Holden Caulfield, the protagonist in The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger is a complex young man, filled with many observations about the world around him. Most of his comments tend to be negative and judgmental; however he appears much more enthusiastic and about his younger siblings, and even his past. Events and situations that occurred, both in his past and over the course of the novel, show signs of Holden’s affection for innocence. Children also allow Holden to appreciate the need for a more positive attitude in his struggle through depression.
Lastly, objects and places that have an impact on Holden’s attitude and positivity, symbolize the purity of youth. Although Holden maintains a fairly negative state of mind throughout the novel, he always becomes uplifted by the mention or memory of innocence, something that he deeply cherishes and attempts to preserve in this murky world that he finds himself trapped in. Events, both in the past and present, can bring innocence back into Holden’s thought path, causing him to feel an array of emotions.
One of the most influential events that happened in Holden’s past was the death of his brother, and it has definitely taken a piece of Holden’s innocence. Allie’s death had a tremendous impact on Holden’s life, and it is one of the main causes of his depression: “I slept in the garage the night he died, and I broke all the goddam windows with my fist, just for the hell of it. It was a very stupid thing to do, I’ll admit, but I hardly didn’t even know I was doing it, and you didn’t know Allie” (Salinger 50). Although Allie is rarely mentioned in this novel, his death had a huge impact on Holden.
The innocence of his younger brother had been lost with leukemia, which deeply saddened Holden. A plot event that also affected Holden’s innocence was the date that Stradlater and Jane went on. Holden knew about Stradlater’s nature with the girls that he dated, and he was very frustrated that Ward was about to go on a date with Jane, and old friend from Holden’s past. Holden’s innocent connection with Jane was being destroyed by Stradlater’s motives, and he wished he could have preserved the innocence of his old friend.
The protagonist’s outburst to this loss of innocence was the event that lead to his premature journey out into the night, and the whole situation helped to spark the negativity that was being presented over the course the three days. Children always bring happiness and innocence to the main character, because they allow him to formulate meaningful memories, and to appreciate the innocence that they provide. Holden imagined a world of purity and innocence, and he wished he could create such a thing: “Anyway, I keep picturing all 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. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them” (Salinger 224). This brighter world that Holden imagined brought his spirits up tremendously, and allowed him to take his mind off of his current depression. Holden’s younger sister, Phoebe, was a child who possessed both innocence and maturity.
She was a very important person in Holden’s life, because the aura of innocence that she gave off deeply affected her brother. He loved his sister not only because he had the obligation to love his family, but because she was the best representative of innocence in Holden’s life. Objects and places that Holden came across in this novel also showed signs and pieces of innocence, and Holden greatly appreciated them. Allie’s baseball mitt was a symbol with extreme ties to innocence, because they allowed Holden to happily reminisce about his deceased brother.
The museum is another thing that symbolizes the inevitability that is presented by the loss of innocence: “The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move…The only thing that would be different would be you” (Salinger 158). The Museum of Natural History symbolized Holden’s fear of changing or growing up, mentioning that there was always something different about him every time he went there. His analysis of the museum represented his desire to hold on to his own innocence, and to prevent changes that could cause its loss.
Anything having to do with youth and innocence, whether it is a person, object, or event, has a very deep meaning for Holden Caulfield, and it even briefly uplifts his emotions. Salinger shows love through the innocence that was portrayed in various things throughout the novel, and he uses Holden as the ultimate symbol of love and innocence, which is slowly being whisked away by the inevitable process of the loss of this purity. For Holden, innocence holds the key to a brighter world, and Holden refuses to be victimized by the loss of innocence as he journeys through the city that refuses to sleep.