I’m going to say this off the bat: I didn’t like The Catcher in the Rye. I found it dull, boring, and by the end it was an outright chore to finish it. That’s not to say that I’m not glad that so many people love it. I am. If you love it, that’s great, I’m very happy for you.
Despite my dislike, I do understand the overall theme of the book. Holden Caulfield is fed up with the phoniness of the adult world and his dream is to be a “catcher in the rye.” That is, he wants to preserve childhood innocence instead of watching it be corrupted by a phony adult world. He is especially concerned for his little sister Phoebe whom he gives his special hat to in order to metaphorically shield her from the phonies.
There lies my biggest problem with the story. The so-called “purity” of childhood innocence is put on a pedestal it will never deserve. Holden constantly whines about the phonies of the adult world, but the truth is the phoniness of the child world is often just as bad if not worse. When I was younger than Phoebe, I had to deal with many miniature phonies all throughout elementary school. My peers only wanted to be my friend because I had something they wanted. When they got it, they cast me out. I especially remember my so-called best friend who constantly stated how much she disliked the most popular girl in the class and much preferred to hang out with me. And a few months later she went right back with the popular girl’s clique.
If those aren’t phonies, I don’t know who is. And I know I’m far from the only kid who went through that.
If Holden actually achieved his dream and became a catcher in the rye, he would damage the child far more than the adult world ever could. Yes, it can be incredibly phony, but now that I am an adult I can actually perceive that and protect myself against it. If I retained my childhood innocence, it would only serve as a blindfold. I wouldn’t be able to understand phoniness and my inner world would never expand. As the movie Where the Wild Things Are pointed out, children are incredibly selfish creatures. Everything is about them and growing up is the only thing the makes them see that it isn’t. Yes, some corruption is inevitable, but when you look at the bigger picture it’s a small price to pay. Holden is right to hate phoniness, but the solution is not to blind children to it, but to teach them to understand and avoid it.
“It’s no use trying to protect or speak for other people, not really. The only hope is to teach them to do it for themselves.”
–Annie Sullivan “The Miracle Worker (2000)”