Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Does Holden Finally Succeed in his Dream of Becoming a Catcher in the Rye?

J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye leaves most wondering whether Holden Caulfield finally succeeds in his dream of becoming a "catcher in the rye" or not i.e. a savior and defender of the innocent.

Critics have provided both affirmative and negative responses to the question, but due attention has not yet been paid to how his seemingly odd behavior toward Jane-a girl in whom he expresses interest at intervals throughout the novel—affects his final status. Holden invariably avoids direct contact with Jane, with whom he became close over the course of the summer two years before the events of the novel.

While Jane waits outside the dormitory for her date with Holden's roommate Stradlater," a very sexy bastard," Holden makes no move to see her. Three times during the same conversation Holden says to Stradlater, "I oughta go down and say hello to her" or some close variant, until at last Strad-- later replies with the question that is, by this stage, on every reader's lips: "Why the hell don'tcha, instead of keep saying it?"

Holden later toys with the idea of giving Jane a call no fewer than seven times, but never does so. Holden's reluctance to reach out to Jane, who most critics agree is on the verge of losing her innocence, seems at odds with his ideal of becoming the catcher in the rye, whose job is to "catch"-- prevent the fall-of children (the innocent).

Yet this apparent contradiction is informed by a Zen-like paradox that Salinger elsewhere frames as "aiming but not aiming" that catching demands not catching. This paradox emerges soon after Holden's reluctance to see Jane during her date with Stradlater, when Holden displays a similar reluctance to throw a snowball:

The snow was very good for packing. I didn't throw it at anything, though. I started to throw it. At a car that was parked across the street. But I changed my mind. The car looked so nice and white. Then I started to throw it at a hydrant, but that looked too nice and white, too. Finally I didn't throw it at anything.

Leaving aside any racial connotations, "too nice and white" can be understood to suggest a pristine state undisturbed by any contact. As an innocent, Jane plays the same role as the car and hydrant; she is simply "too nice and white" in Holden's view, figuratively speaking, and this explains why he neither greets her at the dormitory nor speaks with her on the phone. Holden must avoid all contact, not simply sexual contact, to preserve Jane's innocence intact.

For Holden, not interfering in any way thus comprises a principle of "catching." It follows that Holden's avoidance of touching the innocent-Jane, and elsewhere in the novel, young children-does not signal that he has surrendered the role of catcher, as critics have often argued. On the contrary, what might be termed "not-touching" is indispensable to the act (non-act) of saving the innocent.

Not-touching is similarly indispensable to preserving what is valuable at the Museum of Natural History, Holden's favorite place. "Another thing, if you touched one of the paddles or anything while you were passing, one of the guards would say to you, 'Don't touch anything, children' but he always said it in a nice voice, not like a goddam cop or anything'."

Although the role of the museum in the novel-to arrest the effects of time-has received substantial critical attention, the significance of how it does so has been overlooked. Simply put, the museum preserves by protecting what it displays from being touched; thus the guard admonishes, "Don't touch anything, children." The museum, furthermore, is "full of glass cases" that also protect by means of preventing touching, thereby enabling "everything always [to stay] right where it was".

Holden believes that "certain things they [sic] should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone". Holden's logic here complements that of the snowball episode: these "certain things" parallel the "nice and white," that is, the innocent. Like the children in the museum, to protect the innocent, the catcher must strictly refrain from touching; he must "just leave them alone."

Not-touching also informs the case of Mr. Antolini, Holden's English teacher, who tries to "catch" Holden. Antolini suspects that Holden is about to experience a fall, telling him, "This fall I think you're riding for-it's a special kind of fall, a horrible kind".

Yet although Antolini literally reaches out to Holden in the famous scene in Antolini's apartment, Antolini fails in his attempt to catch him. French maintains that "Salinger does not provide enough evidence to confirm or deny Holden's assumption" regarding Antolini's "homosexual advance toward him", but one thing is certain: when Antolini touches Holden's head, he violates the "Don't touch" rule.

This violation is similar to that of the teacher in Sherwood Anderson's short story "Hands," in Winesburg, Ohio. Salinger later refers to Catcher in the context of this story through his alter ego Buddy Glass: "Only last year, for example, a young man stopped by to see me [Buddy] about a piece I'd written, several years back, that had a good deal to do with Sherwood Anderson". The "piece" to which Buddy refers can only be Catcher, which, like Anderson's story, explores the problematic physical contact of teacher and student.

Through Anderson's story "Hands," Holden's encounter with Antolini thus links with his dream of becoming a catcher in the rye: touching and catching are both essentially matters of "hands."

In view of the paradox of not-touching, Holden's words in the ultimate scene of the novel, in which he thinks that his sister Phoebe and other children may fall from a carousel, are not as enigmatic as they first seem. Holden says, "If they fall off, they fall off, but it's bad if you say anything to them". Like contact with Jane, or Antolini's touch, intervention must be avoided for the sake of the falling.

Yet one must also wonder whether any of those falling (Jane, Holden himself, or Phoebe) ever complete their falls, or become fallen. As "catching"-the act of saving-entails the paradoxical imperative of not catching, falling can be understood for Salinger to be an inherent quality of salvation. This paradox too must inform any conclusions regarding Holden's final status in The Catcher in the Rye.

From the time of its original publication, many critics have acknowledged the Odyssean nature of Holden Caulfield's wanderings in J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. In addition, much has been made of the importance of Holden's younger sister Phoebe, who serves him as, among other things, an ideal of innocence and honesty in contrast to the corruption and phoniness of the adult world. In one of the densest and most frequently analyzed

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