Coming of Age
The Catcher in the Rye written by J.D Salinger is a coming of age story. It is a story narrated by the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, who is a sixteen year old boy, but has a mind of a ten year old innocent kid. In the beginning he thinks of innocence as important, but later he realizes that growing up cannot be stopped. He wanders around the New York City by himself and gains experience of life that teaches him to become mature. This book is clearly written to show the theme of coming of age because it shows many symbols of coming of age, it shows the changes of young adults in modern life, and it creates an image of Holden growing up.
There are many symbols that represent coming of age in this book. The author hides the innuendos of growing up in the nature and the society of New York City. Even though, Holden’s characteristics are described as “six foot two and a half” and “[has] gray hair” he has a mind of a child (10). But later in the book, J.D Salinger emphasizes Holden slowly growing up to be an adult. For example, when Holden gets soaking wet by rain when he is watching his little sister ride the carousel, he “felt so damn happy all of a sudden” (213). This symbolizes Holden getting baptized into adulthood because he realizes the happiness in life. He realizes that he is too big to ride the carousel, and is happy to just look at his sister being happy. One by one, the raindrops have cleared Holden’s childish personality when it falls on him. Another symbol of coming of age in the book is the vandalized walls with curse words. When Holden finds the curse words carved into the wall of an innocent elementary school. When Holden sees the awful curse words carved in, he realizes that the kids who already have crossed the thin line of becoming adults cannot be taken back to the stage of innocence. This realization makes Holden think once more about his in need of saving innocence, and shows that many kids are reaching the stage of maturity. Holden states that, “if you had a million years to do it in, you couldn’t rub out even half the ‘Fuck you’ signs in the world. It’s impossible” this sentence can be described as how even the society lacks of innocence, even kids who are in elementary school are growing up (202). The symbols can be seen as emphasis of coming of age, and foreshadows Holden, himself, of growing up later in the book.
The Catcher in the Rye, not only sets an example of coming of age in Holden’s life, but the changes of children turning into an adult in modern life. Even though, Catcher in the Rye is written more than fifty years ago, but many readers can connect to Holden’s life. One of the connections the readers can connect is the stress from social life. In the book, Holden is stressed out in life, such as: school and families. The connection tells the readers that they are growing up gradually, like the characters in the book. In the book, there are many examples of drinking, smoking and sex; it provides the image to the readers that many teenagers, about Holden age, are becoming more like adults. For instance, a character named Sunny, who is a prostitute, surprises Holden when she comes in through the door. When he sees her, he exclaims that “she was around [his] age” (94). This example shows that even the young adults back then are growing up to fast, and reminds the readers that people in this modern society would be becoming mature in a faster speed. In the modern society that many readers live in, the teenagers that drink and smoke, this unbelievable source of information can shock people, but also makes them to wake up in their fantasy of innocent children and inform that nobody can remain pure.
J.D Salinger expresses Holden growing up in a vivid image where people can see the clear view of Holden rising upward to be an adult. Throughout the book, Holden ostracizes himself in the society and makes him lonely. The readers can visualize Holden maturing when he realizes that not everybody is his enemy. For instance, when Holden leaves his teacher’s house in fear because the teacher was petting his head; he wondered “if just maybe [he] was wrong about thinking [the teacher] was making a flitty pass at [him]” (194). When he starts wondering if it was his own fault, it exemplifies that Holden is deeply thinking about his acts toward other people. His thinking can also relate to the last sentence “don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.” (202). The last sentence is an example of Holden setting his importance on the people around him. But with all the obstacles that he goes through, he realizes that people that are involved in his life are an important factor of his life, and regrets having a live social life. This realization is an example of coming of age because we can truly see Holden’s thinking of what he thinks of a good life is which involves people around him.
Many readers will agree that The Catcher in the Rye is a coming of age, but some may disagree that it is not because of Holden’s personal view of children. The disagreement may have resulted from Holden’s childish acts, such as, being stuck from his fantasy of innocent world. But throughout the book, we can see that Holden is coming out of this fantasy, and waking up to the real world. The example of Holden growing up takes place in a museum “where [he] fell, but… didn’t feel so dizzy” and he starts imagining about all the possibilities of what would happen if he disappears from people’s lives (203). This signifies Holden’s thinking of getting out of his world, and his falling has made him get out of his innocence. This wake-up call slowly transforms into a big image of him thinking of the real world, and learns that life involves many things, and one of them is that nobody can remain innocent.
The main character Holden, as he experiences the real life in New York City, he learns to grow up to be an adult. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger shows many examples that qualify as a coming of age story. He indicates the theme of coming of age by showing symbols, showing changes of young adults in modern life, and creating an image of Holden growing up. The readers can visibly see Holden growing up because they can relate to what he is experiencing.