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Holden Caulfield And The Pressures Of Society

1658 words - 7 pages

Confucius, a Chinese philosopher, once stated, “You cannot open a book without learning something.” Throughout time, books, molded by their authors, have been the key source of knowledge. Regardless of the subject, most works of literature often have a message or theme for the reader. Not only do authors use themes, but also well developed characters to bring a novel to life. In the bildungsroman, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, characterization is often found, especially regarding the protagonist, Holden Caulfield. Salinger also includes many themes in his novel relating to growing up in a corrupt society. Hence, this paper will compare, contrast, and evaluate literary criticisms regarding the themes and characterization of J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye.
Many critics of The Catcher in the Rye discuss in depth the characterization of the protagonist Holden Caulfield. For example, Reiff believes that Holden is a “symbol of a spontaneous, idealistic, innately good child,” despite what some believe. Reiff finds that he is also an unselfish and caring person due to Holden’s constant generosity and worrying for others (69-70). Some believe, however, that Holden is a hypocrite or a phony because of all the lies he tells. Pinsker disagrees and defends Holden saying that he lies to keep others from being hurt (Reiff 61-62). Bloom agrees with Reiff about Holden being a kind hearted person with a soft spot for children, even calling him a “secular saint.” Holden’s vision of being a catcher in the rye and desire to save children from the troubles of the world show his altruistic intentions (2). Pinsker agrees with both Bloom and Reiff but also argues that Holden worries about himself as much as the others. Holden constantly asks other characters about what happens to the ducks during the winter. However, this question is a vague way of asking if Holden is going to be all right. He fears growing up and changing his life and wants reassurance that he will be okay. His fear of the world is what causes him to try to protect his loved ones, such as his sister, Phoebe (38). In conclusion, these critics agree that Holden is a kind and considerate character.
This novel supports the beliefs of Reiff, Bloom, and Pinsker that Holden Caulfield, although it may not seem, is overall a good person. Throughout this novel, the reader indirectly discovers more about Holden. Between his vague thoughts and discussions with other characters, it becomes apparent who Holden truly is. For example, on the train to New York, Holden has an encounter with the mother of Ernest Morrow, a student from Holden’s school, Pencey Prep. Mrs. Morrow praises her son and calls him sensitive while Holden thinks that, “Morrow was about as sensitive as a goddam toilet seat” (Salinger 55). Although Holden disagrees, he exaggerates and tells Mrs. Morrow how great her son is. Holden tries to make Mrs. Morrow delighted and proud by speaking highly of...

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