Please explain Catholicism and emotion in Catcher in the Rye. How is it important, and what does it symbolise?I am writing an essay about Catcher in the Rye. I am having some trouble explaining...

Please explain Catholicism and emotion in Catcher in the Rye. How is it important, and what does it symbolise?

I am writing an essay about Catcher in the Rye. I am having some trouble explaining emotion and Catholicism and how they are important to the book.  Please help.  Thank you

Expert Answers
mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There's two instances of Catholicism in The Catcher in the Rye: one with Ackley at Pency and one at breakfast with the nuns.

Holden asks Ackley:

"Listen. What's the routine of joining a monastery?" I asked him. I was sort of toying with the idea of joining one. "Do you have to be a Catholic and all?"

"Certainly you have to be a Catholic. You bastard, did you wake me up just to ask me a dumb ques-

"Aah, go back to sleep. I'm not going to join one anyway. The kind of luck I have, I'd probably join one with all the wrong kind of monks in it. All stupid bastards. Or just bastards."

Holden is definitely a conservative: he relishes the past and doesn't want to grow up and be a phony materialist.  He wants to live a holy life, but he doesn't know how to do it.  His father was a Catholic, but he left the church when he got married.

Like everything else, Holden is caught in the middle.  He's not a child or an adult: he's a teenager.  He's not a Catholic or a Protestant.  He's not a lover or a fighter.  He's desperately searching for a place to call home.  He runs away from home and school.  Could he find a home in the church or a monastery?

Holden also fears being a hypocrite, or a phony.  He wants to live a quiet life surrounded by books instead of people and money, but he's afraid that he'll be the "wrong kind of monk," a "stupid bastard."

Later, on his run-away journey in the city, Holden sees two nuns and their dilapidated suitcases.  The nuns also are symbols of holiness, and their suitcases are symbols of modesty, humility, and anti-materialism.  Holden likes the way they look and the way they "never [go] anywhere swanky for lunch."  As such, nuns are some of the few non-phonies in the entire novel.

These nuns are teachers too.  Holden gets into a conversation about the nature of tragedy, focusing on Romeo and Juliet's first character who dies, Mercutio.  Holden loves Mercutio because he's an outspoken rebel, like himself.  Holden really shows his intellectual and emotional side with the nuns.  He gives them ten dollars, mainly because he doesn't like to see cheap suitcases.  Like him, the nuns are travelers, and rather than engage in empty small talk, like the girls in the Lavender room, the nuns engage in meaningful conversation.  Holden feels like a pilgrim talking to them.

All this is echoed near the end of the novel when Holden gets advice from Mr. Antolini, an Italian and--like Mercutio and the nuns--likely a Catholic.  He says Holden is “in for a terrible fall”:

"The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one."

Was Mercutio a noble man?  Are the nuns noble?  Would Holden be noble if he becomes Catholic?  Or joins a monastery?  What is Holden's noble cause?

Holden could end up like Mercutio or the nuns.  He could die for a noble cause, like Mercutio and James Castle, both of whom committed suicide.  Or, he would live humbly for one, like the nuns.

In the end, what does he choose?  We don't know.  But, we do know that he lives to tell his tale.  And, his "rest home" sounds a lot like a monastery of sorts.  Ironically, too, Holden's creator J.D. Salinger, a Jewish Catholic himself, became a monk after writing this book until his death.  No one saw his face for 50 years.

Read the study guide:
The Catcher in the Rye

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