In both Catcher in the Rye and My Antonia, how does the representation of childhood shape the meaning of the novels? Explain how childhood is represented in each novel.

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An interesting contrast can be discerned by comparing these two novels.  Catcher in the Rye treats childhood as a dangerous and unexplainable time, both for Holden Caulfield and the children “saved” by the theoretical “catcher in the rye.”  In Willa Cather’s novel, based on her own experiences when she was seven years old and her family moved from Virginia to Nebraska, the childhood of Antonia is adventurous, exploratory, and enlightening. Through all her adjustments, her family is there for her.  The story of this childhood, too, bears distinct historical parallels to the lives of the many families that migrated west of the Mississippi—Hold Caulfield’s childhood, however, is treated as a personal, individual story, not comparable in detail to the average childhood, but distinct and unique to this character.  Antonia, it could be said, is a representative of a whole generation of children, rather than simply a portrait of Willa Cather herself.  Her adjustment from a hill farm to a flat, dusty landscape was not of the same kind as Holden’s.  However universal the moral or message of Holden Caulfield, his childhood experiences are to be seen as distinct—frightening, yes, as many childhoods are, but not a “portrait” of a universal dilemma.  Antonia’s troubles revolved around the whole social milieu of immigrant farmers, while Holden’s troubled landscape was more personal.

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