Holden and the Complexity of Adult Life
What was wrong with Holden, the main character in The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D.Salinger, was his moral revulsion against anything that was ugly, evil, cruel, or what he called "phoney" and his acute responsiveness to beauty and innocence, especially the innocence of the very young, in whom he saw reflected his own lost childhood. There is something wrong or lacking in the novels of despair and frustration of many writers. The sour note of bitterness and the recurring theme of sadism have become almost a convention, never thoroughly explained by the author's dependence on a psychoanalytical interpretation of a major character. The boys who are spoiled or turned into budding homosexuals by their mothers and a loveless home life are as familiar to us today as stalwart and dependable young heroes such as John Wayne were to an earlier generation. We have accepted this interpretation of the restlessness and bewilderment of our young men and boys because no one had anything better to offer. It is tragic to hear the anguished cry of parents: "What have we done to harm him? Why doesn't he care about anything? He is a bright boy, but why does he fail to pass his examinations? Why won't he talk to us?"
A remarkable and absorbing novel, J. D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye," may serve to calm the apprehensions of fathers and mothers about their own responsibilities, though it doesn't attempt to explain why all boys who dismay their elders have failed to pass successfully the barrier between childhood and young manhood. It is profoundly moving and a disturbing book, but it is not hopeless. Holden Caulfield, sixteen years old and six foot two inches in height, narrates his own story from the time when he was dismissed from his third private school to return, ill and in a state of physical and mental shock, to the shelter of his home in New York three days later. What happens to him is heart-rending. To many readers some of his words and accidents that befall him may seem to be too raw to be expressed in the words of a childish youth. If readers can be shocked in this manner they should be advised to let the book alone.
What was wrong with Holden was his moral revulsion against anything that was ugly, evil, cruel, or what he called "phoney" and his acute responsiveness to beauty and innocence, especially the innocence of the very young, in whom he saw reflected his own lost childhood. The book is full of the voices and the delightful antics of children. Especially he adored his stalwart and understanding little sister, who in the end undoubtedly saved him from suicide. And there were the memories of his dead brother, whom he had loved, and a teacher in the first school from which he was dismissed. He had no other friends, dead or alive. He accepted his parents, whose union had been happy, as one of the stable factors in a devastating world. When he ran away...