What can we learn from The Catcher in the Rye?

Readers can learn many things from The Catcher in the Rye, particularly about growing up. Holden’s experiences remind readers that growing up and losing childhood innocence is inevitable. Yet his story also shoes that just because this loss is unstoppable does not mean childhood innocence ceases to exist or that it can no longer be appreciated.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

J.D. Salinger’s book The Catcher in the Rye can teach readers, especially young adult readers, a great deal about how to approach life. In particular, it can teach readers a lot about the loss of innocence that comes with growing up.

Consider how the protagonistHolden Caulfield struggles to navigate...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

J.D. Salinger’s book The Catcher in the Rye can teach readers, especially young adult readers, a great deal about how to approach life. In particular, it can teach readers a lot about the loss of innocence that comes with growing up.

Consider how the protagonist Holden Caulfield struggles to navigate growing older. He does not want to be like grownups, and he fears adult activities, as seen in the scene with the prostitute. But his rejection of the growing up process does not prevent it, and thus, he grows bitter and jaded. His story reminds readers to accept this process because it happens to all of us.

The book also shows that we cannot protect the innocence of childhood forever. Consider what Holden thinks about when he and Phoebe are at the carousel at the end of the novel. He is “sort of afraid” she is going to fall off, but then once she is on the ride he watches her and thinks,

I felt so damn happy all of sudden, the way old Phoebe kept going around and around. I was damn near bawling, I felt so damn happy, if you want to know the truth. I don't know why. It was just that she looked so damn nice, the way she kept going around and around, in her blue coat and all. God, I wish you could've been there.

Here we see the culmination of Holden’s struggle to come to terms with the loss of innocence. Throughout the book he has been reminiscing about his childhood, getting excited over things like Phoebe’s experience at the Museum of Natural History, which he used to love as a child. As he moves farther away from those innocent years, he becomes more bitter about everything around him. But in this final scene we see him begin to understand that though he himself is no longer immersed in the innocence of childhood, it still exists. This is a reminder to all readers—even when we become adults, that does not mean that the joys of childhood cease to exist for others.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on