In the real world, there is no Peter Pan or Neverland that can help us escape the reality of adulthood. As we get older, our views of how the world once was, though childish eyes, is changed and now we have to conform to the ideals of the rest of the world. Although, this idea to conform is challenged in the novel, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salanger. The novel is about a 16 year old boy named Holden Caulfield, who flunked out of school and runs away to New York for three days as a means to escape the disappointment of his parents and the world.
Holden struggles with his mental health as it slowly deteriorates because he has not fully accepted the death of his younger brother, Allie. He has turned his back on the world and is hell-bent on preventing himself and others from reaching adulthood and becoming phony. But, as the story progresses, Holden’s ignorance of the fact the he can’t stop others or himself from growing up and his ideals that children are perfect begin to change.
Holden meets these coming of age elements to demonstrate that he is a coming of age character.
One of the coming of age character elements Salinger uses is ignorance to knowledge. Holden doesn’t realize and is ignorant of the fact that growing up is a part of life that everyone has to go through, no matter how severe or painful it might be. But by the end of the novel Holden learns to accept that. The author uses symbolism to support this idea. Throughout the story, we start to see how much Holden idealizes children. He not only idealizes them, he seems to have this parental need to want to protect them from the corrupt adult world. He wants to keep from becoming phony adults who conform to the rest of the world’s ideals. An elaborate example of this would be when Phoebe ask Holden what he wants to be when he grows up. ‘You know what I’d like to be? I mean if i had a goddamn choice… I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in a big field of rye and all.
Thousands of little kids, and nobody around- nobody big, I mean except me. And I’m standing there on the edge of some crazy cliff- I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them??¦ I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. (Salinger 191)’ The rye, for Holden, symbolizes childhood, innocence, and purity. Holden wants to keep them all there to protect them from falling off the cliff, the cliff symbolizes adulthood. If the kids fall off the cliff, they will be corrupted and become what Holden despises the most. But, if he’s there to catch them, that won’t happen and he will keep them safe and pure. This symbol demonstrates how much Holden ignorantly believes that he can stop others from growing up. He doesn’t realise that falling is exactly what he has to let the kids do.
Towards the end of the novel, we see that Holden is beginning to see that maybe he can’t protect kid’s innocence. At the end of chapter 25, Holden and Phoebe go to the Zoo. There they find a carousel and Phoebe goes on. As Holden watches Phoebe, he notices that she was reaching for a golden ring that was on the carousel. At first, Holden was afraid because he doesn’t want Phoebe to fall off her horse. ‘All the kids kept trying to grab the golden ring, and so was old Phoebe, and i was sort of afraid that she would fall off the goddamn horse. (Salinger 232)’ The horse symbolize childhood and Phoebe reaching for the ring symbolizes her reaching for adulthood. Phoebe was reaching for the ring and that scared Holden, that she was reaching for adulthood; then, that she would fall off.
The fall symbolizing a fall from innocence. Similar to how the kids would fall off the cliff into adulthood if Holden didn’t save them. But in that moment, Holden realizes that he just has to let her fall. ‘The thing with kids is, if they want to grab the gold ring, you have to let them, and not say anything. If they fall off, they fall off,… (Salinger 232).’ This example clearly shows that Holden has transition and has gone from being ignorant to acknowledging that Holden in that moment, finally understands that he can’t protect all the kids from falling. That he can’t keep them from reaching adulthood. No matter how hard he tries he can’t stop the inevitable from happening.
Another coming of age elements Salinger uses in the novel is idealism to realism. This is when a character in a story, sees things in a perfect or ideal manner but then begins to face the reality of the situation. In just the first few chapters of the novel, we soon realize that Holden idealizes children, he perceives children as perfect and innocent. On the other hand, in Holden’s eyes, adults are all phony and anything related to adults he despises. But, by the end of the novel Holden starts to see that maybe children aren’t as perfect as he once thought.