J.D. Salinger's “The Catcher in the Rye” is an American coming-of-age fiction novel that was initially published in July 1951, it takes place during the American post-World War 2. The novel is about the narrator himself, Holden Caulfield who is a 16-year-old boy who had just been expelled from Pency Preparatory School. He tells the experiences he had when he was at prep school and after. He searches for authenticity in a society that is of a consumerist culture and where people are turning from being creative to being materialistic. Holden separates society into two worlds, the world of “hot shots” and the world of those who are not “hot shots”. Throughout the novel, Holden becomes isolated and exhausted because every adult to him is phony and he is just failing to adjust to the adult world because it is filled with cruelty and fakeness. I am going to examine how Holden is against adults doing anything to maintain an audience and become famous even if it means becoming people that they are not and not being genuine and how he wants children to maintain their innocence and their authenticity forever.
Firstly, in this novel Holden wants to be “the catcher in the rye”, it is his hidden mission “I’d just like to be the catcher in the rye and all” (Salinger, 1951:93). In this metaphor “The Catcher in the Rye” he wants to be the “catcher”, he wants to be the savior of the children who is playing happily in the field of rye should it happen that they fall off a nearby cliff, he sees it as an opportunity to protect them and save their innocent childhood from entering the adult world which is a world of phoniness, laziness, and materialism. Figuratively, the “falling off a cliff” that Holden refers to is entering adulthood. Holden wants the children to maintain their innocence, to maintain their creativity, and their ability to be imaginative forever because he fears that once they become adults they will lose those qualities. He fears that they will be exposed to the cruelty and struggles of the adult world or they could become phonies themselves just like all the adults Holden has met.
What occurs prior to the given extract is that Holden decides to go to his parent’s place to see his little sister Phoebe whom he adores so much and regards as an intelligent child, he wants to go and give her a record he had bought for her. He manages to lie to the elevator guy and says he has come to the other family and the guy does not really follow up if Holden really is going where he says he is going. He finds Phoebe in her room and they are both happy to see each other but then Holden tells Phoebe that he has been expelled from Pencey and Phoebe is upset. When he tries to explain why he does not as school Phoebe asks him to say one thing he likes and he does not say it. While at that, Holden thinks about this one event that occurred at Pencey, where one of the boys said something offensive to the other, and when they confronted him as a group telling him to take back what he said he just preferred to jump out the window and died. This is where Holden comes to the extract, where he thinks to himself about how he wants to be “the catcher in the rye”. Holden puts an emphasis that it is his responsibility to help children including his little sister Phoebe, preserve their childhood and not fall into a “cliff” which is adulthood “I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff” (Salinger, 1951:93). He believes he is the only one who can save them because he is transitioning from childhood to adulthood, he kind of gets the idea of how adulthood is like, losing your innocence and becoming a phony “Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around-nobody big, I mean-except me”(Salinger, 1951:93). Holden wants to prevent children from becoming like Ernie, the piano player who puts a mirror and a spotlight in front of his face while he is playing the piano so that the audience can clearly see him and so that they do not miss a move which is a form of seeking attention. People like Ernie are “show-offs”, they do not care about creativity but they are interested in mass media and being admired by a large audience.