The Fear of Adulthood in Catcher in the Rye, a Novel by J. D. Salinger

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Updated: Jun 28, 2022
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In Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye, Holden struggles with holding on to the part of him that is still a child while having to make the transition to having adult responsibilities. Throughout the novel, observations can be made about his constant struggle with all the adults that he encounters being phony and superficial, while he views children as innocent and moral. The real turning point in the novel is when Phoebe asks Holden what he enjoys doing and he responds with the image of him being the catcher in the rye.

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His response makes sense based off of his previous actions, but it is the first time that Holden puts into words that the only thing he truly cares about is protecting the innocence of children. Salinger uses this passage about Holden’s dream to be the catcher in the rye to convey his deep rooted fear and inability to deal with change and adulthood. When Phoebe ask Holden what he likes do to, Holden’s initial response is that he likes Allie, and he justifies his reasoning for liking someone who is dead. “I know he’s dead! Don’t you think I know that? I can still like him, though, can’t l?…especially if they were about a thousand times nicer than the people you know that’re alive and all.” (Salinger, 171). Here Holden indicates a deeper attachment to his dead brother than to the living.

Although he has not seen his brother in years, he still considers him a thousand times nice than the people he interacts with in the present day. After all of these years, Holden is still hung up on how great Allie is compared to his classmates and teachers nowadays. This reveals Holden’s inability to deal with adjustment because he looks back at his relationship with Allie, and uses the past to escape the present. As Phoebe persistently presses Holden, asking him what he wants his career to be, Holden shows no interest at the thought of adult careers. “All you do is make a lot of dough and play golf and play bridge and buy cars and drink martinis and look like a hot-shot.” (Salinger, 172). Holden views the adult world as phony and superficial and has no desire to be a part of it. He thinks that even the adults with nobel jobs where they are helping someone, are not necessarily doing it out of the good of their heart but rather to be congratulated on a job well done, making them phonies. Holden’s fantasy world where he is the catcher in the rye, is greatly based on his idea of children being innocent while adults are phony. Finally, Holden admits to Phoebe what he really wants to do with his life. “Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around… 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…” (Salinger, 173).

The children can continue along in their game (innocence) and he will be there to make sure that no boundary is crossed. Therefore the children never need to look where they are going because Holden will invariably keep them guarded. Holden responding with this image reveals his dream of being a protector of innocence and a rescuer to all children who might suffer in their lives. The museum that Holden used to visit as a child is exceedingly paramount to him because it presents him a vision of life that he can understand. Natural history does not change, and therefore the museum is frozen in time and looks identical each time Holden goes back. “The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was… Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you.” (Salinger, 121). It troubles Holden that every time he returns to the museum, he himself has altered in some way. However, the display’s simplistic way of staying the same gives him a certain vision of a life that he himself wishes he could live in.

Holden can not accept the consequences that come with change and becoming an adult, so to elude the painful process, he struggles to keep his childhood as long as possible. Holden desires nothing to do with adults which he finds phony. He prefers to retreat into his own imaginary view of the world rather than deal with the complexities of the world around him. He is fixated on the incorruption that children possess and being the catcher in the rye he wants to metaphorically save the children before they fall into the corruption of the adult world. It is not until Holden speaks to his younger sister Phoebe, that he finally makes the realization that he can not keep running from adulthood.

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The Fear of Adulthood in Catcher in the Rye, a Novel by J. D. Salinger. (2022, Jun 27). Retrieved from