In Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, what hard choice does Holden Caulfield have to make and how does it affect him and others?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, the hard choice that Holden has to make is whether to grow up and face adulthood or not. This also includes the choice to face his parents after being dismissed from his third private high school or to run away. If Holden stays to face the consequences of his actions, then his parents may be able to get him the help he needs to face adulthood. If, however, Holden chooses to run away, he will only perpetuate his fear of adulthood and possibly keep running for the rest of his life. In addition, Holden and his family members will all experience the consequences of whatever he decides. For example, his parents and siblings will mourn the loss of another brother if Holden disappears from their lives, especially after experiencing Allie's death a few years previously.

The one who might suffer the most by Holden running away is his little sister, Phoebe. In fact, she packs a suitcase with plans to run away with him! Once Holden realizes that Phoebe won't go home without him, he changes his mind about running away and says the following:

"'I'm not going away anywhere. I changed my mind. So stop crying and shut up,' I said. The funny part was, she wasn't even crying when I said that. I said it anyway, though. 'C'mon, now. I'll walk you back to school. C'mon, now. You'll be late'" (207).

The above passage shows Holden actually making the decision to stay for Phoebe's sake. He makes a very adult-like decision by placing his own desires and fears aside for his little sister. This is the first step that Holden takes towards adulthood. As a result, Phoebe stops crying and Holden takes her to the zoo and for a carousel ride. Eventually, Holden receives the help he needs by checking into a hospital near his older brother in California, and the family doesn't have to suffer a life of estrangement from Holden.

Read the study guide:
The Catcher in the Rye

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