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The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger

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In The Catcher in the Rye, in what ways does Holden embody the limbo between childhood and adulthood?

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Holden definitely feels caught between childhood and adulthood because he's practically an adult physically and mentally, but in many ways he is stuck in the past. Holden hasn't fully dealt with his younger brother's death, so he obsesses over that. Plus, he suffers from anxiety and depression about what's happened in the past and what he faces in the future. Becoming an phony adult scares Holden to death, too. He doesn't want to grow up and be fake like the adults he sees around him. Because Holden is in limbo between childhood and adulthood, he gets caught in bad adult situations, asks difficult child-like questions, and has unrealistic ideas about the future.

First, Holden knows how to spend money, catch a cab, and get a hotel room like an adult, but he sure doesn't know how to handle shady people like a pimp and his girl. Holden accepts a guy's offer to send a girl to his room for $5.00. When she gets there, Holden can't go through with it and just ends up wanting to talk. That's one example of Holden not being ready to do adult things; but when the pimp comes back, he is cheated out of $5 more, beat up, and left to learn a lesson on the hotel room floor. Holden describes his caught in limbo feelings as follows:

"I wasn't knocked out or anything, though because I remember looking up from the floor and seeing them both go out the door and shut it. Then I stayed on the floor a fairly long time. . . I thought I was dying. I really did. I thought I was drowning or something. . . I sort of started pretending I had a bullet in my guts" (103-104).

Holden can't deal with reality like an adult, so he does what a child might do and pretend to believe the worst.

Another example where Holden expresses his caught-in-limbo feelings is when he asks cab drivers about what happens to ducks during the winter when the water freezes. This drives the cabbies insane to a point, but it is typical of a child to ask such a polarizing question. The cabbie, though, tells Holden that the fish just stay in the frozen water and wait till spring. From this discussion, a parallel could be drawn between what the cabbie says about fish and Holden because both are caught in a time of life when they don't have control over their life's situations. Both a fish and Holden must patiently wait for the spring to thaw the ice before he can move forward in life (82).

Finally, Holden is still idealistic and not facing reality like an adult should. Instead of planning his future and making plans for college and career, Holden tells Phoebe that he just wants to catch kids from falling off a cliff. He tells his sister the following:

"Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around. . . except me. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff. . . That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be" (173).

Holden, at 16, is not ready for adulthood. He has a mental breakdown and luckily ends up in a hospital in California. He needs to deal with the many issues from his childhood before he can move onto adulthood. Hopefully, the hospital experience will help him to overcome his guilt and anxiety felt in childhood.

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