Catcher in the Rye - Holden Caulfield


In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield views the world as an evil and corrupt place where there is no peace. "His anger turned to relentlessly unforgiving social scorn." (Coles)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.

"Holden Caulfield had much going for him--a comfortable suburban life and a privileged educational background in a private school." (Coles) During the short period of Holden's life covered in this book. Shortly after Holden leaves Pencey Prep, he checks in to the Edmont Hotel. This is " what Holden Caulfield would call ?the phony world?." (French) Holden spends the following evening in the hotel which was "full of perverts and morons. [There were] screwballs all over the place."(Salinger 61) 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 corruption. He looks out on a world which appears completely immoral and unscrupulous. In those three days the novel places 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. 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. But this was a major let down for him. Mr. Antolini was what Holden had thought of as a father type figure but it turns out Mr. Antolini ruined the sense of trust between them. 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."(Salinger 134) 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..."(Salinger 130) 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" (Salinger 202) 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" (Salinger 202) 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 unerasable "fuck-you" (Salinger 204). This incident is the beginning