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Essay/Term paper: Catcher in the rye: holden caulfield's perception and gradual acceptance of the "real" world

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Catcher in the Rye

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Catcher in The Rye: Holden Caulfield's Perception and Gradual Acceptance of the
"Real" World.

In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden views the world as an evil and corrupt place
where there is no peace. This perception of the world does not change
significantly through the novel. However as the novel progresses, Holden
gradually comes to the realization that he is powerless to change this.

During the short period of Holden's life covered in this book, "Holden does
succeed in making us perceive that the world is crazy".1 Shortly after Holden
leaves Pencey Prep he checks in to the Edmont Hotel. This is where Holden's
turmoil begins. Holden spends the following evening in this hotel which was
"full of perverts and morons. (There were) screwballs all over the place."2 His
situation only deteriorates from this point on as the more he looks around this
world, the more depressing life seems.

Around every corner Holden sees evil. He looks out on a world which appears
completely immoral and unscrupulous. The three days we learn of from the novel
place a distressed Holden in the vicinity of Manhattan. The city is decked with
decorations and holiday splendor, yet, much to Holden's despair "seldom yields
any occasions of peace, charity or even genuine merriment."3 Holden is
surrounded by what he views as drunks, perverts, morons and screwballs. These
convictions which Holden holds waver very momentarily during only one particular
scene in the book. The scene is that with Mr. Antolini. After Mr. Antolini
patted Holden on the head while he was sleeping, Holden jumped up and ran out
thinking that Mr. Antolini was a pervert as well. This is the only time during
the novel where Holden thinks twice about considering someone as a pervert.
After reviewing Mr. Antolini, Holden finally concludes that maybe he wasn't
making a "flitty" pass at him. Maybe he just like patting guys heads as they
sleep. This is really the only time in the novel where Holden actually considers
a positive side. This event does not constitute a significant change. As Holden
himself says, "It's not too bad when the sun's out, but the sun only comes out
when it feels like coming out."4 The sun of course is a reference to decency
through the common association of light and goodness. His perception of the
world remains the same.

The one conviction that does change during the novel is Holden's belief that he
can change the world. On his date with Sally, Holden reveals his feelings. "Did
you ever get fed up?... I mean did you ever get scared that everything was going
to go lousy unless you did something..."5 Holden goes through several plans.
Holden at one point contemplates heading out west where he will pretend to be a
deaf-mute and live a quiet life. At another point Holden proposes to Sally to
escape this world with him. It is finally to his younger sister Phoebe that
Holden reveals his ultimate plan. Although Holden describes the situation in a
very picturesque and symbolic manner he essentially tells Phoebe that he wants
to prevent children from growing up. He blames the world's corruption on adults
and believes that when he stops the children from growing up he will preserve
their innocence and save the world.

It takes most of the book before Holden begins to realize that he is helpless to
stop this corruption. Finally, he realizes that not only is there nothing that
he can do, but there is nowhere he can go to hide from it. Holden takes awhile
to comprehend these concepts. One good example is when Holden is delivering the
note to his sister. He encounters a "fuck-you" written on the wall. Holden
careful rubs this off with his hand so as to protect the innocent children from
reading it. Later on he finds "fuck-you" scratched into the surface with a knife.
He discovers that he can't efface this one. Even in the timeless peace of the
Egyptian tomb room at the museum there is an un-erasable "fuck-you." This
incident is the beginning of Holden's realization that his dreams are
infeasible.6

Ironically enough, it is one of the "innocent" children that he is trying to
protect who helps him come to terms with this realization. It is Phoebe who
challenges his plan to escape out west. As he is telling Phoebe that she can not
run away, he discovers that he too can not run away. "You can't ever find a
place that is nice and peaceful, because there isn't any."7

The final break-down comes near the end of the book when he is watching Phoebe
on the carousel.

All the kids kept trying to grab for the gold ring, and so was old Phoebe, and I
was sort of afraid she'd fall off the goddam horse, but I didn't say anything or
do anything. 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.8

In the above passage from the novel, Holden hits the final breakdown. Being "the
catcher" becomes obviously unrealistic. The gold rings are ironically not gold
but really brass-plated iron. The gold rings are symbols of the corrupted world
which always "wears" a shiny surface to hide its evil. It is at this point that
Holden sees that he can not stop children from growing up and therefore losing
their innocence. They will fall if they fall, there is nothing that can be done.

Shortly after this point Holden has his nervous breakdown. His breakdown is due
to this depressing realization that the world is corrupt and filled with evil.
He knows now with a sickening certainty that he is powerless to stop both evil
and maturation. As a matter of fact, it is "bad" to do so.

 

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