Is Holden Caufield's retreat from adulthood to childhood simply an escape, or rather an attempt to recreate the world?

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cathibee eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Holden Caulfield, the main character in J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, is depicted as a tormented and confused young man.  Initially, his retreat into childhood might be regarded as a reaction to this confusion. And indeed, Holden shows all the signs of wishing to escape the world of adults, which he finds confusing and even hostile, especially in terms of sex.

But Holden also surprises us. Even in his retreat, he remains inquisitive and continues to search for the answers he feels he needs. Although this often leads him to places and people who ridicule him and make him feel inadequate, he does not stop searching.

In general, the feeling one gets is not that Holden is trying to escape or even that he attempts to create a new world for himself. Instead, he searches for an entrance to a world he feels he cannot understand. He looks for answers in the existing worlds of adulthood and childhood.  It is as if he realizes that he will have to play the role of adult at some point, but he can only do this if he can enter this world with the answers he needs.

Holden therefore neither really retreats nor truly recreates.  Instead, he seeks to make sense.


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The Catcher in the Rye

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