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Catcher In The Rye Essay English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2134 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster (James Baldwin). One cannot hold onto their innocence forever, the longer he or she holds onto it, the more one can lose sight of their selves. In The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, Holden Caulfield struggles in accepting his loss of innocence which leads towards his downfall. Holden is a struggling 16 year-old boy, trying to find his place in the world, a world in which allows him to retain his innocence and as he begins to move towards the adult world, he clings to his innocence in a more urgent desperation. Over the course of three days, the novel follows Holden where he eventually accepts his loss of innocence, but not without going through many struggles along the way first. Through Salinger’s use of symbols, the reader is able to clearly identify Holden’s resistance towards becoming an adult and releasing his innocence. In The Catcher in the Rye, the author uses the Museum of Natural History, the erasing of profanity, and the carousel to reveal that a person cannot avoid his or her loss of innocence and it is difficult to accept that once it is gone, it never comes back.

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Holden visits his childhood spot, Museum of Natural History, symbolizing a world in which nothing has to change which in turn, Holden wishes could apply to life. While reflecting on his memories from the museum he realizes that the reason he loved it so much was because the way he could count on everything staying the same, “The best thing though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move…the only thing that would be different is you” (Salinger 121). Just like the thought of preserving innocence, Holden revels in the thought of everything staying exactly the same, forever. However, Holden knows he has become different, he acknowledges this in the quote. He realizes that he possesses less innocence than he did the last time he visited the museum. The concept of stability that this quote provides makes it evident that Holden is afraid of becoming different, evolving into an adult with different views than he once held. Deep down, he admits that even though certain things can remain the same, he will not. He is slowly beginning to recognize the fact he has lost his innocence for good, but it comes down to his admittance of this. Although, he thinks he can protect himself, the loss of his innocence is inevitable. Holden reflects on the museum’s consistency and he believes a world where everything could be preserved (even though it would be impossible) would solve many problems that he holds, “Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone. I know that’s impossible, but it’s too bad anyways” (Salinger 122). Holden longs for a world in which everything can stay the same. Holden wouldn’t have to enter the adult world and he would never have to lose his innocence and accept his growing responsibilities in his ideal world. It is implied that some of the “certain things” Holden might want to preserve is Allie, his deceased brother. If Allie was put into one of the glass cases, he would never be exposed to his death, he wouldn’t have to lose his innocence. Holden recognizes the fact though that this thought is “impossible.” He knows there is never a way in order to protect the ones he cares about and their innocence. He knows that there is no avoidance in the loss of innocence, but he is only scared to see it will never come back. Holden arrives at the museum, only to be consumed by a feeling that changes his wanting to visit the museum, “When I got to the museum, all of a sudden I wouldn’t have gone inside for a million bucks” (Salinger 122). Holden realizes that if he steps into the museum he will acknowledge the fact he has changed, become different. Holden sees that he has lost his innocence, but he isn’t ready to admit that he has lost it for good. Holden chooses to not go into the museum in order to try and avoid his recognition of his loss of innocence. However, eventually, if not the museum something will cause Holden to see reality for what it really is. As a child, Holden held on to the fond, innocent memories of the museum. Now, grown up, he is afraid that if he sees the museum now, his innocent perspective will change forcing him to accept the fact that he has lost his innocence for good. The Museum helps Holden realize the fact that as much as he wishes things could stay the same; he knows life does not work that way.

Holden’s erasing of the profanity symbolized the corruption of innocence and Holden’s strong sense of duty towards the children who would see it, thinking it is his responsibility to be able to preserve all of their innocence, but knowing it is impossible. While visiting Phoebe’s elementary school, he observes the profanity that is written on the school’s wall and is taken aback, “Somebody’d written ‘Fuck you’ on the wall. I thought how Phoebe and all the other little kids would see it…If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn’t rub out even half the ‘Fuck you’ signs in the world” (Salinger 201). Holden feels that children should not be exposed to anything that has a chance of corrupting their innocence. In this incident, the exposure to the phrase “Fuck you” creates Holden to believe it is his duty to be the savior to all the children. Although he wants to believe that by erasing all of the “Fuck you” signs could save children’s innocence, he knows that it is impossible to be able to save every single child. He cannot accept the fact that these children cannot avoid their loss of innocence, just like Holden can’t as well. He is worried that if these children see the phrase, they will have no way of retaining their innocence which is already impossible. Again, he comes across another profane expression carved into the school’s wall, “I saw another ‘Fuck you’ on the wall. I tried to rub it off with my hand again, but this one was scratched on, with a knife or something. It wouldn’t come off” (Salinger 202). Holden is beginning to witness that some things, like innocence, cannot be avoided. Some things are unavoidable. Even though he knows that phrase is permanently etched into the wall, he still desperately tries to erase it. This is symbolic of how he desperately tries to preserve his innocence even though he is already becoming different, something that cannot be changed. While the phrase symbolizes another way to corrupt one’s innocence, it becomes evident that like the etching, innocence cannot be protected forever. When Holden is at the museum, in the tomb exhibit he sees yet more profanity on the walls, only this time it is written in crayola, “You’d never guess what I saw on the wall. Another ‘Fuck you.’ It was written with red crayon or something, right under the glass part of the window, under the stones” (Salinger 204). While Holden is beginning to realize that the ‘Fuck you’ signs are everywhere, providing many opportunities for the corruption of one’s innocence. It is apparent this is symbolically showing that nothing can stop the process of losing one’s innocence, it is only natural. The fact that this time, the phrase was written in crayon, it is a hint that this was most likely the work of a child. Holden has been working so hard in order to save these children, he didn’t consider that unlike him, they are more willing to lose their innocence and accept the fact that it is gone for good. He is finally becoming aware of the fact that children are letting go of their innocence and making that transition into adulthood, and he isn’t able to control this.

