Love, Affection, and Adulthood
In J.D. Salingers controversial 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye, the main character is Holden Caulfield. When the story begins Holden at age sixteen, due to his poor grades is kicked out of Pencey Prep, a boys school in Pennsylvania. This being the third school he has been expelled from, he is in no hurry to face his parents. Holden travels to New York for several days to cope with his disappointments. As James Lundquist explains, Holden is so full of despair and loneliness that he is literally nauseated most of the time. In this novel, Holden, a lonely and confused teenager, attempts to find love and direction in his life. Holdens story is realistic because many adolescents face similar challenges.
J.D. Salinger presents Holden Caulfield as a confused and distressed adolescent. Holden is a normal teenager who needs to find a sense of belonging. All though Holdens obsession with phonies overpowers him. Dan Wakefield comments, The things that Holden finds so deeply repulsive are things he calls phony- and the phoniness in every instance is the absence of love, and , often the substitution of pretense for love. Holden was expelled from Pencey Prep School not because he is stupid, but because he just is not interested. His attitude toward Pencey is everyone there is a phony. Pencey makes Holden feel lonely and isolated because he had very few friends. Holdens feeling of alienation is seen when he doesnt attend the biggest football game of the year. His comments on the game: It was the last game of the year and you were supposed to commit suicide or something if old Pencey didnt win (2, Ch. 1). This also hints to Holdens obsession with death. Holden cant find a since of belonging in the school because of all the so-called phonies. Holden speaks of Penceys headmaster as being a phony. Holden says that on visitation day the headmaster will pay no attention to the corny-looking parents. Holden portrays his not being interested by saying, all you do is study so that you can learn enough to be smart enough to buy a goddam Cadillac someday, and you have to keep making believe you give a damn if the football team loses(131, Ch. 17). Holden does not care for school or money. He just wants everyone to be sincere and honest.
Holden’s obsession with phonies causes him to have no positive adult role models to follow. This restrains him from becoming close to anyone but children. He is lost among the feelings and actions of becoming an adult. It seems that Holdens parents were never affectionate to him. By sending Holden off to these boys schools, his parents seem to have abandoned him. In addition, his parents were briefly mentioned in the novel gives the idea that he isnt close to them. Holden misses being able to talk to his parents. Holdens father is a sophisticated lawyer who seems to have tried to buy Holdens love. This in Holdens eyes characterizes his father as a phony. When Holden and Phoebe discuss what Holden should be; Phoebe suggests him being a lawyer like his father. Holden believes lawyers are good if theyre protecting innocent peoples lives. His materialistic side sees a lawyer in a different way. Holden comments on lawyers, All you do is make a lot of dough and play golf and bridge and buy cars and drink Martinis and look like a hot-shot(172, Ch. 22). Holdens father has provided him with materialistic love but has never showed him much affection. This causes Holden to restrain from having his father as an adult role model. Holdens mother is still grieving over Allies death. Holden pretends to be blind and shouts, Mother darling give me your hand. Why wont you give me your hand(21, Ch. 3)? Holden loves to clown around, but this incident reflects the feelings of isolation Holden receives from his parents. The affection from ones parents is very important during a time of such transition from a child to an adult. The absence of parental love made Holden feel like all adults were phony. This obviously causing him to have no adult role models leaving him to feel lonely and unloved.
Holden believes all adults are phony and fears he will become a phony. He feels that they have two different sides to them the phony or showy side and the true hidden side. Coming from a wealthy family, Holden is lonely from human touch. Holden is sickened by the effect that material values have on love in todays society. Holden comments:
Take most people. Theyre crazy about cars. They worry
if they get a little scratch on them, and theyre always talking
about how many miles they get to a gallon, and if they get a
brand-new car already they start thinking about trading it in
for one thats even newer. I dont even like old cars. I mean
they dont interest me. Id rather have a goddam horse. A
horse is at least human for Gods sake(130, Ch. 17).
With this comment, Holden explains that material values have taken the place of people. In todays society it seems that people worry more about material values than actually loving a person for who they are.
Holdens thoughts of death are not typical of most adolescents. This may come from his experiences with death in his early years. One of these experiences was the death of his younger brother, Allie, who died from leukemia at the age of ten. The other experience is the death of James Castle, a boy from a former school, who committed suicide after being harassed by other students. Holden constantly dwells on the death of his brother, Allie. It is apparent that Holden loves and misses Allie. Holden carries around a baseball mitt in remembrance of Allie. This mitt means a lot to Holden because his brother had written poetry on the glove. Holden has no one to teach him how to cope with death comments Gerald Rosen. Therefore, the death of Allie has made Holden feel lonely and afraid to feel loved by anyone again.
