Salinger presents an image of an atypical adolescent boy in The Catcher in the Rye. Holden
is much more than a troubled teen going through "a phase." Indeed Holden is a
very special boy with special needs. He doesnt understand and doesnt wish to
understand the world around him. In fact most of the book details his guilty admissions of
all the knowledge he knows but wishes he didnt. Though his innocence regarding
issues of school, money, and sexuality has already been lost, he still hopes to protect
others from knowing about these adult subjects.
Holden, unlike the usual fictional teenager, doesnt
express normal rebellion. He distrusts his teachers and parents not because he wants to
separate himself from them, but because he cant understand them. In fact there is
little in the world that he does understand. The only people he trusts and respects are
Allie, his deceased brother, and Phoebe, his younger sister. Everyone else is a phony of
some sort. Holden uses the word phony to identify everything in the world which he
rejects. He rejects his roommate Stradlater because Stradlater doesnt value the
memories so dear to Holden (Allies baseball glove and Janes kings in the back
row). Even Ernie, the piano player, is phony because hes too skillful. Holden
automatically associates skill with arrogance (from past experiences no doubt) and thus
cant separate the two. Even Holdens most trusted teacher, Mr. Antolini, proves
to be a phony when he attempts to fondle Holden. Thus the poor boy is left with a cluster
of memories, some good but most bad.
Yet because of these memories, Holden has
developed the unique ability to speak candidly (though not articulately) about the people
he meets. Though he seems very skeptical about the world, he is really just bewildered.
His vocabulary often makes him seem hard, but in fact he is a very weak-willed individual.
Holden has no concept of pain, and often likes to see himself as a martyr for a worthy
cause. This is proven after the fight with Maurice, after which he imagines his guts
spilling out on the floor.
The end of the book demonstrates
significant growth on the part of Holden. Although at first Holden is quick to condemn
those around him as phony (like Stradlater and Ackley), his more recent encounters with
others prove that he is becoming more tolerant and less judgmental. This is evidenced
after the ordeal with Mr. Antolini, where Holden is determined not to make any conclusions
about his teacher. This growth contributes to Holdens fantasy of being a catcher in
the rye. Despite his inability and fear of becoming an adult, he has found his role in
keeping the innocence of other children protected. This is shown when he tries to scratch
out the obscenities at Phoebes elementary school. He imagines himself on a cliff,
catching innocent children (like himself at one time) who accidently fall off the cliff,
bridging the gap between childhood and adulthood.
Holden, like the typical banana-fish,
simply absorbs all experiences, good and bad, adding them to his own knowledge base.
Really the poor teenager is so confused about what he should do, he simply regresses
socially, hoping to escape the tough choices of adulthood by keeping others from them.