“Catcher in the Rye:” Analysing Purpose

J.D. Salinger’s purpose for writing “The Catcher in the Rye” was to show how precious childhood is and to show how children need to be shielded from the adult life. When it comes to the very separate realms of childhood and adulthood, Holden fits in the childhood realm the most. He’s often a hypocrite and is never as perfect as he wants to be. The reader sees all of these characteristics of Holden in his interactions with others. Because of the death of his brother at a young age, Holden has found it hard to continue growing up. Since his brother died when he was a kid, Holden thinks childhood needs to be preserved and children need to be protected from adult life.

Holden is a rebellious character who hates authority and who is also very quick to judge adults and those of authority. Children however, are a different story. Pheobe, Holden’s sister is younger and they are very close. It’s easy to assume Holden doesn’t like anyone; however, he does like children. He is much more patient with them. For example, Holden said, “God, I love it when a kid’s nice and polite when you tighten their skate for them or something. Most kids are. They really are,” (119). The way Holden feels about children is unique to any other quality he has. He’s much more caring and less self-centered with children. Towards the end of the book we see more of Holder caring for children. Although he felt passionate about them the whole book, we see more of the actions he does to protect them later on in the book. He calls adults phonies and doesn’t like adults because of their negative influence on kids at times since he tries to protect them.

Although Holden continues to act like a child throughout the book, which is why he fits in the childhood realm the best, he also has some adult-like qualities. He goes out to smoke and drink, but he doesn’t understand some things of the adult world like sex and curse words. When Holden noticed a curse word the kids might see, he said, “I saw something that drove me crazy. Somebody’d written “Fuck you” on the wall. It drove me near damn crazy. I thought how Phoebe and all the other little kids would see it and how they’d wonder what the hell 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.” (201) This shows how he tried to shield the kids from the word and how upset he was at whoever did it, when a normal adult wouldn’t be as bothered by seeing a curse word. Holden struggles with growing up. Holden is seen as an adult on the outside because of his appearance, but on the inside he has the thoughts and attitude of a child. Although Holden believes these realms to be very separate, he is actually in a way part of both of them.

Holden isn’t as perfect as he wants to be. He is quick to see the faults in others, but often struggles to see the faults in himself. He thinks he’s the only one who feels depressed and understands the world around him. Holden often felt depressed since he never seemed to really connect with anyone. He is a hypocrite since he goes around calling adults phonies and liars and is appalled by things they do, and then he goes out and does similar things. Holden even goes so far to call himself a liar. Holden said, “I’m the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life… If I’m on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I’m going, I’m liable to say I’m going to the opera.” (16) Holden lies even just to lie. He doesn’t do it because he has to, he does it because he wants to. The fact some of his lies don’t even seem to have much of a purpose; other than lying just to lie, really shows how much of a hypocrite Holden really is since he lies without a purpose or thought and then has no problem calling adults phonies and liars.

When reading a poem and misinterpreting a word and saying “Catcher” instead, it became evident what Holden’s purpose was. Holden wants to “catch the children who fall off the cliff and protect their innocence.” Holden said, “Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around—nobody big, I mean—except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. 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. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.” Holden saying that he wants to catch the kids from going over the cliff signifies how important it is for him to protect them and the innocence in general.

Holden’s brother lost his childhood at a young age since he died. In turn, Holden himself also lost his childhood and innocence at a young age because of his brother dying. Since he and his brother lost their childhood and innocence when they were young, Holden feels like it’s his duty to now preserve other’s innocence as well which is why he want to be the “Catcher in the Rye” which shows the purpose of the novel; protecting innocence.

Holden had to quit going to Pencey, a prep school, because he was failing, and also not following the rules. Holden was told, “Life is a game, boy. Life is a game that one plays according to the rules.” (8) Holden doesn’t like people telling him what to do, which is one of the reasons he didn’t last at Pencey, since Pencey enforces following the rules so much.

Holden’s purpose is to protect innocence; authority stifles innocence and creativity to make one follow the rules which is why Holden may not be subject to authority.

Holden is very wary of authority. He said, “If you want to know the truth, I can’ even stand ministers…I don’t see why the hell they can’t talk in their natural voice. They sound so phony when they talk,” (100). This shows how disgruntled any type of authority makes Holden feel. Authority enforces rules and rules stifle creativity, and open expression, which children seem to have a lot of at a young age; which is why Holden isn’t a fan of authority.

All of Holden’s characteristics: being a liar but also a hypocrite, being too critical and judgmental of others, and being a child are all personality traits seen throughout the book and all of these personality traits help connect Salinger’s purpose together. And that is that childhood is an important time in someone’s life. Childhood should be protected. Because Holden’s purpose seems to be protecting the innocence, it makes sense that he would be judgmental and critical of adults who stifle children’s creativity and way they want to do things.


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