In the novel The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, the main character, Holden Caulfield finds himself on a journey through New York City, with a mission to seek the truth of his integrity and life. Since a young age, his life-changing experiences define how he sees others and the world around him. Resulting from his younger brother’s death and his best friend’s abuse, Holden’s mental state drives him to leave school, and take to the rough streets of Manhattan. During his three day quest, Holden experiences the realities of the adult world, leading him to alcohol, prostitutes, cigarettes, phonies, and perverts. Without realizing it, Holden is caught amid the world of childhood innocence and adulthood. He then sees how precious and threatened childhood innocence really is because of adult influences.
As a result of this, Holden says that he wants to be the catcher in the rye, a metaphor for sheltering kids from the fall of innocence and protection of the adult world. At the end of the book, Holden understands that he can not save children from life’s trials and that he must let them try to achieve their goals on their own. Salinger uses the symbols of the nuns, the Museum of Natural History, the catcher in the rye and the carousel’s golden ring, to create the theme that the desire to protect vulnerable childhood innocence and the desire for a perfect and otherworldly love that will always give and won’t ask for anything in return is a desire to find meaning beyond one’s existence in caring for others.
One way the theme is portrayed in the book is through Salinger’s symbol of the nuns. Holden admires the nun’s altruistic lifestyle and sees them as a real-life example of preserving innocence. Holden’s world is filled with two types of people, phonies, and non-phonies and he struggles to grasp this type of society. He believes that the phony or adult world is full of corruption, betrayal, and selfishness, while children are the only non-phonies and he yearns to stop from becoming adults. Holden values children who are compassionate and that don’t care about themselves. One example of this is When Holden meets the nuns he is fascinated about their way of life and he strikes up a conversation about school and Romeo and Juliet. He even goes as far as to ask,” I thought if you were taking up a collection, I could make a small contribution. You could keep the money for when you do take up a collection” (143).
When Holden meets the nuns, he struck by their openness and genuine characters. He donates ten of his precious dollars to the nuns, showing his interest and admiration to them. When asked what one thing is that he likes a lot, by his younger sister Phoebe, Holden responds by saying,” About all I could think about were those two nuns that went around collecting dough in those beat-up old straw baskets” (220). This proves that one of the most important morals he sees in people is genuine people that aren’t phony’s. They treat him graciously even before he donates money to them. He looks up to the nuns for being kind and compassionate to him and also how they dedicate their lives to benefit others. He’s impressed by their selfless qualities. Holden’s desire in life is to preserve childhood innocence by being the catcher in the rye. He realizes that his attempt to do this is helpless, he sees that the nun’s altruistic lifestyle an alternative and realistic way. The theme of helping others and childhood innocence is also conveyed when Holden visits the Natural History Museum.