What is an example of something that Holden fears in The Catcher in the Rye?

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Holden most fears uncertainty. As a teenager, his innocent view of the world is slowly being replaced by the realization that life is full of unfairness and suffering. The loss of his brother, Allie , seems to have been the first crack in his child's view of life, introducing the...

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Holden most fears uncertainty. As a teenager, his innocent view of the world is slowly being replaced by the realization that life is full of unfairness and suffering. The loss of his brother, Allie, seems to have been the first crack in his child's view of life, introducing the concept of mortality in an intimate way. His taking comfort in the sameness of the museum reflects how the future and the mystery of the adult world terrify him.

One way in which this fear manifests is in Holden's sexual feelings. He is quite uncomfortable at the idea of sleeping with someone, even though he is attracted to pretty girls and women. However, he seems to view sex as disgusting when it isn't between two people who love one another. This is not only the case with obviously predatory sexual acts, such Stratlater's supposedly forcing himself on Jane during a date or Sunny prostituting herself to make a living. It deals with any sexual activity outside of Holden's idea of romance. His attraction to a girl like Sally Hayes, who he disrespects, confuses him, and his interest in kinkier practices, such as the two people spitting water at one another, disturbs him, since it seems cruel and not loving. He is still operating within the black-and-white child's mind; gray areas, such as the idea of casual sex, do not compute for him.

Holden's fears are illustrated most often through his wondering where the ducks go during the winter. The ducks disappear during the winter and return when the weather warms up again. Unlike the never-changing museum, the duck migration does include change, but it is a predictable, cyclical change that Holden can understand. When he watches Phoebe on the carousel, Holden's fears lose their grip; he realizes that change is cyclical and that what he's going through is part of growing up, not a painful phenomenon unique to him alone.

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Since the death of his brother, Allie, the world has become an unsafe place for Holden. Two of his great fears throughout the novel are what the strong can do to the vulnerable and the inherent dangers that come with being innocent in a perilous world. This is why he longs to become the "catcher in the rye," the person protecting the innocent children at play so that they don't fall off the edge of a cliff, as he did metaphorically after Allie's death.

Holden spends much of the novel trying to protect the vulnerable. He attacks Stradlater and ends up in a fistfight with him because he fears (with no concrete evidence) that Stradlater has taken sexual advantage of Jane Gallagher on a date. Jane is a teenage girl Holden plays checkers with in the summer, and she falls into his category of the innocent and vulnerable. He similarly tries to help the nuns he meets while breakfasting in a New York diner, contrasting their meager breakfast to his own large one. He gives them $10, a large sum in that period. He wants, as well, to protect the young prostitute he hires, who seems hardly more than a child, and he does not have sex with her.

Holden wishes to retreat into the innocent world of childhood, where all that changes are the details, while the overall map of the world stays the same. He fears the uncertainties of adulthood and the kind of insensitive people he feels he will have to navigate among as he grows older.

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Holden's main fear in life is entering the competitive, uncertain world of adults. Holden is depicted as a cynical, jaded, hypercritical adolescent, who suffers from overwhelming anxiety and has never fully recovered from Allie's death. As a struggling adolescent, Holden desperately tries to hold onto his childhood innocence and fears becoming an adult. Holden's fear of entering the world of adults is illustrated in several ways. Holden expresses his disapproval of adulthood by referring to nearly every adult as a "phony." He metaphorically illustrates his anxiety by asking multiple people where the ducks in the Central Park lagoon go in the winter. The ducks metaphorically represent adolescents, and Holden's uncertainty about their absence during the winter depicts his anxiety about becoming an adult.

Holden also tells Phoebe that he wants to become a catcher in the rye, who saves children from running off steep cliffs. The steep cliffs Holden references metaphorically represent adulthood. Holden also mentions that his favorite place is the Natural History Museum because nothing ever changes and everything stays the same. Holden's affinity for such a certain, predictable environment contrasts greatly with the uncertainty he experiences when contemplating life as an adult. Overall, Holden fears growing up and entering the uncertain, competitive world of phony adults.

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Holden is afraid of confrontation, and afraid of his own weakness.

Holden often describes his fears as being “yellow.”  He says “it’s no fun to be yellow.”

Yet when Holden does get into a fight, he has a strange reaction.  He fights Stradlater over Jane Gallagher, and over Stradlater’s perceived ignoring of him.  He seems to enjoy the fight.

I went over and took a look at my stupid face in the mirror. You never saw such gore in your life….It partly scared me and it partly fascinated me. All that blood and all sort of made me look tough. (ch 6)

Holden’s toughness does not last, however much he might want it to.  I'm one of these very yellow guys. I try not to show it, but I am. (ch 13)

He explains how while he longs to stand up for himself, and fantasizes doing so, he is not really capable of it.  He feels awkward around other people, not tough.  Realizing he is “yellow” is one of the things that makes him depressed.

Holden is a very mixed up kid.  He is trying to find himself and decide what kind of person he can be, but he is worried he will not turn into a person he can respect.

 

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