In The Catcher In The Rye Salinger portrays the main character Holden Caulfield as a protector of innocence which is shown through his protection of children, giving up his own innocence to help others, and his disgust of the graffiti on the walls. Holden is a very strong minded individual and is very open about the way he feels about things. Although it does not seem that he is the “protector of innocence” at first, as the story progresses he begins to shed more of his own innocence to affect those around him.
The main way Holden wants to be a protector is to keep children from growing up and becoming phony and corrupt as he feels most adults become. Some would believe that Holden has become obsessed with his sister even if he just wants to protect her. Holden does not want her to change. Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone. I know that’s impossible but it’s too bad anyway. Anyway, I kept thinking about all that while I walked.
Holden’s sister, Phoebe, is his connection to children. Holden believes all children are like her and that they are much more superior than adults. When an adult does something that is somewhat abnormal, Holden finds this a disgusting show of what people become as they get older Holden would like to keep Phoebe a child because he is troubled by the differences he sees between children and adults, both in their physical appearances and in their personalities. Holden finds children physically acceptable under any condition, but not adults. Holden then has a dream to become a “catcher” and save all the children who may fall. Holden’s wish to become this catcher begins to propel him through his novel and in the end gives him a purpose to even continue living. Since the beginning of the novel Holden never really expresses any liking for anything in the world except his sister. When he begins to think about his sister and all of the things she is going through he begins to feel a purpose and. To a person who never felt like his life had any direction and gave him something to focus on. Holden expresses his wish of becoming a catcher in a quiet speech to himself:
I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody big. I mean—except me. And 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. (179) From this quote it is quite obvious that Holden is losing sight of reality and that he is becoming more unstable. But, since the beginning of the story he has the attitude of dislike towards everything like when he refers to his friends English assignment “…he asked me if I’d written his goddam composition for him. I told him it was on the goddam bed.”(40) He still complains, but not as much now that he begins thinking about his sister. Throughout the story, Holden often comments on something that he does not think is cool to him. He would not refer to it as that, but the reader may get the impression as he refers to things that are unjust or selfish as being “phony”(79). When ever someone does something that he just does not plain like he calls it phony. This is a show of his protection of innocence evidently because this is one example of something that he has always done. It has not occurred because of his want to become a “catcher”. Holden simply feels the outside world is phony and does not want his sister corrupted by them.
Holden would like to keep children as innocent as he can, he believes that he has already lost his innocence and eventually gives up his own to help the other children. Holden would go through his time in New York not focusing on anything specific. He just went there to have fun and pass the time. After his “catching” dream he goes through various phases where he begins to change, and his innocence begins to be stripped so that he is more able to assist those he must catch. He seems to believe that he does not have any innocence during his journey, but the thing is he is still much like a child he is in some small ways. This really interests him because that is what he wanted to be like. Holden does not realize that he still has some of his innocence until he has already begun to shed his innocence. Warren French explains:
Holden’s desire to be a “catcher in the rye,” who would stand at the end of “some crazy cliff” and keep the kids who are running around the field without paying any attention to where they are going from falling over the edge, thus allowing them to remain forever playing some carefree game.
This is when Holden begins to fall further from what is actually happening around him. It would be hard for the reader to distinguish whether or not Holden has finally given up what he has to do to become this “catcher in the rye”, or if he simply does not care because of his feelings of unimportance in his own life. These things together or separate make Holden finally decide what he is going to do. Before his final transformation can occur, he has to go through a scenario that triggers a new outlook on getting older. He begins to walk across New York and does not stop until he is “way up in the sixties” (178) . Holden then begins to call out to his dead brother Allie to help him not disappear. He continues to do this scenario until it ultimately inspires his innocent conclusion:
To understand why childhood might “disappear” in a street, one must realize the symbolic significance of movement… when he arrives at the house and asks Mrs.
Spencer , “How’s Mr. Spencer. He over his Grippe yet?” and she answers, “Over it! Holden he’s acting like a perfect—I don’t know what.” Mr. Spencer is behaving like a perfect—child, one may add….that’s why Holden is able to stop crossing streets when he’s “way up in the Sixties,” is that a man of old Spencer’s age has reached his second childhood.
Holden subconsciously recalls his old history teacher Mr. Spencer and the idea that when someone becomes that age they get a second chance to have the same fun that a child would have.
Finally, Holden shows his disgust for the world that has lost it’s innocence. When Holden’s character is examined it is obvious that he does not like things that are unnecessary. To Holden the words Fuck you and the graffiti are both unnecessary which increases his hate of the corrupt world. This is one of the only things that does not change in Holden’s character throughout the novel. The words “Fuck You”(145) always disgust him. It unnerves him for a few reasons. For example, he does not believe that this is a necessary act, he does not quite understand it, and he feels that it will effect the kin he is protecting:
The obscenity is particularly meaningful to Holden’s Dilemma, for not only does it express an adult act which confuses Holden—”You never know where the hell you are”—the crude statements also suggests a corruption of that act, another worldly influence to be experienced by growing children, as Holden comments when he sees it on the school wall: “I thought how Phoebe and all the
other little kids would see it, and how they’d wonder what the hell it meant.” 5
Holden’s hatred for this kind of defacing is a sign of his lack of innocence. It also shows that he also has some maturity in him as well. The graffiti bothers him throughout the story and always seems to come back to haunt him. Holden has a hate for the World that he would associate to this phrase. He assumes that his whole adult world would have this word as part of their society and that they all think that this sort of thing is right. The reader may not get this idea out of the way he thinks of this, but it is quite apparent that this could be true. If he really did believe that, then he would want to keep children away from it because of the innocence they would lose. The real reason that the reader may notice about his cleaning of the graffiti is that he himself may simply not understand this because he has not yet had this experience truly as an adult would so he combines this with the adult world to form an opinion that this word is crude. Even though it is a crude display Holden may think this for different reasons:
I think, even, if I die and they stick me in a cemetery, and I have a tombstone and all, it’ll say “Holden Caulfield” on it, and then what year I was born and when I died, and then right under that it’ll say “Fuck you.” I’m positive, in fact. (145)
This is Holden’s way. He just simply believes this is the right way to act and think. Some may be, and on other things maybe be completely wrong but Holden is doing and thinking in ways that other teens his age would not. This results in his “Protection of Innocence” upbringing. To Holden there are two types of people, the ones who are innocent like children or those who are a child at heart, and then there are the ones who are Phony.