J.D. Salinger’s most great masterpiece of his writing career, The Catcher in the Rye, explores the hypocrisy and the ugliness of the adult world. As written in the 1950s, the story relates to the post-World War II time and to Salinger’s mentally complicated life when he was growing up. The main character, Holden Caulfield, also the narrator of the novel, goes through a psychological meltdown as his child-like innocence is shattered by the adult world. Disturbed and trapped by his own conflicting mind, he struggles vainly to escape only to sink deeper and deeper into the evilness of the adult world. In the midst of confusion, desperation, and loneliness, Holden sets out to find the true happiness of life.
The damage of Holden’s child-like innocence leaves him on the brink of a nervous breakdown. Brought on by the hypocrisy and the ugliness of the adult world, Holden gives in to his increasing feelings of loneliness and desperation. His cynicism is his attempt to protect himself from the pain and the disappointment of the adult world. In failing to find refuge in neither friends nor teachers, Holden sinks deeper into his confused mind. The death of his brother Allie further torments little Holden and leads him to the desire for sexuality. Almost given up to the adult world, he finds the true, inexplicable happiness: his little sister Phoebe. The view of his childish sister riding on the merry-go-round brings him back to life, agreeing to protect her from the adult world.
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Standing on the threshold between childhood and adulthood, vulnerable little Holden is consistently hurt and humiliated by the hypocrisy and ugliness of the adult world. His admiration of children seems to indicate his longing to go back to his childhood. “Sexuality” is the force that makes the return to his childhood impossible. Many of Holden’s most traumatic encounters with the adult world- the blowup with the prostitute-is cause by his desire for sexuality. Sexual desires consistently force him, against his will, to move more and more deeply into the adult world.
Holden is standing at the edge of a cliff next to a rye field about to jump into adulthood. Repelled by the hypocrisy and the ugliness of the adult world, ironically, Holden is also propelled to it by sexual desires. Finding false happiness in life sexuality there is no true happiness, but temporary. Despite Salinger’s casual description of Holden’s actions, readers can feel some sense of strangeness in Holden’s action “mental imbalance.” Almost in the point of giving up, in the midst of ugliness and hypocrisy in Holden himself, he finds true happiness. The true view of innocence-his little sister Phoebe-wakes him up and incites him to protect her from the adult world he had once fallen into. Promising to protect Phoebe from falling off the cliff to the adult world-world of ugliness and hypocrisy-he becomes the “Catcher in the Rye.”
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