"Certain things they should stay the way they are." Is it possible to protect everything that matters you? Use details from chapters 15-21 of The Catcher In The Rye to explain your...

"Certain things they should stay the way they are." Is it possible to protect everything that matters you? Use details from chapters 15-21 of The Catcher In The Rye to explain your feelings/thoughts.

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coachingcorner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the novel ‘Catcher In The Rye’ by J.D. Salinger readers are presented with a boy who is confused and isolated in the challenging path to adulthood which we all face. Most of us have disappointments, scrapes and maybe a little fun along the way as we learn about life, love and sustaining wholesome nurturing relationships. Many people find these challenges character-building in that they help to develop resilience as we grow up. But Holden is different for several reasons - and this affects his ability to cope in the world that many of us take for granted, but in which he struggles with both the profound and the day to day changes modern life entails. As he says :

‘Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone.’

The resilience Holden needs in order to be able to step confidently out into the world on his own is missing. Lucky young adults will have been grounded in a happy loving and encouraging family where they have learned to communicate,to understand the need for boundaries and  to accept change slowly and safely and will have thereby developed good inter-personal relationship skills. They are thus emotionally equipped to deal with new situations in a more autonomous way as they get older. Even then, teenage or student life can be tough and hurtful.

Although Holden’s family tries with him, and he makes efforts to be accepted, they cannot seem to connect. The causes could be many and complex. Firstly, Holden may suffer from a condition which results in him seeing the world in a different way - nowadays we may investigate the possibilities - autism or asperges or psychological challenges. Secondly, this vulnerability is greatly exacerbated by Holden’s bereavement - this is a colossal blow to the very foundations of his sense of self and to his emotional security. The loss of an older brother is catastrophic for Holden, given the challenges he already has. This is change on a monumental scale and is an event which cannot be undone in order to make things  stay the same for ever.

So here, we see Holden powerless - he has no control over the things he can preserve, cage or keep. He wishes he could go could back to the happy childhood times he had with Phoebe in the museum too, preserving those childish golden moments in a glass case. Childhood represents the only security he has ever known and he does not have the ability to move on from that into adulthood. One detail that symbolises this challenge is Holden’s deliberate decision to go back into his past by taking a cab to revisit old haunts. But he quickly realises that even this won’t help him as locations may be roughly similar but people change relentlessly as time moves on.

Another huge challenge for Holden is the unhelpful change in his environment. With all the problems he already has, he has to then cope somehow with leaving home and surviving in an alien environment with new people and new rules. It is little wonder that poor Holden wishes things could have stayed the same. He cannot survive or make connections in the real world - he is all alone and he does not have the right coping skills. He 
has not been able to preserve his happiness in a jar - and the details of the breaking of Phoebe’s record symbolise the lack of a sense of reality in holding such an aspiration.

Read the study guide:
The Catcher in the Rye

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