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Adolescent Truths from The Catcher in the Rye

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J. D. Salinger painstakingly fabricated The Catcher in the Rye as a novel of escape from conscience and the discovery of the heart. Although written in the 1950’s, the novel outlines adolescent difficulties encountered by Holden Caufield that remain consistent with those of present day youth and offer insight to the open minded on overcoming these difficulties.

In his firm and definitive attempt to uncover truths about adolescence, and in his adamant appeal on behalf of adolescents for all mankind to analyze youths then criticize, Salinger created Holden Caufield and bestowed upon him the honor and responsibility of being the subjective eye and the critical voice of a cold humanity and judgmental adults. Holden’s persona is developed by Salinger’s deliberate and repeated practice of slang and obscenities, which also assists in making a connection and in keeping the attention of the reader while maintaining ease and comfort. The promotion of this style of language is supported by Holden’s belief in getting to the heart of the matter, in eliminating “all that David Copperfield kind of crap” (3), and because he is not familiar with any other method. If not permitted to express his emotions in such a manner, Holden’s true impressions will be suppressed, and he will become as phony as those around him, something for which he abhors, thereby eliciting contempt from his readers. Rebelliousness, however, is not encouraged; it is merely seen as inevitable because of an adolescent’s plaguing identity crisis and a fear of alienation among peers as well as adults. Furthermore, Holden’s impulsive and irrational behavior suggests a mental imbalance, but adhering to his conscience returns his life to perspective and proves mental stability. Thus, Holden has indeed measured up to his calling, for he has become an identifying figure for youths and simultaneously has caused adults to cringe, which is not unlike the relationship between the adults and adolescents of today, or even of the future.

The novel most adequately represents adolescents and their struggles, especially in the area of sexuality. Sexual curiosity and urges are natural instincts for all adolescents, but self-control and responsibility must also accompany them. Holden is constantly commenting mockingly about “giving a girl the time”; he is even willing to pay to lose his virginity. However, all of Holden’s comments are simply in jest because he always responds with ‘no,’ either mentally or verbally; although irresponsible and self-centered, Holden displays respect for himself and the sacredness of virginity, which is a fine example for youths. The novel also takes a glance at homosexuality, when after Mr. Antolini’s sound moral advice is followed by a homosexual gesture towards Holden, which exemplifies that even though an adolescent my reach adulthood through responsibility, problems and issues are still a factor; the adolescent, however, is better prepared to accept them.

J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye will no doubt continue to be banned, but it will also continue to thrive among readers who dare to learn. Adults should not hinder an adolescent from experimenting and experiencing life. Adolescents should be encouraged to be individuals, to be nonconformists, to fulfill carpe diem. Nevertheless, parents’ should also stress responsibility, sound reasoning, self-control, and most importantly, be a guide and advisor because as an adult those adolescent years have already been experienced and learned.

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