Holden Caulfield's Perception Of The World.
In "The Catcher In The Rye", Holden views the world as an
evil and corrupt place where there is no peace. This
perception of the world does not change significantly
throughout the novel. However as the novel progresses,
Holden gradually comes to the realization that he is
powerless to change this.
During the short period of Holden's life covered in this
book, "Holden does succeed in making us perceive that the
world is crazy". Shortly after Holden leaves Pencey Prep he
checks in to the Edmont Hotel. This is where Holden's
turmoil begins. Holden spends the following evening in this
hotel which was "full of perverts and morons. (There were)
screwballs all over the place." His situation only
deteriorates from this point on as the more he looks around
this world, the more depressing life seems.
Around every corner Holden sees evil. He looks out on a
world which appears completely immoral and unscrupulous.
The three days we learn of from the novel place a
distressed Holden in the vicinity of Manhattan. The city is
decked with decorations and holiday splendor, yet, much to
Holden's despair "seldom yields any occasions of peace,
charity or even genuine merriment." Holden is surrounded by
what he views as drunks, perverts, morons and screwballs.
These convictions which Holden holds waver very momentarily
during only one particular scene in the book. The scene is
that with Mr. Antolini. After Mr. Antolini patted Holden on
the head while he was sleeping, Holden jumped up and ran
out thinking that Mr. Antolini was a pervert as well. This
is the only time during the novel where Holden thinks twice
about considering someone as a pervert. After reviewing Mr.
Antolini, Holden finally concludes that maybe he wasn't
making a "flitty" pass at him. Maybe he just likes patting
guys' heads as they sleep. This is really the only time in
the novel where Holden actually considers a positive side.
This event does not constitute a significant change. As
Holden himself says, "It's not too bad when the sun's out,
but the sun only comes out when it feels like coming out."
The sun of course is a reference to decency through the
common association of light and goodness.
His perception of the world remains the same.
The one conviction that does change during the novel is
Holden's belief that he can change the world. On his date
with Sally, Holden reveals his feelings. "Did you ever get
fed up?... I mean did you ever get scared that everything
was going to go lousy unless you did something..." Holden
goes through several plans. Holden at one point
contemplates heading out west where he will pretend to be a
deaf-mute and live a quiet life. At another point Holden
proposes to Sally to escape this world with him. It is
finally to his younger sister Phoebe that Holden reveals
his ultimate plan. Although Holden describes the situation
in a very picturesque and symbolic manner he essentially
tells Phoebe that he wants to prevent children from growing
up. He blames the world's corruption on adults and believes
that when he stops the children from growing up he will
preserve their innocence and save the world.
It takes most of the book before Holden begins to realize
that he is helpless to stop this corruption. Finally, he
realizes that not only is there nothing that he can do, but
there is nowhere he can go to hide from it. Holden takes
awhile to comprehend these concepts. One good example is
when Holden is delivering the note to his sister. He
encounters a "fuck-you" written on the wall. Holden careful
rubs this off with his hand so as to protect the innocent
children from reading it. Later on he finds "fuck-you"
scratched into the surface with a knife. He discovers that
he can't efface this one. Even in the timeless peace of the
Egyptian tomb room at the museum there is an un-erasable
"fuck-you." This incident is the beginning of Holden's
realization that his dreams are unfeasible.
Ironically enough, it is one of the "innocent" children
that he is trying to protect who helps him come to terms
with this realization. It is Phoebe who challenges his plan
to escape out west. As he is telling Phoebe that she can
not run away, he discovers that he too can not run away.
"You can't ever find a place that is nice and peaceful,
because there isn't any."
The final break-down comes near the end of the book when he
is watching Phoebe on the carousel.
All the kids kept trying to grab for the gold ring, and so
was old Phoebe, and I was sort of afraid she'd fall off the
goddam horse, but I didn't say anything or do anything. The
thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring,
you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they
fall off, they fall off, but it's bad if you say anything
In the above passage from the novel, Holden hits the final
breakdown. Being "the catcher" becomes obviously
unrealistic. The gold rings are ironically not gold but
really brass-plated iron. The gold rings are symbols of the
corrupted world which always "wears" a shiny surface to
hide its evil. It is at this point that Holden sees that he
can not stop children from growing up and therefore losing
their innocence. They will fall if they fall, there is
nothing that can be done.
Shortly after this point Holden has his nervous breakdown.
His breakdown is due to this depressing realization that
the world is corrupt and filled with evil. He knows now
with a sickening certainty that he is powerless to stop
both evil and maturation. As a matter of fact, it is "bad"
to do so.
"For complete summary and analysis of literary works, please visit