Explain topics relating to the loss of innocence as portrayed in The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that one topic that helps to illuminate the condition of a loss of innocence in the narrative connects to Holden's vision of innocence.  For Holden, the world is one in which there is little in way of redemption.  "Phonies" dominate this setting, one in which Holden sees human impulses as geared towards self- gratification and advancement at the cost of others.  For Holden, his alienation from the world is driven in avoiding this condition.

Yet, in Phoebe, Holden's musings and thoughts reflect that there is some level of innocence for which he feels compelled to fight. It exists in children.  When he sees Phoebe on the merry- go- round, he speaks to this innocence within children:

The thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off, they fall off, but it's bad if you say anything to them.

In this context, innocence is seen in the hopes and aspirations of children and those who care for them.  There is something pure and redemptive within such a context.  It is evident that Holden feels and believes this.

From this point, Holden is able to conceive of a world view in which there is innocence.  He deems it as "crazy," indicative of his belief in it.  Unlike Holden's opinions about the world and its adult inhabitants, this world view is one in which there is a definite understanding about where innocence lies and how one can envision it:

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—nobody big, I mean—except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff—I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going. I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. 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. I know it's crazy.

The implication of this vision is that Holden sees innocence as possible.  He understands that there can be innocence and redemption.  These possibilities exist within the domains of childhood.  For Holden, there is a motivation to reclaim this innocence in his own immersion within children.  This is significant because it reflects "the only thing" that Holden would "really like to be."  For Holden, there is a desire to be this "innocence."  To prevent its loss, in the form of "the catcher in the rye," thus becomes an operation to save innocence from a world that corrupts it.

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The Catcher in the Rye

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