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Theme of Childhood and Adulthood in Catcher in the Rye

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Adolescence, a transitional stage of physical and psychological development occurs during the period from puberty to legal adulthood. Teenagers between thirteen and nineteen years of age, experience awkward increase in stage of their lives. During the teen years, teenagers reveal in some overwhelming external and internal struggles. In the novel “Catcher in the Rye (1951), J.D. Salinger uses the motif growing up and change to reveal, sixteen-year-olds experiences self-esteem, stress, depression. It is important that parents approach their teens, who have been dealing with teenage growth issues. However, Holden doesn’t have a very good courting with both of his parents. He has not told anyone in his family about the struggles he goes through. But the main problem Holden faces is a fear of becoming an adult comes from his inability to move on after Allie’s death.

Holden doesn’t allow himself to share his emotions with family or buddies causing him to sense remoted from everyone. Throughout the book Holden calls adults’ phonies, he acts so much like a grownup himself. With his interests and enjoy with alcohol and sex that he misses his own opposition. Holden hates the responsibility of adulthood, inflicting him to embody childhood. Since Holden doesn’t want to be a “phony” like the adults, he’s always searching approaches to stay young. “I keep picturing these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids and nobody’s around- nobody big. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff.” (Salinger 23) Another reason why Holden saves kids from growing out of their childhood may be because of the death of Allie. Allie was Holden’s younger brother who died of Leukemia at the age of eleven and Holden was thirteen. “I was only thirteen, and they were going to have me psychoanalyzed and all, because I broke all the windows in the garage. I don’t blame them. I really don’t. I slept in the garage the night he died, and I broke all the goddamn windows with my fist, just for the hell of it.” (Salinger 44) By analyzing this text we can tell that Holden was extremely affected by the lost of his brother. Its difficult to deal with loss of a member of the family, especially a very close family member like Allie. This part of the story is very essential due to the fact it shows how Holden tries to prevent kids from growing out of childhood, so they don’t come to be like Allie. This may be the reason of Holden’s depression, and now not wanting to grow out of childhood.

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In some point of our lives we grow and mature. During the teenage years also called adolescence. This is a time for growth spurts and puberty modifications. Changes may encompass new responsibilities, identity, and sexual identity. Sexuality is part where a teen develops adjustments at some stage in their life. As Holden is experiencing adolescence, he begins to have feelings for girls. “She wouldn’t move any of her kings. What she’d when she’d get a king, she wouldn’t move it. She’d just leave it in the back row. She’d get them all lined up in the back row. Then she’d never use them. She just liked the way they looked when they were all in the back row.” Stradlater didn’t say anything. That kind of stuff doesn’t interest most people. (Salinger 33) Holden starts to experience his sexuality, he appreciates Jane as a person, while Stradlater sees her as a sexual item for him to impress. Another instance is when Holden prepares for a Saturday night date, he soon finds out that Stradlater’s date that night was Jane Gallagher. In the novel Holden repeatedly says he would go downstairs to say hello to Jane, ultimately, he never does. He tries flirt with Jane, however can’t get himself to comply with through and in fact do it. ‘Jane Gallagher. Jesus… I couldn’t get her off my mind. I really couldn’t. ‘I oughta go down and say hello to her, at least.’ ‘Why the hell don’t cha, instead of keep saying it?’ Stradlater said. “I walked over to the window, but you couldn’t see out of it, it was so steamy from all the heat in the can.” ‘I’m not in the mood right now,’ I said (Salinger 32) This suggest that Holden is going through puberty, because of the lack of experience with talking to females, causes him to hesitate to go talk to Jane. Throughout the unconventional we see this over and over as he attempted to call jane. Unquestionably, Holden has genuine feelings for this girl shows that him experiencing his sexuality. In the novel we can see that Holden has easy access to drugs and alcohol. Holden is an underage drinker, he uses alcohol as an escape from the real world and a way to stay away from the bad things in life. “I ordered a Scotch and soda, which is my favorite drink, next to frozen Daiquiris. If you were only around six years old, you could get liquor at Ernie’s, the place was so dark and all, and besides, nobody cared how old you were.” (Salinger 85) By this we can tell that Holden uses drugs and alcohol to solve his problems, alcohol is an escape to his problems. Time and time, we see that Holden uses unhealthy ways to cope with change. Normally teens use other ways to overcome their struggles, but because Holden never had a good parenting causing him to use drugs and alcohol.

An important symbol within the novel are the ducks, Holden’s fascination on the ducks within the Central Park lagoon signify his fear of change. Holden talks about how he is concerned in which the ducks pass during the wintertime, he discovers that they should adjust their lives to survive. Throughout the novel Holden’s nonstop thinking about the ducks indicates his denial with change, the ducks traveling into a brand-new environment. The transferring of the ducks represents his shift from adolescence to maturity. Holden gets in a taxi and directs him to a place called Edmond Hotel. During the drive Holden asks the taxi driver where the ducks in Central Park go in the winter. “I didn’t want to start an argument. “Okay,” I said. Then I thought of something, suddenly. “Hey listen”, I said. You know those ducks in that lagoon right near Central Park South? That little lake? By any chance, do you happy to know where they go, the ducks, when it gets all frozen over? Do you happen to know, by any chance?” I realize it was only one chance in a million.” (Salinger 60) What Holden means by “One chance in a million” is that the driver knows where the ducks went, he is saying that there is a small possibility that every person knows how Holden must be developing. Essentially, the ducks in the Lagoon represent his struggle with change and growing up. Another symbol was the cliff, the fall from the cliff symbolize the fall from innocence. Holden tries to keep the kids from growing up, and his wish is to help them avoid the cruelty of adult life. “Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids.” (Salinger 191) In the end of the novel Holden imagines himself saving children from falling off the cliff. The cliff represents mistakes youngsters make in their lives. Holden wants to be the person who stands at the brink of the cliff making sure the kids does not run blindly. Essentially, his desire to protect children from developing out of childhood.

In conclusion the theme of Childhood and Adulthood are extremely necessary in Catcher in the Rye. Holden views childhood as the ideal state of being, while he thinks adulthood is loaded with corrupted people, “phonies” as Holden describes. The reason Holden attempts to save children from growing out of youth is due to the fact with the misplaced of his brother he wishes others to not end up like him. Although this became the main reason, another factor may be because Holden never had parental advice, inflicting him to view adulthood as something negative.

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Theme of Childhood and Adulthood in Catcher in the Rye. (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 11, 2023, from
“Theme of Childhood and Adulthood in Catcher in the Rye.” Edubirdie, 09 Jun. 2022,
Theme of Childhood and Adulthood in Catcher in the Rye. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 11 Dec. 2023].
Theme of Childhood and Adulthood in Catcher in the Rye [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 09 [cited 2023 Dec 11]. Available from:
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