Essay, Research Paper: Catcher In The Rye Environment

Literature: Catcher in The Rye

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In a perfect world, everyone would be happy with the way they are and everyone
would accept the differences of others. Unfortunately, the world we live in is
not perfect and not everyone accepts who they are . Is there a reason why people
cannot be content with their lives or with the differences of other people? The
answer is yes, and the reason for the discontent is society. With society
telling the masses what is, and is not acceptable, it is no wonder that people
seem “lost”, and are desperately searching out their place in the sun. This
search for identity seems to be the case in JD Salinger’s novel, The Catcher
in the Rye. Through settings in the novel and symbolism, Salinger illustrates
that while the main character, Holden Caulfield, needs the support of the
environment around him, the environment also needs Holden as a person. Holden
Caulfield is out of place in any environment in which he is placed. At Pencey,
his school, Holden gets excluded from the activities of his classmates. At the
very beginning of the novel, Holden becomes expelled because his grades are not
up to Pencey’s standards and also because he does not feel like he belongs
there. Holden separates himself from his classmates for the most part by not
becoming involved in the school. Although Holden is the equipment manager of the
fencing team, he distances himself from his companions by losing the equipment,
showing that he does not fit in, and he really does not want to. As he reflects
back on his final day at Pencey he says: “ They kicked me out. ...I was
flunking four subjects and not applying myself at all. They gave me frequent
warnings to start applying myself...but I didn’t do it” (Salinger 4). The
school is throwing Holden out because he is not what they want to represent to
potential students. They want to show examples of fine, upstanding young men,
instead of giving off the image of the failing, confused young man. Salinger
uses Pencey as a mock society of some sorts. Holden does not fit in at Pencey,
and he most definitely does not fit in as seen in the later settings of the
novel. A second example of Holden’s isolation from his classmates can also be
seen when he stands alone on the top of the hill during the “big game”.
During the football game Holden perches himself above the football field where
he can hear the cheering, but he cannot see the crowd. Holden says that he hears
the yelling because “practically the whole school except me was there” (Salinger
2). Holden’s isolation from his classmates may be his own doing to some
extent, however there is another force at work here. The high standards of good
grades and involvement in other activities separate Holden from the rest of his
school. Holden never really makes the effort to fit in at Pencey because he
knows that it is just a made up society, and that it, like the other settings in
the novel is just another place that he does not belong. The Pencey setting in
the novel rejects Holden because of his mistake of letting his grades slip. Just
as Holden’s school casts him out for being different and not making the grade,
society casts him out because he is different. After Holden leaves his school,
he travels to New York City. Holden is again singled out and stumbles across the
feeling that he does bit belong there either. When Holden is on his way up to
his hotel room in New York , the elevator operator offers him a prostitute for
five dollars and Holden accepts. The next day, Maurice, the elevator boy comes
after Holden, saying he did not pay enough for the services. After a scuffle,
where Holden gets hurt, Holden leaves the hotel he is staying in. Holden feels
that he cannot go back to that same hotel, but he will not go and search for
another one. He says, “I had no place to go. It was only Sunday and I
couldn’t go home till Wednesday- or Tuesday at the soonest. And I certainly
didn’t feel like going to another hotel and getting my brains beat
out”(Salinger 106-107). Holden feels as though he cannot go back and he is
very reluctant to go forward and find another room for fear that the same thing
would happen to him again. Holden is again unable to make a decision. He does
not want to move on, because he does not know where he is moving on to, and he
cannot go back home because he does not belong there at the moment. This
particular situation with the pimp shows how society needs Holden because he is
so vulnerable. His innocence makes Holden easy to step on and take advantage of,
and a society usually needs people to crush for its leaders to thrive. The
affect that society has on Holden is apparent when Holden purchases the ugly,
red hunting hat . Throughout the novel, Holden wears it because he thinks that
it is stylish and chic. Unfortunately for Holden, the hat is not stylish, nor
chic. It is an ugly hat that makes Holden stick out like a sore thumb. One
cannot deny the importance of the red hat. “...and then I put on this hat that
I ‘d bought in New York that morning. It was this red hunting hat, with one of
those very, very long peaks”, (Salinger 17). First of all, the color, red is
one that you would wear in the country while hunting and trying to stay out of
harm’s way. The red hat is Holden’s way of saying ‘look at me!’. He is
like no one else, given the fact that he is wearing that hat and it proves that
he does not belong in his present environment. Holden later comments on his hat
when his little sister Phoebe is wearing it. He observes that “you could see
that hat about ten miles away”(Salinger 205), however, Holden is clueless as
to exactly how much that hat makes him stand out, even when he sees it on his
little sister. He does not understand the brand that society has put on him
through that red hat. Society’s affect on Holden becomes illustrated through
the red hat by way of a brand or mark. The hat is something that Holden bought
for himself, yet in the end it became a mark of society on Holden because the
peculiarity of the hat separated him from others. The most important symbol in
the novel The Catcher in the Rye is most likely the symbol that gives the book
its title. Holden’s fascination with the Robert Burns poem “ If a Body Meet
a Body”, spurs this dream of his future occupation. First of all, Holden hears
the song being sung by a little boy whose parents are completely ignoring him.
