"The Lost Shepherd." This Essay Examines The Prevalent Theme Of Holden Caulfield As A Protector Of Innocence In "The Catcher And The Rye."

1924 words - 8 pages

The title of a book can often illuminate the central idea of the book. In The Catcher in the Rye the meaning of the title becomes clear when Holden's sister asks him what he wants to be, and he says that all he wants to be is the "catcher in the rye" from a popular children's song. In this role he envisions himself as the lone guardian watching a group of children playing on a cliff; he alone can save them from plummeting into the abyss (Salinger 173). At this point it becomes apparent to the reader that the title The Catcher in the Rye reveals Holden's desire to protect the innocent, a desire which can be seen in his relationships with his family, children, Jane Gallagher, and other complete strangers and even in his observations of inhuman things.Holden's desire to protect the innocent is seen throughout the book in his relationships with members of his family. In fact, one of the very first indications that Holden treasures innocence above all can be found in the first chapter of the novel when he calls his brother D.B. a "prostitute" for going out to Hollywood to write scripts rather than continuing to write short stories (Salinger 2). D.B. gave up pure art in a simple form, writing short stories, in order to conform to a world Holden sees as "phoney" and corrupt. Holden cannot forgive his brother for destroying the innocence of his art. Holden's relationship with his other brother, Allie, also demonstrates his desire to protect and preserve the innocent. Allie is dead at the beginning of the novel, and, as such, he represents an unchanging innocence, a "saint ideal" to Holden (Baumbach 68). Throughout the novel the reader is reminded of Holden's attachment to this dead "saint ideal" known as Allie. When Phoebe asks Holden to name something he likes a lot, one of the few things he can think of is Allie because "he was a thousand times nicer than the people you know that're alive" (Salinger 171). The fact that Holden can only like a person who died in childhood, before the world could corrupt him like it had done to his other brother, represents Holden's unwillingness to embrace anything that is not completely pure and innocent. Holden, however, is able to name a live person he likes when Phoebe questions him; he names his sister herself (Salinger 171). He likes her because she is still young enough to be innocent, and he tries to be her "catcher in the rye" to keep her that way. His concern with protecting her innocence becomes particularly apparent at one point in the novel when Holden thinks he is going to die of pneumonia, and his thoughts immediately turn to his sister and how his death might rob her of her innocence. However, he concludes that his mother would not let Phoebe go to his funeral and her innocence would, therefore, remain somewhat preserved (Salinger 155). When he erases the "fuck you" written in the stairway at her school he does momentarily succeed in becoming the "catcher" because he is preventing Phoebe from learning...

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