Explain the idea “Holden is a great rescuer, but fails to rescue himself.” How does Holden’s character change during the course of the novel?
In The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger perfectly captures a teenage boy’s struggle with adolescence. The story is told from the perspective of Holden Caulfield, who is widely regarded as “…the original sullen teenager” (National Public Radio, 2008). Throughout the novel, Holden takes the reader through a few days of his life, in which he flaunts his hostile attitude to the reader. Over the course of his journey, there is a subtle, yet important, pattern. The Catcher in the Rye includes the constant motif of Holden Caulfield rescuing others, while failing to rescue himself.
In the novel, Holden finds opportunities to rescue others, but he never focuses on bettering himself. For example, he highly respects women when it comes to sex. He explains that, when girls tell him he is going too far with them, he always stops because he “…get[s] to feeling sorry for them…they tell [him] to stop, so [he] stop[s]” (Salinger, 1951, p. 50). Later on, when Holden has his encounter with the prostitute, he pities her and does not desire to do anything sexual with her. He treats women as though he is trying to save their sexual purity. However, this does not help Holden at all. He saves these girls, but, as a result, he never has the opportunity to lose his virginity.
Another, less superficial, example of Holden’s rescuing others instead of himself is the way he acts toward his little sister, Phoebe. Specifically, when Phoebe claims she is not going back to school, he insists, “You have to go back to school” (Salinger, 1951, p. 112). Although he sets himself up to ruin his life by quitting school, he cannot allow Phoebe to follow his same destructive path. He saves her academic opportunities, but fails to save his own.
Holden’s desire to rescue Phoebe supports the ultimate example of him being a great rescuer, but failing to rescue himself. Toward the end, when Phoebe asks him what he would like to do with his life, he explains his desire to be a “catcher in the rye” (Salinger, 1951, p. 93). His aspiration to save children from falling off a cliff greatly represents his desire to save innocence. He wants to rescue Phoebe, as well as these children, so he can rescue the purity he believes can only be found within an innocent child. However, he has given up on saving his own purity, as he believes it has been lost. As a result of this, “Holden channels his grief into altruistic fantasies of protecting those whose existence remains unmarred by graffiti, phoniness, certainty, and death” (Tolchin, 2007, p. 37). He fantasizes about saving the children in the rye field because saving them means preserving the purity left in the world.
Consequential to Holden’s desire to rescue others, specifically their purity, he loses sight of the importance in rescuing himself. He does not believe himself to be pure, so he gives up on himself. Because of this, it seems that Holden’s character does not change throughout the novel. He remains static, his “…voice is the same at the end of his retelling as it is at the start,” and “He seems to have learned very little…” (Brooks, 2004, p. 357). By the end of the novel, it seems as though Holden will continue to rescue others and fail to recognize that it is he who needs rescuing.
Brooks, B. (2004). Holden at Sixteen. Contemporary Literary Criticism, 80(3), 353-357.
National Public Radio (2008, Jan. 20). Holden Caulfield: Giving voice to generations. National
Public Radio Books. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18225406
Salinger, J.D. (1951). The Catcher in the Rye. Retrieved from
Tolchin, K.R. (2007). Optimism, Innocence, and Angst in the Catcher in the Rye. Children’s
Literature Review, 181, 33-45.
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The Theme of Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger Essay
568 Words3 Pages
The Theme of Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
In the novel Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, the protagonist Holden Caulifield views the world as an evil corrupt place where there is no peace. Holden has a phony phobia that restricts him from becoming a fully matured adult. In Holden's attempted journey in becoming a fully matured adult, he encounters many scenarios involving friendship, personal opinions, and his love of children. His journey is an unpleasant and difficult one with many lessons learned along the way; including the realization that he is powerless to change the world.
Around every corner Holden sees corruption. He looks out on a world, which appears completely immoral and unscrupulous. Holden finds a hard…show more content…
Holden believes that he can change the world and he reveals his feelings on a date with Sally '" Did you ever get fed up? … I mean did you ever get scared that everything was going to go lousy unless you did something…"'(pg 130). Holden proposes to Sally to escape this world with him. It is finally to his younger sister that Holden reveals that he wants to prevent children from growing up. He blames the world's corruption on adults and believes that when he stops the children from growing up he will preserve their innocence and save the world.
Holden's phony addiction gets him into trouble at school. Holden looks for the flaws in everyone and tries to eliminate that person he sees as a threat, such as when Holden decides to face off against the phony Stradlater after Stradlater's date with Jane. Holden also thinks every teacher is a phony who pretends to be helpful to students. If Holden has trouble in school he does not seek help from his peers because he believes that they are phonies. Hence this point is tied into one of the reasons he is kicked out of Pencey, failing four out of five courses. Holden's avoidance of things phony is very strong and he has a one-track mind. It is either his way or the highway, this is another example of how Holden's phony problem hinders his chance at full maturity. Holden is so scared