Truth and Innocence in the Catcher Research Paper

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Truth and Innocence in the Catcher in the Rye

Salinger's novel, The Catcher in the Rye continues to be an influential novel for much of America's youth because it touches on a sad aspect of coming of age. In the novel, Holden Caulfield attempts to cling to his innocence and avoid entering into the pretentious world of adulthood. His journey is one marked with a deep struggle, partly because he is stubborn and partly because he is troubled. He is withdrawn and wants to remain that way but in his attempt to leave the world, his voice becomes one that echoes through the generations. Readers can admire Holden for his desire to hold onto the innocence of youth. We all wish we could live in an innocent world. However, Holden cannot stop the passage of time and it will go on whether or not he decides to grow up. Salinger presents this struggle realistically with Holden; Holden is believable and we feel for him as the innocence slips from his fingers. The Catcher in the Rye is Holden's story but it also belongs the ghost of youth as years carry us from one life stage to another. Holden appreciates the beauty of youth but it is a skewed beauty and it does not exist in the real world. The novels remains a success because Salinger kept Holden in his world unaffected and young. The last scene reveals an inevitability looming in the future but still far away. With Holden, readers can remember what it was like to be young and understand why they cannot stay that way.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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In 1934, Salinger attended Valley Forge Military Academy in Pennsylvania, where he began to attempt writing seriously. He wrote columns for the college newspaper and in 1939, he signed up for a short-story class at Columbia University. A year later, his short story, "the Young Folks" was published. Stevick notes that Salinger was not interested in events or setting in his stories as mush as he was interested in the "human voice" (Stevick). For Salinger, writes Stevick, the "art and centrality of voice mean something more than simply a preference for the rendering of talk. He had an uncanny knack for producing in print the effect of a character's unique speech" (Stevick). This voice resonated with an entire generation of youngsters that could relate to a world seemingly full of phonies. Salinger also used "childhood, adolescence, or youth as both an object of interest in itself and as a thematic lever by means of which the nature of the wider world could be pried open. Sensitive and perceptive, Salinger's younger characters are unable to prevail against the hypocrisy around them" (Stevick). This combination proves to be a tremendous success as readers begin to feel as if they know Holden and can hear his voice.

The Catcher in the Rye certainly revolves around that aspect of the human voice with the character of Holden. The most important aspect of Holden's experiences is the conflict he encounters while growing up. Robert Spiller claims the novel is a "true testament of a generation opposed to the spiritual vulgarity" (Spiller 1462) of a particular society. "The Catcher in the Rye" is "innocent and experienced in the "classic American manner" (1462), states Spiller, because Holden searches New York for "love truth, and simplicity" (1462). The novel is also "colloquial and tangy" (1462), because it is Holden's first-person experience of "hurt innocence" (1462). The book is a "neo-picaresque novel" that shaped its own "kind of terror and slapstick; it created fashion" (1462). With this character, America "could recognize its own character, its own self-betrayals in the dejections of one boy" (1462). Holden may be young but he is already a cynic when it comes to the world around him and the grown ups populating it. He looks around and sees phony people. He represents the quintessential angst-ridden youth because he has everything figured out and he wants no part of the grownup world. His desire to avoid growing up is the struggle because he must grow up and once he accepts the world is not how he dreams it to be, he must surrender the innocence that he wants so desperately to keep.

Holden clings to innocent and simplistic views of humanity and the world. This forces him to resist conformity at any level. His roommate, while he understands him, also knows Holden is his own worst enemy. He tells Holden, "No wonder you're flunking the hell out of here . . . You don't do one damn thing the way you're supposed to (Salinger 41). This nonconformity is more than the simple rebellion we usually she with teenagers who resist authority. Holden's nonconformity is linked to his deep desire for innocence and the fact that all grownups are phony and cannot be trusted. One of the best examples of Holden's desire to cling to innocence is when he tries to wash away the graffiti. He wants to remove it but he simply cannot because there is too much all over the world. This thought makes him "near crazy" (Salinger 201) as he realizes he alone is not capable of making the world a better place to live. The conflict is great and while the desire is admirable, it is exhausting, as we discover with Holden's mental state.

The innocence that is generally associated with youth oozes from the pages of this novel but there is also more to it. Jonathon Baumbach writes The Catcher in the Rye is "not only about innocence, it is actively for innocence" (Baumbach 124). Even the title aims for the protection of innocence with the image of saving falling children. However, as Baumbach points out the image of saving children is the only positive action in the novel "despite the impossibility of its realization" (124). This kind of protection is an ideal to which he can aspire but he can never attain. The final scene forces Holden to see the truth of things while he watches Phoebe. He writes:

I felt so damn happy all of a sudden, the way old Phoebe kept going around and around, I was damn near bawling, I felt so damn happy, if you want to know the truth. I don't know why . . . God, I wish you could have been there" (Salinger 213).

This scene asserts is the "special quality" (Baro 119) of the novel, according to Gene Baro. It encapsulates Salinger's "humaneness' (119) because it "engages the reader's civilized sympathies for the puzzled and troubled individuals whose sensibilities civilization has injured" (119). Pewter Seng maintains that Holden sees the world as pretentious and full of "social compromise" (Seng). Holden would prefer a world that is "honest, sincere, simple" (Seng). He is looking for a simple truth but there are none. Life is complex and readers see how society damages some sensitive souls and it also sees how these souls have the capacity to survive, should they attempt it. This survival is growing up, more or less.

The novel is also about the inevitability of growing up. While we never see this aspect of Holden, we know it to be true because we have experienced it ourselves and we have watched it happen to others. We must all grow up. Holden does not like the grownups around him but his perception is simply skewed. The world he lives in, the simple, honest world, is the one that does not exist. It only exists in his mind and while it is nice to dream of a world where there is no pain, that simply does not exist -- anywhere. Holden withdraws because he cannot understand. Lisa Privitera maintains the novel is ironic in that Holden is unable to make connections to anyone around him but somehow, through Salinger, he manages to connect with readers primarily because of this aspect. Holden's story is "not only the story of a young man's sad spiral into a nervous breakdown, but it is also about a boy who takes the chances his readers do not feel capable of risking. His failure makes him all the more real for these same readers" (Privitera). This connection is real, whether or not it is made with a fictional character. Holden's prime objective is to keep a good distance between him and those around him but the "harder he tries to keep his family and friends at arm's length, the closer he comes to making unexpected discoveries about them and even himself" (Privitera). Holden hinges on the edge of making these discoveries and if the novel had continued, they would have no doubt occurred in some form or fashion. We read Holden and we remember a part of ourselves. We also read Holden and realize he is living in a fantasy world from which he must break if he wants to live a full life and reach his potential. While he is an excellent voice to the angst-filled teenager, he cannot live in that… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Truth and Innocence in the Catcher.  (2010, July 26).  Retrieved July 7, 2020, from

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"Truth and Innocence in the Catcher."  26 July 2010.  Web.  7 July 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Truth and Innocence in the Catcher."  July 26, 2010.  Accessed July 7, 2020.