Religion is a very confusing subject to Holden Caufield. Holden has not forgiven God for the death of his brother. He explains his concept as not having a religion by saying, my parents are different religions, and all the children in our family are atheists(100, Ch. 14). Everyone has his or her own choice of what religion to believe. In Holdens case, he could use some religious guidance. On several attempts to search for love, Holden has needed someone who could give him advice. If he had a specific religion he would have someone to talk to at all times. I agree when David Galloway says, To act with morality and love in a universe in which God is dead is perhaps the most acute problem of our age. Holden could use some faith of God to help him through this rocky time. Ossenburger, the owner of several funeral parlors, gave a speech to the students of Pencey. Ossenburger was more or less preaching to the students. Ossenburger said, he talked to Jesus all the time(17, Ch. 3). Holden points out that Ossenburger was asking Jesus to send him more stiffs. This perhaps is an illusion to the religious guidance that is absence in Holdens life.
Holden travels to New York for a mini-vacation to cope with his disappointments. In New York Holden tries again and again to contact anyone to alleviate his loneliness, while trying to overcome his feelings of distress Holden experiments with liquor, sex, night-clubs, and movies. Holden stays in a hotel in New York. This hotel is where he is approached by Maurice, a prostitutes pimp. Holden accepts Maurices plan for the prostitute to come to Holdens room. Holden is really nervous and excited at the same time because he is a virgin. Once Sunny, the prostitute, arrives Holden decides he just wants to have someone to talk to that will understand him. Holden says, Sexy was about the last thing I was feeling, I felt much more depressed than sexy(95, Ch 13). The reason for Holden being depressed was he had failed again at relating to someone. Sunny had dull personality and seemed to have no feeling of love. This is not at all what Holden is looking for. Holdens search for love and understanding has failed. Holden runs to the only person that he can trust Phoebe, his ten years old sister. He believes children are the only people he can trust because they tell you exactly what they are thinking. The only person he seems to relate to is Phoebe. Holden meets with Phoebe by sneaking into his parents home late at night. Phoebe makes him feel better because she tells the complete truth. Holden tries to lie to her about being expelled from another school, but Phoebe sees right through him. Then Holden just begins to share all the problems on his mind with Phoebe. This is where Holden portrays the title of the book. Holden is so obsessed with preserving the innocents of children, he tells Phoebe he wants to be the catcher in the rye. Holden says, 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(173, Ch. 22). What Holden really wants to help those children make the transition of becoming an adult. After informing Phoebe that he is going to escape his responsibilities by running away, Holden visits with Mr. Antolini, a former English teacher he admires. Mr. Antolini sees that Holden is in a state of confusion and tries to provide him with good advice. He also tells Holden that he needs to pay more attention to school. Mr. Antolini says, but I think that once you have a fair idea where you want to go, your first move will be to apply yourself to school (189, Ch. 24). It seems that Holden has finally found someone to give him advice and support. Holden really trust and understands Mr. Antolini, but Mr. Antolini makes homosexual advances toward Holden. Here again Holden fails to establish a concept of understanding with another.
Arriving at Phoebes school to leave her a note Holden sees Fuck you written on the wall of the school. Thinking about all the kids seeing it and wondering what it meant, Holden went over and rubbed it off. This again shows how Holden wants to preserve the innocents of children. When he meets Phoebe at the Museum, she insisted to go with him. Holden decides not run away because of his sisters love. Holden feels responsible for Phoebe. Holden finally goes home, where he becomes ill, and is admitted to a psychiatric ward.
Holden is afraid of becoming an adult. The fact that Holden knows he cant stay a child makes him depressed. He must fall off the cliff of childhood into the world of adulthood. The transition from a child to an adult is very tragic to Holden. All
adolescents have to overcome this struggle to adulthood. Does love and affection make adulthood easier? Love and affection from another human being can go a long ways. Holden just could not find love or affection from anyone. His parents fail to give affection so he turns to others. Holden greatly needed some adult role models but could not see past his obession with phonies. Hans Bungert comments, Holden possesses a refined moral instinct, an unusually critical but also creative intellect, a lively imagination, a passion for asking questions and, above all, a great desire for contact and love. This search keeps Holden preoccupied so that he does not see all the love around him. The suffering from the inability to feel love drives Holden to a state of mental illness.