The Catcher in The Rye (1951) is a novel by J.D Salinger in which a young man by the name of Holden Caulfield takes the reader on the journey of his life and his mind in his late teen years. The novel explores many themes including the theme of youth and the innocence of it. This essay will discuss this theme(youth) and how Holden viewed and how much he valued youth through exploring the title of the novel as a metaphor. Firstly the essay will the essay will discuss the metaphor that is seen in the title of the novel. Secondly, it will discuss a situation in which the metaphor is implied and lastly it will discuss the views that Holden has on childhood.
The use of the title of the novel, “The Catcher in The Rye” is first seen in chapter 22 of the novel. The title of the novel is a metaphor on which the entire novel is built. Holden explains that he wants to be a “catcher in the rye” and goes on to further explain that this would mean he would be a preserver of childhood. Holden sees a “catcher in the rye” as someone who stops children from falling to their doom, in this case doom would be adulthood and all its hypocrisies. The metaphor of “catcher in the rye” is equivalent to Holden’s vision of life as one that may be somehow be held fast and become manageable. It is through this metaphor that we learn that Holden views childhood as a period of innocence while on the other hand adulthood is the “cliff” that one falls over. The metaphor not only implies that Holden is trying desperately to hold on to the innocence of childhood but he seems to want to find meaning of life.
Even after his sister, Phoebe, tells him the true meaning of the phrase, “it’s ‘if a body meet a body coming through the rye’!”, he still insists on believing his own truth. Holden holds on to his own wrong truth for one simple reason: there must be something or someone to “catch” and hold on to in order to find meaning in such a lonely and alienated world. This leads us to conclude that the novel as a whole is linked to this metaphor, it is a novel about young man who is holding on desperately to youth and its innocence through his ignorance to the world and by “latching” on to his younger sister and his deceased younger brother.
There are many instances in the novel where metaphor of the title is implied. Like with the death of James Castle, James dies when he falls out of a window but what makes his death significant is that he dies wearing one of Holden’s sweaters. The sweater means that Holden is somewhat in a way there when Castle dies but he still fails to fulfil his role and duty as the “catcher in the rye” by not being there to catch his friend when he dies. All the parts where the metaphor is implied are all important but the most important has to be the role of Allie, the deceased younger brother. Allie has been dead for about three years but is still seen as an important character in the novel and the main reason for this is the innocence that was lost when he died. As a “catcher in the rye” Holden should be able to at least protect his own younger brother.
Holden and Allie are very close and so much so that Holden temporarily goes crazy when he finds out about his brother’s death, “I was only thirteen, and they were going to have me psychoanalysed and all, because I broke all the windows in the garage”. Allie’s death may be the trigger that leads Holden to wanting to be the “catcher in the rye”, not being able to save his brother or rather not being able to “catch” him and preserve his innocence leads him to having a fixation on holding off adulthood and death. Allie had an innocence that his brother fails to catch.
The guilt of not being able to hold onto his brother’s innocence, youth and life leads him to connect more to his sister who he still views as innocent and young, it also leads him not letting himself grow up as well, he makes sure to hold on to whatever little youth that he has left. The fixation on childhood and innocence may not at all be linked to Holden wanting to be a catcher in the rye but rather be linked to his failure as a catcher in the rye.
Childhood and its innocence can be seen as the main theme in this novel seeing as the main character is so attached to these two things. In Holden’s ideal world everyone is a child and this is simply because he believes that once people become adults they become corrupted by society, this is why Holden is so dismissive of authority and why he cares not to take any advice from any of his teachers. He views adults as “phonies” who pretend to know everything, this is why he has such a love for childhood and hence his obsession for childhood. He keeps his sister close to him and avoids his parents because he does not want to grow up, he fears adulthood and the responsibilities that it brings.
Things like being sexually active which unlike other boys his age he has avoided, even when the time comes for him to lose his virginity he handles it with trepidation, ‘I thought I’d be feeling a lot better than I do. I was a little premature in my calculations. No kidding. I’m sorry.”. He also only prefers speaking to his sister as a way to play his role of “catcher in the rye” and preserving her innocence and also keeping his own innocence, “If Phoebe’d been there, I probably would have, but she wasn’t.”. Childhood seems to be the only thing that makes sense to our main character.
This essay has shown the significance of the metaphor found in the title “The Catcher in the Rye” through discussing the metaphor itself and showing that the novel as a whole is linked to the metaphor and how it builds our character and the novel itself. And also by discussing examples of the metaphor and showing what leads the amin character to wanting to being the catcher in the rye and also the main character’s views childhood and how they have shaped him not wanting to grow up and lose his innocence.