At one point, Holden takes Phoebe to a carousel which is symbolic of Holden’s new found acceptance towards his loss of innocence and realization that he is not able to save all children from losing their innocence as well. Holden takes Phoebe to a carousel where he encourages her to ride it, without him, “‘Maybe I will next time. I’ll watch ya.’ I went over and sat down on the bench, and she went and got on the carousel” (Salinger 211). Holden rejects Phoebe’s invitation to join her on the carousel, marking Holden’s developing maturity. It is becoming noticeable that Holden is slowly starting to show evidence that he is accepting the fact that he knows he has lost his innocence for good. Therefore, he feels it is not necessary to partake in childish activities such as the carousel. He sees Phoebe as the one who is her innocent stage. He has already passed that stage in his life and transition into the adult world, which doesn’t include riding on the carousel. Seeing Phoebe reach for the gold ring while on the carousel he begins to realize that he cannot protect children from their growing up, “The thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off, they fall off, but it’s bad if you say anything to them” (Salinger 211). The gold ring is what children would literally reach for once their horse passed under it on the carousel. Symbolically, Holden is accepting that growing up is a part of life, something that cannot be avoided. He is admitting that losing one’s innocence is a part of growing up and a child cannot be protected from it forever. He realizes that adults must let children reach for their own gold rings; their dreams, hopes, and wants. Holden is acknowledging that he has to be the adult; he cannot be that child forever. Holden continues to watch Phoebe ride the carousel and is overwhelmed with happiness seeing her enjoy herself in her youth, “It was just she looked so damn nice, the way she kept going around and around, in her blue coat and all” (Salinger 213). Holden is seeing innocence incarnated, through Phoebe. Phoebe’s circling on the carousel represents seeing her innocence circling. Holden is accepting his loss of innocence and transitioning into the adult world. Watching Phoebe was almost a moment of truth for him, he realizes that one cannot avoid the loss of sense forever. He knows that eventually Phoebe will have to lose her innocence eventually but she doesn’t have to yet. Holden thinks it is “nice” seeing Phoebe not worrying about her loss of innocence and he accepts the adult world for himself in this moment. Seeing and experiencing Phoebe on the carousel and seeing her in her innocence, Holden knows it is his time to move on, his innocence and innocent stage has come and gone and it will never come back.

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Learning to accept the loss of one’s innocence is and to face the reality of it can be difficult for some. Through Holden’s story, Salinger reveals that although it is understandable to try to protect one’s innocence, it is only a foolish notion. Even in today’s world, some struggle with accepting their loss of innocence. The loss of innocence can be related to taking that first sip of alcohol, or taking that first hit of marijuana. For young girls and boys, losing their virginity is an example of them giving away their innocence in an intimate act. Once some takes a drink, a smoke, or has sex, there is no going back, just like there is one cannot regain their innocence. Although these are examples of ways one can lose their innocence, it is much more complex than this. The losing of innocence marks the gradual change into the adult world where one is unable to access their childhood memories and youth. It is when one becomes an adult and fully matures that one loses his or her innocence. When one learns to accept the loss of innocence, it is then that they mark the turning point in their lives. Innocence is usually associated with ignorance and youth, so by losing this, one is accepting wisdom and adulthood. One is able to transition into the next part of their lives without the extra baggage of trying to retain their childhood. Although yearning for innocence is natural – even in some ways perhaps good – at some point, everyone has to face the realm of adulthood and venture into it, without the aid of their innocence to accompany them any longer.


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