Why Does Holden Hate Adults: Critical Essay

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The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger has gone down in literary history as a timeless classic. It was initially intended for the adult audience, but later became very popular for young adults. The transition between childhood and adulthood is one of the reasons this book has become so pertinent for adolescents. The main character, Holden Caulfield, views childhood and adulthood as two very different sides of an ever-changing spectrum. He perceives childhood as innocent and angelic; conversely, adulthood is depicted as phony and execrable. This starts out as a very black-and-white concept to Holden, there is only innocence or phoniness.

Holden wants to protect the concept of childhood and adolescence as a whole. Throughout his three-day journey, it is very evident that Holden has a connection to his inner youth. At one point, Holden decided to go back to an ice skating rink where he had spent much of his childhood. At the rink, he managed to help a child tighten their skating shoes. Skating is something that was a part of his life. In chapter 16 Holden thinks, “Boy, I hadn't had a skate key in my hand for years. It didn't feel funny, though. You could put a skate key in my hand fifty years from now, in pitch dark, and I'd still know what it is” (Salinger). This thought process reveals how Holden views himself. He believes he has such a strong memory that such a minuscule object could be remembered even after a long time. Fifty years could pass and in an instant, he would still remember the feeling of holding a skate key. That’s because he has such a strong connection with each memory from his past. Soon after he has this encounter, he continued to retrace his youth by entering a museum he knew by heart and reflecting upon the moments he has grown to miss. Knowing this museum like the back of his hand further indicates the connection to the memories Holden possesses. At this point in the novel, Holden is about to move away on his own but first chooses to see his sister one last time before his departure. In a conversation about his dreams with his sister, Holden goes as far as saying “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, I mean- except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff- I mean if they’re running and they don’t know where they’re going” (Salinger 224). This dream job of his, the catcher in the rye, is what he believes is his purpose. When he pictures this, he sees himself stopping these young children from falling off the edge of a rye field into an abyss. This rye field represents childhood, and this abyss is adulthood and growing up. Nobody wants to fall into an abyss, so having the catcher will prevent these children from hitting a demise. He sees the world as corrupt and wants to protect whoever he can from being exposed to it at all costs. In his eyes, adulthood is uncharted territory, and everyone who has grown up has just become a phony.

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Holden views adulthood as undesirable. All of the encounters that Holden has had that were considered adult-like turned out bad. First off, he sees adulthood as alcohol and sexual relations. His experiences with both of those are biased and unfavorable. When his roommate and first love end up having a fling, he immediately leaves to go to New York in an attempt to cure his loneliness and sorrow. While in NY he attempted to order drinks at a bar, which he knew quite a lot about. However, they refused to serve anyone without an ID. Now sad and sober, Holden attempted to flirt with much older women to try and feel some sort of mature emotions. He even went as far as hiring a prostitute, which he ends up chickening out of because he is not ready for interactions like those. Mentally, he still sees himself as a child because he is afraid to turn into an adult. Instead of soliciting her, he just talks with her until she finally leaves. This all leads back to when Holden goes to the ice skating rink in an attempt to feel his childhood again. Secondly, Holden does not have strong connections with adults. The way he talks to children is noticeably calmer and easier. Even his grammar is more suitable for talking to children. His friend Carl Luce was having a conversation with him in a bar, and he began rambling about how immature Holden was. Holden trusted this man and went out of his way to see him, just to get called immature. And how does Holden see him in return? As phony. He believes that if someone does not like him that they are phony, or if an adult is not being 100% truthful that they are phony. Every adult to him comes off as a phony, and that is something Holden does not want to become.

Holden is still just a child. As an article about Holden’s Adolescence best puts it, “A great part of the adolescent's idealism probably stems from his resistance to growing up” (Kinnick 442). This quote completely embodies Holden in his entirety. Holden does not want to grow up. To avoid confrontation with his parents about being kicked out of school, his idea was to run away and move to the West. Simply by trying to run away, he shows how immature and childish he is. Running away from home is the first thing a little kid thinks of doing when they are too scared to face their problems head-on. Holden even says it himself, “ I act quite young for my age sometimes” (Salinger 34). Acting young and feeling like a child go hand in hand in this context. To assert yourself and figure out a strong solution is the adult way to handle issues. But that is just not how his mind works. He is so afraid of the real world that he will do whatever he can to prevent encountering the real world. Except, he is already in the real world. His friends are all growing up and having sexual encounters and pushing themselves forward to get into college, yet he is not. He does not have the mindset of someone who is moving their life forward. Just like a child, he is not ready to grow up yet, not ready to transition into an adult.

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Why Does Holden Hate Adults: Critical Essay. (2023, August 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 23, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/why-does-holden-hate-adults-critical-essay/
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Why Does Holden Hate Adults: Critical Essay. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/why-does-holden-hate-adults-critical-essay/> [Accessed 23 Jul. 2024].
Why Does Holden Hate Adults: Critical Essay [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Aug 17 [cited 2024 Jul 23]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/why-does-holden-hate-adults-critical-essay/
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