The Catcher in the Rye, the author, J. D. Salinger, takes the reader through Holden Caulfield’s struggles with adolescence as he makes his way through New York City in the 1940’s. Salinger shows how Holden attempts to go on an unrealistic quest to save children from a sudden loss of innocence. Holden’s wake-up call comes in the form of his little sister, Phoebe, who unintentionally illustrates to her big brother that reaching for the gold ring isn’t always a scary thing, but a part of life that everyone must go through.
The author uses symbolism to create Holden’s idea of becoming “The Catcher in the Rye,” a way of preventing others from the abrupt loss of innocence. Holden’s idea is challenged by his interactions, and ultimately annihilated; Salinger bluntly displays the harsh reality of life, children must learn from their mistakes, and grow from their pain, in order to function in the adult world. Salinger introduces the color red as a symbol by presenting the reader with Holden’s brother Allie.
Holden’s love for Allie causes him to mourn the death of his brother even more intensely than one would think.
Holden suffered deeply when Allie died, not only because he loved him so much, but also because to Holden, Allie was the embodiment of innocence. Holden couldn’t see anything wrong with his little brother, from his bright red hair to his intelligence; Allie was not only the perfect brother, but the perfect child. Holden’s only sense of comfort was lost with his brother. Holden fills the gap his brother left with “this red hat that I’d bought in New York” (17). Salinger chooses to make the hat red as a reminder of Allie’s hair.
Salinger also uses this hat to show how desperate Holden is to hold onto innocence in his life. When Holden lost his brother at thirteen he “broke all the windows in the garage, just for the heck of it” (39). Salinger showed Holden’s frustration and violence to display his loss of innocence. A child’s reaction to loss is expressed through tears; Salinger chose to make Holden act like an adult would, with violence and rage. Holden had his childhood stolen from him the same day that leukemia stole his brother. Holden rebelled constantly because of his resistance of being a part of ‘the rat race’.
An example of his rebellion can be seen when he is asked to leave Pencey “I was sort of crying. I don’t know why. I put on my red hunting hat on, and turned the peak around the back, the way I liked it and then yelled at the top of my goddamn voice, ‘sleep tight, ya morons! ” (52). Every time Holden decides to be rebellious and give up, he finds comfort by putting on his red hat. This hat redeems his inner child. To Holden, as long as he has it on his head he can become the innocent child that he had lost along with his brother.
The irony in this of course, is that he wears the hat when engaged in acts of rebellion. Early in the novel the color red symbolizes redemption of childhood and innocence, as the novel continues the meaning of the color red changes. When Holden talks about Jane, the reader is again presented with another symbol connected to the color red. Holden sees her as his forbidden love, connecting her character with both temptation and lust, all the while keeping with the constant theme of corruption of innocence. He always wants to talk to her and rekindle the feelings they once had.
Holden always knew “She has a lousy childhood” (32). They both played checkers and she did ballet when they were neighbors. He loved Jane, but he never cared for her booze hound of a stepfather. Holden remembers him as a, “Skinny guy with hairy legs. He wore shorts all the time. Jane said he was supposed to be a playwright or some goddamn thing, but all I ever saw him do was booze all the time and listen to every godamn mystery program on the radio. And run around the godamn house, naked with Jane around and all” (32). This behavior seems out of the normal for a stepfather.
Salinger put this in the beginning of the novel to show the reader how Jane is corrupted by her step-father and her innocence is taken away at a very early age, similarly to Holden. Holden knew something had happened and then “asked Jane what the hell was going on. She wouldn’t answer me” (78). Salinger wanted Jane to have a secret, making her seem more mature. Holden couldn’t get a word out of her, “then all of a sudden, this tear plopped down on the checkerboard. On one of the red squares-boy, I can still see it. She just rubbed it into the board with her finger” (78).
Earlier in the novel the color red symbolized redemption of childhood and innocence. After Jane’s introduction, red became a symbol of sudden loss of innocence. Salinger used the symbol red for comfort for Jane similar to Holden. Jane also uses red for a symbol of comfort when, “after awhile, she got up and went in and put on this red and white sweater she had” (79). Although a loss of innocence comes with growing up, Jane had hers snatched away from her. As Holden paid attention to this he wanted to make it his job to not have it happen to other children.
Holden has an unrealistic drive to save children’s innocence, and continues to call older people “phonies” for growing up. Holden has this irrational goal of saving people from losing their innocence. It’s impracticable because children must lose their innocence in order to grow up and survive in the world. His cause came to light while he was making his way through a museum. He has a vision that being in this glass case “nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you” (121).
Although this ideal is impractical why the author is using this symbol is to show being in a glass case could save you from ever being hurt. He restlessly thinks about Phoebe and how one day she will grow up. The more he “kept walking and walking, I kept thinking about old Phoebe going to that museum” (122). The author now introduces Phoebe as vulnerable to growing up, making Holden even more desperate to save her. Holden was unable to save his brother, but is now yearning to help her sister not become part of the rat race. As he walks down the museum he “took my old hunting hat out of my pocket while I walked, and put it on” (122).
Whenever Holden puts on the hat he knows it’s in vein because his innocence is lost so he decides to save everyone else because he knows he can no longer save himself. Every kid loses their innocence from growing up, Jane had hers taken away from her, and Holden took it as his responsibility to make sure it doesn’t happen to his little sister Phoebe. Although Holden’s ideal has to do with saving children, his main priority is Phoebe. Phoebe is the youngest figure in his life and is at the age where she is between a child and adolescent. When Holden feels Phoebe’s innocence is threatened, he gets defensive and angry.
As he walked the halls of Phoebe’s school he comes across profanity written on the wall and automatically thinks “how Phoebe and all the other little kids who would see it, and how they’d wonder what it meant, and finally some dirty kid would tell them and maybe even worry about it” (201). This upsets him because profanity is a gateway to loosing innocence completely. Phoebe created the whole gist of becoming a hero figure of The Catcher in the Rye. He kept “picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all.
Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around- nobody big, I mean- except me. What I’d have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff” (173). Holden’s altruistic ideal is now proposed in words that he wants to keep children from falling off the edge, and becoming a grownup which to him is the same as death. Holden than gives Phoebe his red hunting hat as a way to never truly lose her innocence. Only to be disappointed to see her “take off my red hunting hat-the one I gave her- and practically chucked it right in my face” (207).
Salinger delibritly put this in the book to show that everyone must lose their innocence at one time or another and cannot be avoided but only postponed. “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). This challenged the thoughts of Holden’s ideal of being The Catcher in the Rye. Throughout the book he constantly believes he can save others, and watching Phoebe reach for something that she might fall off of scared him, but not enough for him to go save her.
He found that children must always learn and that’s how they become adults. J. D. Salinger’s, The Catcher in the Rye illustrates the lifelong struggle Holden goes through as he tries to save the children in his life from losing their innocence. Salinger strengthens his message by using the constant symbol of the color red throughout the novel. By connecting Allie, Phoebe, and Jane to the color red, Salinger is able to show the readers rather than tell them, that in order to function as an adult, one must suffer and persevere.
Because Holden’s only mission in life is to save children from “growing up” he tries and fails numerous times, setting the perfect stage for Salenger’s final act. Salinger keeps this message alive throughout the novel by taking the readers through the life of Holden, challenging his ideas, and even crushing his hope in life. Ultimately, Holden learns through his experiences that all children must grow up eventually, and thus, he must find a new goal in life and a new way to get through each day.
Cite this Main Character of “Catcher in the Rye”
Main Character of “Catcher in the Rye”. (2016, Oct 29). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/main-character-of-catcher-in-the-rye/