Freeland – Block 8
Understanding and Uncertainty
Knowledge is best obtained through experience. This is shown in J.D. Salinger’s
in the Rye
, a young adult novel about a boy named Holden Caulfield in New York, who is surrounded by social and academic pressures and wants to be different from everyone else.
Through analyzing Holden’s encounters and mindset, it is revealed that the book supports the argument that Holden or any other teenager has conflicts with society and struggle to grow up while maintaining innocence.
Throughout the novel, Holden continuously clashes with society. For example, when he is at Mr. Spencer’s house a little while after getting kicked out of Pencey Prep, Mr. Spencer explains that “Life is a game,” in which Holden responds by saying, “Game, my ass. Some game. If you get on the side where all the hotshots are, then it’s a game, all right – I’ll admit that. But if you get on the other side, where there aren’t any hotshots, then what’s a game about it? Nothing. No game” (8). It is clear that Holden groups himself with “the other side” and not being a “hotshot.” From what Holden tells about his life, he has a lot of advantages coming from a wealthy family and having the opportunity for a good education. What brings him into conflict with society is his refusal to play by the rules of “the game,” as said by Mr. Spencer, which results in his alienation from society. In addition to his conversation with Mr. Spencer,
Holden describes certain adults as phonies. At Elkton Hills, “…they had this headmaster, Mr.
Haas, that was the phoniest bastard I ever met in my life” (13). He relays how Mr. Haas would
shake parents’ hands and be very charming, but would quickly dismiss the “funnylooking parents.” Holden views people like that as too typical, or too superficial. This actually reveals that his judgment of others is superficial, too. His perception of certain things causes him to come into conflict with society.
Holden holds onto innocence and notices it in other people. When he meets Sunny, the prostitute, she asks him his age, and he responds by saying he is twentytwo. Sunny says, “Like fun you are.” Holden thinks, “It was a funny thing to say. It sounded like a real kid. You’d think a prostitute and all would say ‘Like hell you are’ or ‘Cut the crap’ instead of ‘Like fun you are’” (94). This is ironic because Sunny is obviously not innocent at all, given she is a prostitute.
Holden recognizes the remaining innocence in Sunny due to the fact that she avoids vulgarities.
It is the reason why he avoids having sex with her and chooses to have a conversation instead – he cannot bring himself to do something like that to a seemingly innocent girl. He even feels uncomfortable in her very presence since he still cannot shake off the fact that she is still a kid.
Later in the novel, he sneaks into his own home at night to speak with Phoebe, his little sister.
He talks about what he would like to be. “…I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big,
I mean – except me…if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all” (173). He wants to protect their innocence and to also save them from the difficulties of adulthood. It also adds to his idea of adults being phonies. Holden is afraid of the children becoming phonies, which is basically a representation of everything wrong with the world. The fall of the cliff represents adulthood. Holden is trying to stop the children in his dream from
losing their innocence and becoming what he is most afraid of, which is why he wants to be the catcher in the rye. It is to stop them from growing up. There are no adults in the field