How does the characterization of Holden help us understand the theme of innocence and the message that the author is trying to express in The Catcher in the Rye?

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The loss of innocence is an important theme in The Catcher in the Rye. Holden experienced a terrible loss when his younger brother, Allie, died. Before then, he had been ignorant of the deep pain of grief and afterward he found himself unable to heal from that loss. Holden still retains some of that innocence through the guilt he feels over his his perceived failure to help his brother and his inability to accept that one person is not usually responsible for another’s death.

His continued innocence is also demonstrated in his increased emotional closeness to his sister, Phoebe, based in part in their mutual loss. By extension, Holden’s dream of protecting or catching all little children as the imaginary character, “the catcher in the rye,” shows his progression from the childhood state of innocence toward a mature attitude.

Holden’s adolescent status, with his fluctuating attitudes and behaviors, overall supports the tug-of-war he is experiencing between innocence and maturity. Holden is narrow-minded in some ways, as he is unforgivingly righteous in his condemnation of phonies. His desire to engage in what he sees as adult behavior, through initiation into sexual activity, is not realized. Instead of paying a prostitute to have sexual relations, because of his own naïveté, Holden is victimized and remains a child in with regards to sex.

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