In J.D. Salinger?s The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield?s innocence is taken away through a twisted chain of events. The novel opens up with Holden depresses after fluking out of Penecy, the suicide of a classmate, and the death of his brother, Allie. Because if these tragic events, Holden tries to preserve his innocence and the purity of the children around him. Holden wants to ?catch? all of the na?ve children who are falling off the cliff into adulthood. As a result of Holden coming across his sister Phoebe and the ?fuck you? on the wall of the school, Holden?s dreams of becoming the catcher in the rye disappear. He finally realizes that all children must fall into adulthood, just as he has.
While walking through the bust streets of New York, Holden notices a lighthearted little boy who is walking and humming ?if a body catch a body coming through the rye? (43). Holden finds it humorous that the child can hum so nonchalantly as the cars on the bust street honk at him. Despite the fast-moving cars, which represent the average ?phonies? in the world, the child pays no attention to them. When Holden sees that the little boy will not allow himself to be pulled into the average crowd of people, he realizes that not everyone wishes to fall from their simple childhood into adulthood.
From Holden?s encounter with this little boy, he wants to become the ?catcher in the rye.? He says to Phoebe:
I kept picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody around-nobody big, I mean-except me. And I am 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 they?re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. (173)
By saying that he wants to catch all the children that are running and not looking where they?re going, Holden is saying that he wants to save all the little children from the fake behavior of the adults in the world. He wants to prevent the children from making the mistake of becoming phony. Holden?s outlook, of wanting to save the children from adulthood, begins to change after he sees the ?fuck you? on the wall of Phoebe?s elementary school.
It drove me damn near crazy. I thought how Phoebe and all the other kids would see it, and how they?d wonder what the hell it meant, and then finally some dirty kid would tell them all cockeyed, naturally what it meant, and how they?d think about it even worry about it for a couple of days. I kept wanting to kill whoever?d written it. (201)
Because the ?fuck you? was carved on the wall, Holden cannot erase or cover it up. Holden feels that if the children were to see these vulgar words, they would lose a little of their wholesomeness. After realizing that he can?t protect all the little children from society?s harsh elements, his dream of shielding all the innocent children from maturity is ruined.
Holden contradicts his previous idea of catching the children falling off the cliff into adulthood. He says, ?you have to let them do it…if they fall off they fall off. (211)? Although few kids do reach the ring without falling, Holden finally accepts that the majority of the children will fall off the carousel into the ?phony? crowd. Holden finally believes that all children eventually lose their purity and virtue.
Holden?s dreams of becoming the catcher in the rye disappear. Through situations with his sister Phoebe and the ?fuck you? on the wall of the school Holden comes to the realization that he cannot stop children from maturing.