The Catcher In The Rye: Holden’s Coming of Age

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One of the most prolific genres of literature is the coming of age story. A coming of age story consists of a main character growing from childhood to adulthood through the course of the story. During this process, the protagonist must overcome many common challenges, both internal and external. The challenges they encounter consist of gaining a deeper and more mature understanding of concepts such as family, education, childhood, friendship, love, adulthood, career, and/or marriage. When most people think of a coming of age story, the first book they think of is The Cather in the Rye. In The Cather in the Rye, Holden overcomes his struggles with education, love, and most relevantly adulthood to entirely come of age by the end of the novel.

First, one of the internal struggles that Holden must overcome throughout the novel is his opinion on education and its relevancy in his life. In the opening chapter of The Cather in the Rye Holden explains how he feels about schools he has gone to including Pencey Prep and how it is full of phonies and the school itself is phony. Holden had also already been at three schools that did not work out for him, but he does not seem to be affected or care that he doesn’t fit in. After “getting the axe” at Pencey Prep Holden goes to visit his teacher, Mr. Spencer. Holden did this because Mr. Spencer is the only teacher that he liked there. During their meeting, Mt. Spencer tried to lecture Holden and said: 'I'd like to put some sense in that head of yours, boy. I'm trying to help you. I'm trying to help you, if I can.', however Holden took to this very negatively and ultimately might cause Holden to believe Mr. Spencer is just another phony. It was not until Holden’s later reunion with Mr. Antolini that he started to realize that he was wrong about school. Mr. Antolini had told Holden: “This fall I think you’re riding for—it’s a special kind of fall, a horrible kind. The man falling isn’t permitted to feel or hear himself hit bottom. He just keeps falling and falling.” Which initially Holden brushes off. Then, during that night at Mr. Antolini’s apartment, after Mr. Antolini’s actions had made Holden feel uncomfortable, he is quoted as saying: “when something perverty like that happens, I start sweating like a bastard.” Later as Holden was thinking about his encounter with Mr. Antolini, he starts to rethink his impulsive accusation and think that he just cared about him. This is the main turning point of Holden’s opinions on schooling and why he should apply himself to things as opposed to rejecting school and the people there who are trying to help him succeed.

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Next, Holden also deals with his opinion on love and more specifically his opinion on the innocence of virginity when coming of age. Holden is troubled by the fact that sex can be completely emotionless. He believes that sex is meant to happen between people who truly care for each other as opposed to sex for pleasure. Later in the novel he also must deal with his moral dilemma of whether to give in to the temptations he feels when he does accept to seek a prostitute in the hotel. After accepting the service, he starts to feel uncomfortable while thinking about the reasons that he has never had sex before. This mindset results in him refusing the service and making her leave his room after doing nothing. Throughout the whole store Holden deals with this struggle as he seems to want to lose his virginity, but he does not want to give up his purity and betray his morals that tell him he must only have sex with someone he cares for. By the end of the novel Holden is still very confused about his feelings on sexual encounters and although he does not get a formal resolution for this, if he follows his morals he will be happy in the long run.

Lastly, the most prevalent of Holden’s struggles is his animosity towards adulthood that causes him to view people around him as phonies. This is seen throughout the entire book as Holden calls all the adults around him “phony”. On the contrary, Holden also believes that children are more genuine and relates more to a child than an adult. He holds on to his youth personality and rejects all the adults around him as well as the notion of him becoming an adult. One way Holden keeps his child like state of mind alive is by constantly lying. While talking about being on the train with the mother of Earnest Morrow, Holden said: 'Then I started to read the timetable I had in my pocket. Just to stop lying. Once I get started, I can go for hours if I feel like it. No kidding. Hours.' This shows how although Holden himself is being a phony for lying, he holds into his youth in any way he can. As he recalls watching his sister Phoebe on the carousal, he says how he felt happy for the first time in the book. At the end, Holden finally starts to get over his distaste towards growing up and not applying himself and decides to apply himself and finally grow up after so many years of rejecting it.

Holden overcame his struggles with education, love, and most relevantly adulthood to come of age by the end of the The Cather in the Rye. There is a reason that coming of age stories are some of the most prolific genres of literature. These stories relate to everyone because everyone has gone through a coming of age stage in their lives. There are so many kinds of people in the world and all of which can find a story that relates to their past situations with childhood, love, family, education, or lives in general. Holden’s story in The Cather in the Rye is no exception and is in a perfect example of a coming of age story.

Works Cited

  1. Salinger, J. D. The Catcher in the Rye. 1951. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1991.
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