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Maturing from Corruption in J.D. Salinger's Novel ‘The Catcher in the Rye': Critical Essay

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Innocence is something people want to keep, especially during or after adolescence. Holden goes through this transition because of losing his brother, Allie, and struggles to accept it. To Holden, losing Allie is a traumatic experience that affects him greatly enough to manipulate his views on adolescence. From this, he makes the effort to save his and others’ innocence. Holden prevents himself from maturing to preserve his childhood naivety. In ‘The Catcher in the Rye’, J.D. Salinger uses symbols and metaphors to convey the theme that exposure to corruption ruins innocence and is unavoidable.

The snowball is a metaphor for the desire to preserve innocence, but not being able to save it. When Holden is waiting for Ackley and Brossard, he opens the window and starts to throw the snowball. He stops because he finds the snow on the car to be “so nice and white” and cannot bring himself to ruin it (Salinger, 48). When his purity begins to deteriorate as a result of losing Allie, Holden makes it his goal to protect others’ innocence. The snow shows that Holden has respect for purity in both people and nature. Instead of throwing it, he continues to compact it. This represents Holden’s desire to maintain his purity. His fear of losing it comes from being afraid of the corrupt world outside of his childhood. Later, he still has the snowball with him on the bus. The bus driver opens the doors and forces Holden to toss it out, despite him telling the driver he is not “going to chuck it at anybody” (Salinger, 48). Holden letting the snowball go shows his loss of Allie and childhood innocence. Even if he does not throw it out, the snowball will eventually melt. This means that Holden must accept the truth and become an adult instead of desiring to remain a child. Allie’s death correlates directly to Holden’s fear of corruption and current mindset of yearning for purity.

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The profanity that is written and carved into the wall symbolizes corruption appearing in even the purest places, making exposure to it unavoidable on someone’s journey to success. When Holden is on his way to give a note to Phoebe, he notices profanity on the school’s wall. It drives Holden crazy to the point where he pictures himself smashing the culprit’s head on the steps, despite knowing he does not “have the guts to do it” (Salinger, 261). He uses his hand to rub out the profanity, showing that he still longs to preserve innocence. The profanity represents the start of falling over the edge of purity. After Holden leaves his note in the office, he goes down the stairs and discovers more profanity. This time, it is scratched into the wall. At this point, Holden realizes he does not have the ability to preserve everyone’s purity. He cannot “rub out even half of the ‘Fuck you’ signs in the world” (Salinger, 262), because it is impossible to get rid of something that is engraved so deeply. This represents not being able to save people’s innocence after something taints it. The profanity symbolizes Holden’s desire to protect the purity of those who are on the edge of it.

The red hunting hat is a symbol of protection and isolation, which often prevents people from maturing from their own experiences. Holden wears this hat frequently on his journey of leaving Pencey Prep and going back home. The hat’s appearance is unique and shows Holden’s alienation from society. This reinforces the idea that he cannot fit in with others and wishes to define himself. Holden puts on his hunting hat after fighting with Stradlater. Holden looks in the mirror and thinks that the blood on his face makes him look tough, although he says he is a “pacifist” (Salinger, 59). In this case, Holden sees Stradlater as an unsympathetic womanizer. Holden wears his hat to reassure himself that he is not like Stradlater, who already loses his innocence. After this, he seeks out Ackley since he probably hears “all the racket” (Salinger, 59) and is awake, which shows that he does not want to fully isolate himself from everything. Holden only wants to protect himself from things that will threaten his innocence. During Holden’s development, the reader can see that he is still childish and infer that this is the result of detaching himself from society. He constantly fears that his purity will disappear. Holden still has much to learn about life, and isolating himself to remain stainless will only make it more difficult for him to grow.

The lack of naivety is crucial to growing up and is inevitable for reaching success. Holden often tries to preserve the innocence of the things around him. He does this because he is struggling with keeping his purity and ends up isolating himself from others. The unsettling aspects of adult life are what people avoid when maturing. People strive to keep their purity, but losing it is unavoidable.

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Maturing from Corruption in J.D. Salinger’s Novel ‘The Catcher in the Rye’: Critical Essay. (2023, November 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 1, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/maturing-from-corruption-in-j-d-salingers-novel-the-catcher-in-the-rye-critical-essay/
“Maturing from Corruption in J.D. Salinger’s Novel ‘The Catcher in the Rye’: Critical Essay.” Edubirdie, 15 Nov. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/maturing-from-corruption-in-j-d-salingers-novel-the-catcher-in-the-rye-critical-essay/
Maturing from Corruption in J.D. Salinger’s Novel ‘The Catcher in the Rye’: Critical Essay. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/maturing-from-corruption-in-j-d-salingers-novel-the-catcher-in-the-rye-critical-essay/> [Accessed 1 Mar. 2024].
Maturing from Corruption in J.D. Salinger’s Novel ‘The Catcher in the Rye’: Critical Essay [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Nov 15 [cited 2024 Mar 1]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/maturing-from-corruption-in-j-d-salingers-novel-the-catcher-in-the-rye-critical-essay/
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