Saving Innocence In Catcher In The Rye

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In The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger uses themes of childhood and the transition from childhood into adulthood are shown through Holden’s actions and thoughts. Salinger explores these themes through his conversations with Phoebe, his walk inside Phoebe’s school and his experience with the carousel. Throughout J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, the recurring idea of saving innocence shows Holden maturing as he eventually comes to realize that growing up cannot be prevented. Holden’s dream of being the “catcher in the rye” is introduced when he discusses with Phoebe what he likes and dislikes and this idea shows his immaturity in the sense that he is unrealistic about his future. Phoebe questions what Holden truly “likes” in the world…show more content…
Holden sees what he thinks of as the “horrible” effects of adulthood when he walks by Phoebe’s school and sees profanity written on the walls. Holden at this moment is beginning to realize that there are so many things that the eyes of children like Phoebe shouldn’t see, but there is only so much he can do. Salinger writes, “But while I was sitting down, I saw something that drove me crazy. Somebody 'd written "Fuck you" on the wall. It drove me damn near crazy. I thought how Phoebe and all the other little kids would see it, and how they 'd wonder what the hell it meant, and then finally some dirty kid would tell them--all cockeyed, naturally--what it meant, and how they 'd all think about it and maybe even worry about it for a couple of days,” (201). Holden sees that even the places where a child should be safe from the bad effects of the outside world like the elementary school have been corrupted by adulthood. He worries that the children in the elementary school like his sister would have their innocence taken from them by this because they become slowly more exposed to profanities and other problems of adulthood, the complete opposite of what he wants for them. He removes the writing on the wall and continues on his way, but encounters more profanity. Salinger writes, “I went down by a different staircase, and I saw another "Fuck you" on the wall. I tried to rub it off with my hand again, but this one was scratched on, with a knife or something. It wouldn 't…show more content…
Holden finally comes to realize and accept the inevitability of adulthood when he watches Phoebe on the carousel and sees her try to pluck a gold ring off the rung in order to win a prize. He knows that it was a childish act and that it was part of the fun in one’s childhood. His protective brotherly instincts kick in when he thinks about Phoebe falling off, but he decides against doing anything. Salinger writes, “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 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,” (211). This is Holden slowly accepting that growing up cannot be prevented and that he would just have to let Phoebe do what every other child does and attempt to grab at the ring. If she fell, he wouldn’t do anything about it because he knows that the child would learn from that experience to be more careful and to take precaution before trying to reach for the ring again. This is the end of Holden’s dream of being a catcher as he starts to stop being the overprotective brother that he was acting as before visiting Phoebe’s school and coming to terms with the impossibility of saving every child from
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