In Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, why does Holden seem to distrust people/adults?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

J.D. Salinger's main character, Holden, in The Catcher in the Rye, distrusts people and adults for many reasons. Besides the fact that he suffers from paranoia, (just one of many ailments) Holden has had many poor experiences that support that fear. He even starts out naming those experiences from the beginning of the book in chapter one. First, Holden mentions the false advertising that Pencey Prep puts out in magazines all over the nation. He says that the ads show "some hotshot guy on a horse jumping over a fence," and that image does not represent what they do at the school. "I never even once saw a horse anywhere near the place"(2). This is only one of the first lies he catches adults telling and people believing it; and, as a result, it is part of the reason he cannot accept society.

The next lie Holden describes is that people don't live the way they should and no one is what they seem to be. For example, he finds it ridiculous that at a school where everyone is rich, someone stole his camel's-hair coat out of his room. He says, "Pencey is full of crooks" (3).

The worst thing about people and adults, though, is when Holden tells about his meeting with Mr. Spencer before leaving the school. Mr. Spencer embarrasses Holden by rereading an essay that he failed from Spencer's class. Mr. Spencer seemed to be making Holden feel worse about his grade by discussing the essay after they both knew that Holden was kicked out of the school anyway. "I don't think I'll ever forgive him for reading that crap out loud," says Holden--solidifying his distrust of adults (12). This experience wouldn't make anyone feel safe in Mr. Spencer's presence again!

Holden names many other people, situations, and events that seem to show why he is justified in not trusting others. This is one of the main themes of struggle for Holden and for many teenagers as they face the adult world and must decide who they will become.

Read the study guide:
The Catcher in the Rye

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