In J. D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” the protagonist, Holden, is faced with many obstacles. Like most tragic heroes, he is a man who is reasonably happy at the beginning of the tragedy, but as the tragedy develops, some failure in his personality begins to affect events, so that his progress is a movement from happiness to misery. The ultimate misery results from his final awareness of his personalities limits or failures. Much of Holden’s misery is a result of his inability to successfully handle particular problems regarding adolescence.
Holden’s loneliness and overall low self-esteem are the primary adolescent motivaters for his breakdown. Holden’s general need for female companionship leads him to a reasonably accurate self-analysis: he thinks that he is the “biggest sex maniac you ever saw,” but later admits that he really doesn’t understand sex or know much about it. Holden, however, finds himself feeling rather “horny” and decides to call upon the service of Faith Cavendish. She “wasn’t exactly a whore or anything but she didn’t mind doing it once in a while…
Holden feels this experience will thrust him into what he considers the adult world. The conversation with Faith was a long one but inevitably led to nothing. An incursion into the adult world, or what Holden considers it to be, had been thwarted. In part, the failure happens because he doesn’t really know the rules, and also because loneliness is not a substitute for experience. Habitual lying is a trait not only found in adolescence but also in people of all ages. It is sometimes generated from a lack of self-esteem, boredom and self-preservation.
Holden exaggerates many truths not out of a conscious decision to deceive, but rather to lend emphasis to facts he is unsure of as when he states, “Pencey Prep advertises in about a thousand magazines. ” However, Holden also has no convictions against telling outright untruths if he can come out for the better on the other side of the exchange. “I’m the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It’s awful. If I’m on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I’m going, I’m liable to say I’m going to the opera. It’s terrible.
So when I told old Spencer I had to go to the gym to get my equipment and stuff, that was a sheer lie. I don’t even keep my goddam equipment in the gym. ” Of course, it is always important to keep in mind that if Holden is a liar, as he claims, then it is possible that many of his admissions are untrue, but if he is not really a liar, then the statement that he is a liar cannot be true. This Catch-22 reveals a glimpse of the confusion Holden feels about the world, and is significant because it is confusion that finally puts him in the hospital.
The monotony of Holden’s routines, the perceived boredom of his life, and the triviality of general conversation and actions all add weight to his already considerable adolescent angst. Holden repeatedly uses the word “phony” to describe both the world and people around himself. He does so because he does not understand how the average person can live by a code of professed morality and then actually act out completely different behavior. During a conversation, Holden learns that Stradlater’s date is Jane Gallagher, a girl whom he knows and likes.
In the course of this conversation, Stradlater persuades Holden to write his homework theme for him. While Holden is upset at his brother, D. B. , because the latter “prostituted” himself to Hollywood, he himself easily gives in to doing Stradlater’s theme paper. The conversation illustrates the state of general boredom and confusion that Holden lives in daily. Although Holden would have his audience believe that boredom is inherent in the boarding school situation, he also confesses that many boys find ways to escape it through sports, academics, and sexual relationships.
Catcher in the Rye’s character Holden is not your average teenager. He is however a fair representation of many ugly teenage attributes. Holden has a certain emotional and mental awkwardness due to the fact that he does not know what his adulthood has in store for him. This awkwardness, in turn, manifests itself through Holden’s almost self-imposed loneliness, habitual lying and exaggeration to cover up his uncertainties, and his boredom with the “phonies” and redundancies of life.
Although “hero” may not be the right characterization for Holden, his four day journey is certainly tragic and therefore somewhat comparable to two other young lost teenagers-Romeo and Juliet. All three characters were mostly blind to the forces of nature and society working around them and against them, yet Holden came out on top because he did not succumb to the temptation to just hang up the line and commit suicide. After all he does not want a “bunch of stupid rubbernecks looking at me when [he] was gory,” and to a teenager appearance and reputation are as important as anything else.