Catcher in the Rye Deconstruction

1 January 2017

Some consider Caulfield a symbol innocence, and its loss as an inevitable step towards the transition to adulthood. So a question arises; is Holden really worthy of all this hype? Is he a protector of innocence and a shining beacon of hope for teen misfits in a cold, dark world? To put it simply, no. His innocence, and protection thereof, is not entirely sound. Holden is hardly the epitome of virtue, nor is he an exemplary example of the passage to adulthood. As a character, he is hypocritically cynical and whiningly lonesome.

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Holden Caulfield is about as inspiring as a pinkie toe. Main character aside, the idea of all children being innocent until unavoidably corrupted by the adult world is false. Holden lacks innocence and success in life, and his entire purpose in life is a lie, meaning he must conform or he will suffer the pitiful remainder of his life in dissatisfaction. Throughout the course of The Catcher in the Rye, it becomes obvious that Holden Caulfield is uncomfortable with the notion of sex. He talks about it constantly, to the point it becomes vexatious, but sex clearly scares him.

When discussing girls he really likes, Holden shows that he can’t have intimate or sexual relationships with them: “You never wanted to kid Jane too much. I think I really like it best when the opportunity arises, but it’s a funny thing. The girls I like best are the one I never feel much like kidding” (p 79). One might argue that Holden’s viewpoint is refreshing and a great display of righteous morals. Caulfield’s mindset shows that he views sex as objectifying and demeaning, and is virtuous enough that he would never treat a nice girl in such a manner.

However, the fact that Holden would need to objectify a woman in order to have sex is atrocious, not commendable. From the mind of a child, sex might be gross or a weird adult thing, but never demeaning. The fact that Holden would lead a girl on while he hates her, is extremely inconsiderate: “Then just to show you how crazy I am, when we were coming out of this big clinch, I told her I loved her and all. It was a lie, of course, but the thing is, I meant it when I said it. I’m crazy. I swear to God I am” (p 125).

Some might argue that Holden genuinely cares for Sally, but he described his feelings for her quite clearly in an earlier chapter: “She gave me a pain in the ass, but she was good looking” (p 106). Holden Caulfield is not so respectful to women that he can not stand to take advantage of them, on the contrary, he is so degrading towards women that he needs to view them as objects to derive pleasure from them. Altogether, Caulfield is not an example of virtuous morals or childlike behaviour. Holden Caulfield’s greatest desire is to defend innocents from the evil corruption of immoral adults.

He compares this task to a catcher in the rye: “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” (p 173). Holden’s aspiration, while quite noble, is delusional. He is extremely biased in his view of children, regarding them with an unhealthy admiration. Conversely, an adult can do nothing wrong, and still unleash Holden’s hatred.

For instance, he sees a woman crying at an sentimental movie, and instantly labels her as a phony. He believes she could not possibly be genuinely emotional, as she fails to take her child to the bathroom: “The part that got me was, there was a lady sitting next to me that cried all through the goddam picture. The phonier it got, the more she cried. You’d have thought she did it because she was kindhearted as hell, but I was sitting right next to her, and she wasn’t. She had this little kid with her that was bored as hell and had to go to the bathroom, but she wouldn’t take him.

She kept telling him to sit and behave himself. She was about as kindhearted as a goddam wolf” (p 139). Holden never considered that the child might have been mischievous or apathetic, or that an adult could legitimately feel sadness. His outlook on life blinds him from reality. Later on, when Holden went to his sister’s school and found “fuck you” written on the wall. In his mind, children are completely incapable of committing immoral acts, and the only probable vandal had to be an evil adult that snuck in: Somebody’d written ‘Fuck you’ on the wall. It drove me damn near crazy.

I thought how Phoebe and all the other little kids would see it, and how they’d wonder what it meant, and then finally some dirty kid would tell them – all cockeyed, naturally, what it meant, and how they’d all think about it and maybe even worry about it for a couple of days. I kept wanting to kill whoever’d written it. I figured it was some perverty bum that’d sneaked in the school late at night to take a leak or something and then wrote it on the wall (p 201). In all likelihood, a child from the school, not a “perverty bum,” was the culprit that defaced the walls.

Additionally, Holden Caulfield is unable to find any good adults who are clearly worthy of admiration. Anyone talented at a certain skill is marked as phony: “If you do something too good, then, after a while, if you don’t watch it, you start showing off. And then you’re not as good anymore” (p 126). In the end, neither adults nor children are innocent, yet both are far from being evil. Salinger’s famous novel receives praise for its illustration of a difficult transition into adulthood. However, no proof exists of Holden’s maturity, nor of any childlike innocence.

He is depicted smoking, swearing, lying, propositioning prostitutes, delivering hypocritical judgement, and constantly fantasizing about sex, among many others. At the end of the novel, however, Holden appears to be writing from a mental hospital trying to reshape his life. Yet there is no indication that Holden has learned to conform, or set aside his delusions about the world. If The Catcher in the Rye does not indicate that adulthood is the cause of corruption, nor does it demonstrate hope for troubled teens, what is it trying to tell us?

Well, in the end, the novel protests delusions and nonconformity. Holden Caulfield’s lack of willingness to leave behind his ideal of innocence causes his depression and failure. Why would he want to find a place in an adult world of corruption and malice? On the other hand, Holden does not belong in an innocent and virtuous world of children. Therein lies the heart of his troubles. Until Holden Caulfield can set aside his delusions, and accept the world as it is, he is doomed.

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