The Catcher of the Rye
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The Impossible Quest, Resolved
In the Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger, Holden, the protagonist, is on an impossible quest to preserve the innocence and genuineness of childhood, a quest that requires him to avoid becoming a phony adult. Holden mistakenly believes that if he grows up, he will lose his identity as all children do in the maturity process, which is an impossible quest. Three symbols that illustrate Holden’s impossible quest include the museum, the character of James Castle, and his aspiration to become “the catcher in the rye”. However, through the symbol of the carousel, Holden realizes his quest to keep himself and all children from growing up is unattainable.

The first symbol, the character James Castle, represents Holden himself. Holden identifies with his classmate from Elkton Hills, even though he did not know him well. When Phoebe asks him to name something Holden likes, James Castle pops into Holden’s mind. James is further identified with Holden because his name comes just before Caulfield at roll call; and he was wearing Holden’s sweater when he died (188-189). James is a symbol of a genuine person who will not give in to or compromise on phoniness, even to the slightest extent. James is uncompromising and rigid, just like Holden, which is a quality that Holden admires; he feels that people are either all genuine with child-like innocence or phony adults. For Holden, there is no in between area, just two inflexible opposites. James Castle symbolizes one who does not fit in and one who doesn’t understand that the values he is fighting for. He would rather jump out the window than take back an insulting remark. Holden admires James’ inflexibility, but doesn’t seem to realize that, like James, he cannot survive in a world that requires some kind of flexibility and compromise.

Mr. Antolini makes it clear that James Castle behaves like a child while discussing with Holden, “The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one” (207-208). Like James, Holden wants to die nobly for his own cause; he still doesn’t realize this desire is based on his own immaturity. Yet, Holden’s quest to be genuine and honest is doomed to fail and he knows it: he is the biggest liar and phony himself when he states, “I’m the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It’s awful” (19). In his mind, innocence and honesty are tied together because of his inflexible thinking. Only the innocent are honest, and he is neither one.

A second symbol of Holden’s quest to preserve the innocence of all children, including himself, is what he describes as his idea job of being the catcher in the rye. Holden envisions himself in a field of rye, surrounded by children running around and playing games. To be the catcher, he would be “standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What [he has] to do, [he has] to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff” (191). In Holden’s thinking, the field is a place of safety where children can remain innocent and pure, but if they fall over the cliff, they enter the world of adulthood, lose their identity as innocent, and become phony. Perhaps Holden is afraid that all adults will be liars or phonies like Carl Luce and Sally Hayes. He may also be concerned that, like his parents who haven’t come to terms with Allie’s death, adults cannot cope with the hardships of life. If he stays in a field, he never has to look beyond to realize that he has responsibilities outside himself. If he can keep the children from growing up, the field would be like another museum, with everything remaining the same.

Another important symbol that gives the reader insight into Holden’s quest is the Museum

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Character Of James Castle And Character James Castle. (April 5, 2021). Retrieved from