The Catcher in the Rye Essay Example

JD Salinger's “The Catcher in the Rye” follows offbeat, pessimistic Holden Caulfield on his way back home after being kicked out of Pencey Prep School for flunking most of his classes. Caulfield previously dealt with the death of his brother, Allie, which made him have to grow up a lot faster than he was able to handle. He criticizes the world around him, making him seem to be only a sullen teenager, but his true intentions are discovered throughout the book. In one moment of the novel, it is revealed that he really only craves uncorrupted society and the protection of the innocence of children that he didn’t get.

Holden Caulfield is a clearly troubled child, appearing to everyone around him as a rebel with a negative attitude. He often refers to the world around him as “phony”, and he believes that the world around him is completely corrupt. His travels through New York City on his way home show him even more of the society that he detests. From prostitutes, to angry cab drivers, and everything in between. Every action and thought that Holden has seems to be a protest towards what civilization has become. The journey with him is a wild one, but one that will let the reader see what Holden’s world is really like.

While speaking with his younger sister (not a phony), Holden gives us a peek into his thoughts, and illuminates the true meaning of the book. He speaks of wanting to become “The Catcher in the Rye”, which he interprets as saving children from “some crazy cliff” (P 191). Of course, this is a metaphor. What Holden really means by this is that he wants to protect today's youth from the corruption that he sees everyday. He had to grow up quickly because of his brothers death, as well as other factors that he has endured, and he doesn’t want others to feel the way he has his whole life. Once this is revealed, we can see that Holdens hard outer shell was just covering the fear that he had of not being able to protect the immaculateness of childhood.

Having gathered this new view on Caulfield, it is much easier to interpret his actions as they had been intended in his own mind. From the more obvious behaviors, like fleeing from the prostitute or fighting with his former roommate about having relations with Holdens childhood friend, to the smallest of details. For example, Holden erases swear words from the walls, buys small gifts for his little sister, and enjoys the simple wonders of the world, like where the ducks go in the winter, as well as many other actions that had gone previously unnoticed until understanding what his reasoning for it was. Holden simply wants to protect the children from losing what he did, he does whatever he as an individual can possibly do. 

This clarity brings light to everything that Holden had done and brings certainty to the novel as a whole. While he comes off as the bad guy, the reader eventually comes to find that he has a soft, caring heart for the youth and a passion for preserving innocence. Seeing himself as a savior of sorts is what keeps him going in life, and calling himself the “catcher in the rye” gives him his fate in words. Having the mystery of not knowing really what Holden was truly doing is captivating, and getting that one moment of discovery brings the entirety of the novel together.



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