J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye is based entirely on the protagonist’s point of view, Holden Caulfied. This helps the reader to analyze the character’s thoughts and actions based on their own personal morals. The Catcher in the Rye is the story of Holden Caulfield expulsion from Pencey Prep and his journey back home to New York City, where he’s trying to find someone to listen to him and meaningfully respond to his fears about becoming an adult. Throughout the novel, Holden has a constant motif of rescuing others, while failing to rescue himself. Holden embodies moral characteristics. Through Holden, Salinger demonstrates that an individual embodying moral characteristics can still have immoral thoughts but if they decide to act upon it then they are classified as immoral.
Throughout the novel, Holden tries to reach out to people but the people around him won’t listen to him. “One of the biggest reasons” Holden “left Elkton Hills was because” he “was surrounded by phonies”. As Holden tries to make a meaningful conversation with Mr. Spencer, Mr. Spencer starts talking about why Holden is “ failing in” school. But Mr. Spencer was one of the few people who really cared about Holden and only wanted what was best for him. As Mr. Spencer says to Holden “life is a game that one plays according to the rules” in an attempt to help Holden to find his purpose in a world in which he feels he doesn’t belong.
Holden felt pressured by society to grow up. In order to be accepted by society he acquired habits such as smoking and drinking excessively as can be shown in this quote, “I’m quite a heavy smoker”. The “root of Holden’s alienation is the death of his brother Allie and the suicide of one of his schoolmates”. These events drastically impacted his ability to transition smoothly between adolescence to adulthood.
Throughout the novel, there’s a constant theme of Holden wanting to lose his innocence. Holden “usually doesn’t act upon them because his morals prevent him from doing so”. Holden “had quite a few opportunities” to lose his virginity but he decided to not act like most adolescent boys his age who had already lost their virginity. Holden wants to appreciate the women he’s with. Holden’s moral values “prevents him from having sex with a girl”. Although Holden has a longing to lose his virginity, he decides against it. For example, when Holden had the opportunity to lose his virginity to Sunny, he realizes “it made [him] feel sad as hell”. This signifies Holden’s clingines in preserving his innocence as can be seen next.
As the title demonstrates, the directing theme of The Catcher in the Rye is the protection of innocence, especially of children. Throughout the novel, Salinger clarifies what Holden really want is not sex, or money, or power; he wants to stop time. A person he imagines “have…to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff”. Preservation of innocence is a frequent motif throughout the novel. Holden wants to be protector of innocence, “a catcher in the rye”, but he also wants to stay innocent himself. When Holden saw “somebody’d written ‘…. you’ on the wall”, it “drove him crazy”. In order to protect the children from seeing the evils of society, Holden tries to “rub it off”. When Holden visits the Museum of Natural History, he says, “the best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move”. Holden’s comment at the museum, “the only thing that would be different would be you”, reveals that he is overwhelmed by change which is significant. His comment reinforces the idea that Holden truly enjoys being at the museum because it is a predictable place, and he knows what to expect every time he visits it. This symbolizes Holden’s ideal life. He wants life to be resemblance of the museum, where all the monuments and displays stayed exactly the same. He thought if life never changes, people would never have to grow up, and children would be able to remain innocent forever.
Holden Caulfield embodies moral characteristics as illustrated above. Throughout the novel, Holden portrays several characteristics of an immoral person such as smoking, drinking excessively and obsessing about sex. But these are all qualities that barely describe the complexity of the main character, Holden Caulfield, and his intent. Although, these qualities barely describe Holden, knowing the reason why he acquired those characteristics reveals more about him than him being a drug addict.
Holden was placed in situations which caused him to react defensively. Holden had several immoral thoughts throughout his four day novel but his morals kept him from acting upon it. Holden embodies strong values of what is right and wrong, and he sticks to them. The intent of Salinger is clearly presented through Holden’s actions that an individual can still have immoral thoughts even though they have a strong moral value.