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The Catcher in the Rye


 In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden views the world as an evil and 
corrupt place where there is no peace. This perception of the world 
does not change significantly through the novel. However as the novel 
progresses, Holden gradually comes to the realization that he is 
powerless to change this.

 During the short period of Holden's life covered in this book, 
"Holden does succeed in making us perceive that the world is crazy".1 
Shortly after Holden leaves Pencey Prep he checks in to the Edmont 
Hotel. This is where Holden's turmoil begins. Holden spends the 
following evening in this hotel which was "full of perverts and 
morons. (There were) screwballs all over the place."2 His situation 
only deteriorates from this point on as the more he looks around this 
world, the more depressing life seems.

 Around every corner Holden sees evil. He looks out on a world 
which appears completely immoral and unscrupulous. The three days we 
learn of from the novel place a distressed Holden in the vicinity of 
Manhattan. The city is decked with decorations and holiday splendor, 
yet, much to Holden's despair "seldom yields any occasions of peace, 
charity or even genuine merriment."3 Holden is surrounded by what he 
views as drunks, perverts, morons and screwballs. These convictions
which Holden holds waver very momentarily during only one particular 
scene in the book. The scene is that with Mr. Antolini. After Mr. 
Antolini patted Holden on the head while he was sleeping, Holden 
jumped up and ran out thinking that Mr. Antolini was a pervert as 
well. This is the only time during the novel where Holden thinks twice 
about considering someone as a pervert. After reviewing Mr. Antolini, 
Holden finally concludes that maybe he wasn't making a "flitty" pass 
at him. Maybe he just like patting guys heads as they sleep. This is 
really the only time in the novel where Holden actually considers a 
positive side. This event does not constitute a significant change. As 
Holden himself says, "It's not too bad when the sun's out, but the sun 
only comes out when it feels like coming out."4 The sun of course is a 
reference to decency through the common association of light
and goodness. His perception of the world remains the same.

 The one conviction that does change during the novel is Holden's 
belief that he can change the world. On his date with Sally, Holden 
reveals his feelings. "Did you ever get fed up?... I mean did you ever 
get scared that everything was going to go lousy unless you did 
something..."5 Holden goes through several plans. Holden at one point 
contemplates heading out west where he will pretend to be a deaf-mute 
and live a quiet life. At another point Holden proposes to Sally to 
escape this world with him. It is finally to his younger sister Phoebe 
that Holden reveals his ultimate plan. Although Holden describes the 
situation in a very picturesque and symbolic manner he essentially 
tells Phoebe 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.

 It takes most of the book before Holden begins to realize that he 
is helpless to stop this corruption. Finally, he realizes that not
only is there nothing that he can do, but there is nowhere he can go 
to hide from it. Holden takes awhile to comprehend these concepts. One 
good example is when Holden is delivering the note to his sister.
He encounters a "fuck-you" written on the wall. Holden careful rubs 
this off with his hand so as to protect the innocent children from 
reading it. Later on he finds "fuck-you" scratched into the surface 
with a knife. He discovers that he can't efface this one. Even in the 
timeless peace of the Egyptian tomb room at the museum there is an 
un-erasable "fuck-you." This incident is the beginning of Holden's 
realization that his dreams are infeasible.6 

 Ironically enough, it is one of the "innocent" children that he is 
trying to protect who helps him come to terms with this realization. 
It is Phoebe who challenges his plan to escape out west. As he is 
telling Phoebe that she can not run away, he discovers that he too can 
not run away. "You can't ever find a place that is nice and peaceful, 
because there isn't any."7 The final break-down comes near the end of 
the book when he is watching Phoebe on the carousel.

 All the kids kept trying to grab for the gold ring, and so was old 
Phoebe, and I was sort of afraid she'd fall off the goddam horse, but 
I didn't say anything or do anything. 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.8 In the above passage from the novel, Holden hits 
the final breakdown. Being "the catcher" becomes obviously 
unrealistic. The gold rings are ironically not gold but really 
brass-plated iron. The gold rings are symbols of the corrupted world 
which always "wears" a shiny surface to hide its evil. It is at this 
point that Holden sees that he can not stop children from growing up 
and therefore losing their innocence. They will fall if they fall, 
there is nothing that can be done.

 Shortly after this point Holden has his nervous breakdown. His 
breakdown is due to this depressing realization that the world is
corrupt and filled with evil. He knows now with a sickening certainty 
that he is powerless to stop both evil and maturation. As a matter of 
fact, it is "bad" to do so.


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