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The Catcher in the Rye is a story about growing up. It explores all of the obstacles that we all face while reaching adulthood. The triumphs, the happiness, the heartbreak and the sadness. We follow the main character Holden throughout his journey into adulthood. But this journey is not so much in the sense that Holden literarily grows up but he become more aware of the things that are happening around him. He doesn’t mature much physically, but we witness his mind completely mature to that of an adult by the end of the novel. Although Holden’s rise to adulthood progresses slowly throughout the novel it is almost sprung on him right at the very end where he painfully witnesses something that he thought would never happen to him. Growing up means letting go, and for this is no exception for Holden.


At the beginning of the novel Holden’s mindset is that of a rebellious teenager.


Also we notice early in the novel that Holden is a very conceited and confident young man. We first begin to notice this then when he states “I was the goddamn manager of the fencing team. Very big deal.” (Salinger, ) This shows that although Holden may be a very modest character in the beginning he is also a very conceited character. Holden personifies the popular quote “Extreme vanity sometimes hides under the garb of ultra modesty.” Holden’s rebellious side seems to be the driving factor behind him. He has gotten himself kicked out of many schools, and just recently kicked out his Pencey Prep. His rebellious side seems to be the most powerful side of him right up until the end where it is snubbed out along with all his childhood mentality.


The fact that Holden believes that everyone is a bunch of “phonies” is a very childish way of thinking. Although in most cases it does prove true, the fact that Holden actually labels people and things as phonies seems to be a way to keep himself from being hurt. This goes hand and hand with Holdens way of always finding things wrong in other people. He is always picking out the bad things just so he can actually call them a “phony.” He automatically associates skill with arrogance, as well. For example when Holden is in Ernie’s and he states “It was so phony - him being such a snob and all.”(Salinger, 84). This may show that Holden has had prior bad meetings with arrogant people. But it also shows a childish way of releasing anger over his jealousy of their skill. As well, Holden uses this notion to release frustration and tension, for example when he lashes out in frustration or anger he usually mentions someone being a phony. This “phony” notion seems to serve him well until the point where he realizes that he really doesn’t have any close friends. There are only three that are mentioned. Two are directly mentioned, as being friends but the third is more of a mentor and a figure that Holden looks up to. These three characters are Phoebe, his little sister, Jean Gallagher, and his mentor (although Holden would never admit it) Mr. Antolini.


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His fight with Stradlater is a very good example of how much of a child Holden is at this point in the novel. With the mention of what seems to be a high school sweetheart, from Stradlater, Holden immediately becomes very upset. Although Salinger doesn’t actually write that Holden is upset we get the impression from when he says “Boy; I nearly dropped dead when he said that.”(Salinger, 1) or “Boy was I excited I really was.” (Salinger, 1) When Stradlater returns Holden is just waiting for something to trigger his pent up frustration about Jean. Holden quizzes him and then explodes in a rage of emotion. The fight is not so much centered on Jean, although that is what triggers it, but on everything that Holden has suppressed and is frustrated about. Immediately after the fight Holden goes and sulks in the bathroom. Proving yet again that he has a lot of growing to do.


Although his move from Pencey Prep into the real world was filled with even more frustration and confusion, the move was a smart one, because through all the pain he gained maturity. We notice the subtle changes in his attitude when he gets onto the train heading home, and a mature lady strikes up a conversation with Holden. He directly lies to her about his age, his name and what he’s studying for. Although at first glance this may show childish dishonesty but if we look more in depth at it we can see that Holden is lying because he wants to seem more mature. That’s what he’s striving to become. But although he is striving to become more mature, his lies are becoming more and more bizarre. Which leads the reader into believing that although he is striving to become more mature his mind is still that of a child.


Holden’s return to New York marks a complete turn around for his mentality. As soon as he gets to New York he wants to strike out on his own and see how that goes. His sexual thoughts begin with the woman on the train, and continue on to when he calls the women up for sex in the hotel. Also his thinking changes from completely thinking about school matters to matters of sex. He states “I was feeling pretty horny” (Salinger, 6) and then proceeds to phone the women for sex. But when she arrives he is too nervous to do anything therefore proving that although his mind is slowly changing from a young adolescent to almost pre-adulthood he still is retaining some of those childish fears. As well the nightclub offers more insight into his changing mind where he attempts to actually court a young woman. He seems a bit too expectant and confident in his skills and passes off the girl’s un-interest as ignorance. He still possesses the confidence of a young man who hasn’t realized the harsh reality of the world. “What they did, though, the three of them, when I did it, they started giggling like morons.” (Salinger, 70)


The end of the book shows a significant growth in Holden’s mindset. In the beginning Holden is quick to condemn and call everyone around him phony but by the ending there is evidence that he is becoming less judgmental and almost more open to people. The ordeal with Mr. Antolini shows that Holden is determined to not make any conclusions or new opinions about Mr. Antolini. Although Holden does call Mr. Antolini a pervert, he rushes out with such an intensity that it almost seems that he truly doesn’t want to believe that his mentor, his idol, is something that he’s morally against. This is a turning point in the story where Holden’s innocent mind is shattered and he comes to a realization that things aren’t at all what they appear to be.


As well his mind has changed from being adolescent to that of an adult when he scratches out the obscenities written at Phoebe’s school. This contributes to the idea he’s had throughout the whole novel as being the catcher in the rye. The person who catches the children who accidentally falls of the cliff of innocence into adulthood. Although Holden’s journey to adulthood was painful it offers insight not only into Holden’s mind, but also into our own as well.








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