at times such as: his ambivalent relationship with Sally Hayes, telling that he refuses to tell the reader about his past and anything having to do with his childhood. Stradlater begins as a pretty good guy but after finding about his promiscuous acts with his Jane, Stradlater is portrayed as nothing more than a “sexy bastard”. These run-on sentences proved an outlet for Holden’s erratic thoughts. These leave room to reveal the disparity between what he sees and what he perceives. His thoughts reinforce what he sees as his own noble child innocence. All of this unfortunately adds to his inner battles and emotional turmoil.

Holden never throughout the novel forgets his few if only sources of happiness. He reminisces Allie’s death and the poetry he left behind. As well Phoebe’s insightfulness, unwavering affection and lastly Jane and her kings all in the back row. Times when he describes them or is in their presence the negative, erratic thoughts give way as he gives them his uninterrupted focus. These are the few times when he is happy.

Phoebe in the end becomes a very vital character. Up to that point the reader had only Holden’s views to rely upon to come to a conclusion about the society that he encounters. One evening while still pondering the disappearances of the Central Park ducks, though temporarily cheered up by a young boys singing, Holden feels he needs a break from his own ever-depressing thoughts decides he needs to Сshoot the bull’ with Phoebe by discreetly stealing back into the old apartment. Phoebe is young yet understands much, such as knowing that maturing and moving on is all part of growing up. At one point she challenges her brother’s views on life. She asks him what wants to be? What is something he really likes? Holden remembers Robert Burns’ poem and states if he could do anything in the world he’d “catch a body coming through the rye.” Phoebe is quick to correct the verse goes, “If a body meet a body coming through the rye”. Holden goes on to describe his fantasy of being the savior for all misguided kids. To protect them should they go astray in the rye that is life and to catch them before they fall off the cliff. Fall from their innocene into a jaded, cruel and phony adult world. Phoebe changes the subject. He loves Phoebe dearly but to further the view that he cannot interact with others at a deeper level, he accuses her of sometimes being too affectionate when once she throws her arms around him. Phoebe is introduced as Holden’s foil for who deeply contrasts with his own emotionally stunted views. On the way out while trying to avoid getting caught he secretly wishes that he would be. This is a helpful metaphor for HoldenТs capacity for human interaction. While wanting to avoid it, simultaneously secretly yearning for all that can offer. By introducing Phoebe, Salinger provides the audience a new, more objective view of Holden. One that finally analyzes his faults, faults where Holden rarely admitted having any.

After a near miss with being found in her room by his unknowing parents, he resolves to escapes to a former teacher who he holds with high esteem (well at least never labeling him a phony) for Holden admires Mr. Antolini for once being the only who would help a deceased suicide victim. Mr. Antolini shows that he obviously is not like the rest of the people Holden knows. Antolini welcomes Holden even with short notice, invites him to stay and introduces him to his older wife. He does not seem to hide his thoughts or mask them with facades. His smoking and heavy drinking relates him to the pupil. Mr. Antolini immediately sits him and futilely attempts to describe a “great fall” headed for Holden if he doesn’t realize the significance of education, maturing and moving on. “This fall I think you’re riding for- it’s a special kind of fall, a horrible kind. The man falling isn’t permitted to feel or hear himself hit bottom. He just keeps falling and falling.” He clumsily attempts to articulate his prophecy with vague descriptions that end up muddying the water. Instead he diverts to writing a fortune cookie type message that suggests something about Holden: “The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.” After much elaboration is the subject finally dropped and Holden sleeps on the couch. Something happens during the night and once again Holden strongly contradicts himself. He refuses to talk about saying he doesn’t even like thinking about it but then continues to tell the tale. Holden awakes during the night to find the much-respected teacher’s hand petting him in the face. Holden’s homophobia and already uncertain sexuality has him making and excuse and leaves immediately from the apartment. He heads for Grand Central, sits on a bench and ponders his situation. For the first time Holden second-guesses his own snap judgment. Before you were either a flit or a phony. Holden contemplates whether his judgment was wrong and this is where he begins to see the truth behind all that he is.

On the last walk through the city that Holden would have before the end of the novel, he has a premonition that at the end of each city block, he wouldn’t make it to the other side. At the end of each block is Holden’s “rye” and the street, his cliff. At each curb he can’t see pass the “rye” to see the dangers at the bottom of the cliff. He becomes so consumed with his fear that he can’t see to the other side. His future and potential. Even with Mr. Antolini’s best cautions of the foreseeable “great fall”, no one will be there to catch a Holden Caulfield running blindly through the rye.

In the much interpreted ending, Holden takes Phoebe to a carousel in the park. He asks her to ride but declines to join her. A secound time she rides. Holden merely watches his joy take joy in her childhood. He does not take part because he is no longer part of his child hood and this offers a glimmer of hope for the hero many related with.

Many over the years since The Catcher in the Rye was first published have disceted the ending, discussing wether Holden would go on reveling in is immaturity or to press on into maturing in a member of the masses. A very arguable point is this. Mr. Antolini shared with us this: “The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.” Holden never offered to sacrifice his life to save the children but instead choosing 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. I know it’s crazy, but thatТs the only thing I’d really like to be.”


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