The child is walking next to the curb in a straight line singing “If a body
catch a body coming through the rye”. Holden enjoys hearing the song and
watching the little boy : “ He was just singing for the hell of it, you could
tell. The cars zoomed by, brakes screeched all over the place, his parents paid
no attention to him, and he kept on walking next to the curb and singing “If a
body catch a body coming through the rye” (Salinger 115). Holden hears this
little child walking along and singing, not caring what anyone thinks of him. It
comforts him because this little child is a representation of Holden. The boy is
being ignored, and yet he keeps going along singing like there was nothing
wrong. Holden wishes that he could go along just like that little boy, but
instead he has to grow up and face the world. The child is also a symbol,
because it represents this innocence that Holden wishes to hold on to, but he
cannot manage to hang on as hard as he tries. The child also signifies Holden in
the fact that his parents are like the child’s: completely unaware of their
youngster, even when he faces dangers of speeding cars. Holden sees this child
as lost, like himself but he realizes that the child may have a chance. At the
very end of the novel, Holden is having a conversation with his little sister,
Phoebe, about the song that he heard the little boy singing. Holden then
proceeds to talk about what he wishes he could do all day long : “You know
what I’d like to be?” I said.... “Anyway, I keep picturing all these
little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all...What I have to
do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff....I have to
come out from somewhere and catch them . I’d just be the catcher in the rye
and all.” (Salinger 172-173) Holden finally states what he wants to do with
the rest of his life. To everyone else it sounds crazy, but Holden dreams of
catching little kids before they fall off of a cliff. The rye field that Holden
sees all of these children playing in is the playground of childhood. The
children playing in the rye field cannot see over the rye and into what looms in
their future. To make sure that none of the children have to face what Holden
did, he will catch them so that they do not have to go through the transition
all alone. Holden Caulfield wants to catch kids before they fall off into the
oblivion that he has been faced with in his transition to adulthood. The little
boy that he saw walking in the street was one of the ones that he could have
saved had he been able to. Holden wishes that someone would have saved him from
falling off that cliff, and so now he dreams of saving others from the isolation
and indecision that he had to face. Salinger is trying to show the reader that
Holden wants to save the innocence of other children because he was forced to
surrender his. He makes a point of Holden’s innocence being so dear to him,
which is exactly what society is trying to take away from Holden. Through the
use of setting, and symbolism, J. D. Salinger shows the reader that Holden ,
needs the support of the environment around him, and the environment also needs
Holden as a person. He comes from a generation that cannot find their identity:
one that leaves people with so little choice that they become angry and bitter,
and cannot figure out their place in the world. Holden’s lack of guidance by
his parents leaves him to be guided by the environment that he lives in. He
cannot fit in, because society is not a good teacher, and Holden becomes mixed
up in his values and his ways. Society mandates that people be what society
thinks, but this is not the case. Holden Caulfield, in trying to do what society
thinks best, ends up a victim of indecision. The society that is creating Holden
is ever changing, and whenever Holden thinks he is figuring everything out, he
becomes lost again. The novel distinctly portrays the society Holden lives in as
controlling him, however, Holden just does not belong to that society. He cannot
go forward and he cannot go back; he is stuck in the middle, feeling very lost.
In this novel, JD Salinger is moderately effective at portraying the nature of
societal and individual interdependency. While Salinger is highly effective when
portraying the interdependency between and individual and their environment, he
is not very effective when portraying the dependency in symbols. While
Salinger’s symbols send messages to the reader, his settings show the actual
conflicts between a person and his environment, and the effects that both the
individual and the society have on each other.
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