Born on January 1, 1919, in New York City, J. D. Salinger was a literary giant despite his slim body of work and reclusive lifestyle (New York Times 8). A bildungsroman is a coming of age novel. Many critics and readers alike have argued that J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye is a superb example of a bildungsroman. In Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, the main character of Holden Caulfield, a troubled and mentally unstable sixteen year-old that has just been expelled from his fourth prep school (New York Times 8). If the protagonist has not matured since the story began, then the Catcher in the Rye is not a bildungsroman in many ways.
First, Holden never actually grows up but stays at the same maturity level the whole book. Holden delineates things about a person before he even meets them. Holden constantly judges everyone he comes into contact with. He speaks about Mr. Spencer (10), a professor at Pencey Prep, in the same patronizing tone that he describes a particular psychoanalyst with (213). Though the events take place several months apart, Holden’s attitude stays consistent. Holden has no positive outlook or idea of what to do in his life or even what to do with school. Holden says, “I’m supposed to go to school next fall, but I don’t feel like it.
That stuff doesn’t interest me too much” (213). Holden does not have any direction in his life or motivation to do much for himself and proves that unequivocally that Holden has not matured at all. Even after everything that Holden experiences throughout Catcher in the Rye, his attitude is unchanged at the conclusion. He believes he can be the Catcher in the Rye, which is a person who will catch kids that unintentionally run off a cliff covered in rye. Metaphorically, he wants to save the kids before they fall into the corruption that the adult world will entrap them in.
He does not understand that he needs to mature to do this. Second, Holden’s immaturity causes him multiple problems throughout the story, which creates sticky situations. Although he is physically mature, he acts more like a child that cannot control his emotions: “All of a sudden I started to cry. I’d give anything if I hadn’t, but I did” (103). Holden erupts into a waterfall when Maurice argues with Holden about money that Holden owes to a prostitute. The situation becomes too much for Holden to handle, and he breaks down like a child.
Also, Holden is afraid to talk to people close to him because he thinks they will be critical of him, thus causing problems with girls he likes. This shows why Holden does not interact with Jane Gallagher as much as he wants. Holden says, “I kept standing there, of giving old Jane a buzz, I mean calling her long distance at B. M… The only reason I didn’t call her was because I wasn’t in the mood” (63). Since he is afraid of interaction with people close to him, he tries to get strangers to talk to, so the conservations he has with them would not go too into depth.
He also hopes that if the conversations are not in depth, he will not be able to be judged or portrayed by others. He does not want to face the world of reality. Instead, he would ask random strangers, “Would you care to stop on the way and join me for a cocktail” (60). Wanting company to help his loneliness, Holden will be able to be whoever he wants with the stranger. He could act anyway he wanted because he will not ever see them again and their opinion of him would not matter. Last are Holden’s responsibilities, which are a complete weakness.
Holden tries to set rules up for himself like an adult, but ends up breaking them right away: “Last year I made a rule that I was going to quit horsing around with girls that, deep down, gave me a pain in the ass. I broke it though; the same week I made it- the same night, as a matter of fact” (63). Holden cannot maintain his rules, and ends up acting like a child, who needs someone else to set the rules up for him and create discipline. Holden has childish fantasies for his future. He wanted to go and be a deaf mute somewhere in the west, so he would not have to deal with all the phonies and hypocrites of everyday life.
Phoebe told him that she wanted to go along with him but told her, “I’m not going away anywhere. I changed my mind” (207). This technically is not true because Holden does go west. Just not to where he says he wanted to go. Proving his immatureness he lies to his sister that he dearly loves. Additionally, Holden cannot accept the responsibilities and consequences that come with growing up to avoid the painfulness of maturing, Holden struggles to remain childish; he finds the adult world perverted and repulsive, but does not realize that he slowly grows into the world.
Due to his struggle to remain immature to society, he is fixated on the incorruption that children possess. He wants to be the Catcher in the Rye, which is a person who will catch kids that unintentionally run off a cliff covered in rye. Metaphorically, he wants to save the kids before they fall into the corruption that the adult world will entrap them in. When he finally gets to talk to the only close person he has, he is rudely awakened back into reality, by his kid sister. Holden throughout the book does not mature at the least. He might even become more immature because he tried to be things he was not which pushed him back down.