Holden Caulfield: Becoming an Adult

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Holden Caulfield: Becoming an Adult

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Fear of Changing into an Adult and Coming to Terms with It
  • Responsibility and Worrying about the Future
  • Relationship with Family
  • Conclusion


It takes several experiences, life lessons, mistakes, and decisions for an immature child to develop into a mature, well-rounded adult. In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield, the main character, matures throughout the novel. In the beginning, Holden is an immature teenager. By the end, Holden is able to learn some lessons, somewhat mature, and see the reality of life. Holden Caulfield represents coming of age in adulthood when he lets go of his childhood innocence, in family when he stops running from his problems and is honest about Pencey Prep, and in his career when he decides to go back to school and build a future for himself.

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Fear of Changing into an Adult and Coming to Terms with It

In the beginning, Holden struggles to transition from childhood to adulthood. He calls everyone 'Phonies' and believes that adults have composed a world full of lies. Holden is at a point in his life where it is expected of him to follow many more rules that include how to be a proper adult. Instead of being curious about his growth and the developing relationships around him, he tries to block out the adult world by not thinking about it and picturing a world in which nothing changes. For example, Holden describes his fear of changing into an adult when he visits the museum by saying, "The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody'd move…Nobody'd be different. The only thing that would be different would be you" (212). Holden is bothered by that fact every time he returns to the museum he has changed but the objects in the museum have not. Throughout the novel, Holden is forced to come to terms with his inevitable future of being an adult. By the end of the novel, Holden reaches a significant point in where he is seen to be letting go of his childhood. Holden is watching Phoebe on the carousel and Phoebe decides to reach for the gold ring. Holden says, "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 is bad to say anything to them" (211). This makes it evident that Holden is no longer worried about protecting her from falling off the carousel. Holden starts to understand that he cannot protect a child from falling from innocence, just as he and no one else can stop a child from falling off of the carousel; he cannot be the catcher in the rye and he cannot protect Phoebe's innocence forever.

Responsibility and Worrying about the Future

Holden's future and career do not look promising at the beginning of the novel. Holden is being kicked out of Pencey Prep because he is failing four out of his five classes; this is not the first prep school that he has been kicked out of, either. The thought of responsibility scares Holden and he avoids hard work. He equates his brother's job to prostitution because he has no regard whatsoever for work or responsibilities. The fact that his brother D.B is a successful Hollywood script writer does not entice him in the least bit about the opportunities that adulthood offers. Holden does not seem to worry too much about his future. In a conversation between Mr. Spencer and Holden, Mr. Spencer starts off by saying;

'Do you feel absolutely no concern for your future, boy?'

'Oh, I feel some concern for my future, all right. Sure. Sure, I do.' I thought about it for a minute. 'But not too much, I guess. Not too much, I guess.'

'You will,' old Spencer said. 'You will, boy. You will when it's too late.' (64-67).

This shows that Holden is not very concerned about what could happen to his future. By the end of the novel, Holden has matured a little bit and gives the reader hope that he will be continuing his education and building a future for himself. Holden says, "That's all I'm going to tell about. I could probably tell you what I did after I went home, and how I got sick and all, and what school I'm supposed to go to next fall, after I get out of here…A lot of people, especially this one psychoanalyst guy they have here, keeps asking me if I'm going to apply myself when I go back to school next September" (196). If anything, at least Holden has it in his plans to go back to school in the fall.

Relationship with Family

Throughout the novel, Holden's relationships with his family are mentioned. His relationships with his siblings are mostly mentioned, but not much is mentioned about his parents aside from the fact that he calls his mom insane every once in a while. At first, Holden is afraid to go home and inform his parents that he has flunked out of Pencey prep and is being kicked out. Holden is immature and thinks running away from his problems will solve them. It is clear he does not have a great connection with his family and he decides to go to New York and partake in activities that are not the best for his well-being. He contemplates calling Phoebe, but he does not want his parents to answer the phone and figure everything out about Holden being kicked out of school. Holden says, 'Well... they'll be pretty irritated about it,' I said. 'They really will. This is about the fourth school I've gone to". (22) This shows that he knows his parents will be upset and he does not want to tell them. By the end, even though he does not tell his parents, Holden is at least honest with Phoebe and tells her about being kicked out. If he were still immature, he would have never gained the courage and maturity to go to Phoebe and tell her what had happened.


In the novel, The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield is a very immature boy who lacks in accepting that he will be entering adulthood, having a relationship with his family, and building a future and a career for himself. Through several experiences out on his own, Holden realizes that becoming an adult is inevitable, and he lets go of his dream to be ‘the catcher in the rye' to protect the innocence of children. He opens his eyes and realizes that having an ‘I don't care attitude' about his life is going to get him nowhere and he decides to pursue school again and try to create a future for himself. Finally, he stops acting impulsive and running from his problems and tells Phoebe about being kicked out of Pencey Prep. Holden Caulfield was once a juvenile, careless, boy, but now, he has matured into a mature, young, man.

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