The Catcher in The Rye: Unreachable Dreams


Many people find that their dreams are unreachable. Holden Caulfield
realizes this in J.D. Salinger\'s The Catcher in the Rye. As Holden tells his
story, he recounts the events since leaving the Pencey School to his
psychiatrist. At first, Holden sounds like a typical, misguided teenager,
rebellious towards his parents, angry with his teachers, and flunking out of
school. However, as his story progresses, it becomes clear that Holden is
indeed motivated, just not academically. He has a purpose: to protect the young
and innocent minds of young children from the “horrors” of adult society. He
hopes to freeze the children in time, as wax figures are frozen in a museum.
After interacting with Phoebe, his younger sister, Holden realizes that this
goal is quite unachievable. Holden wants to be the Catcher in the Rye, then
realizes it is an unreachable ideal.
Holden begins his story misguided and without direction. After flunking
out of the Pencey School, Holden decides to leave early. Before he leaves,
though, he visits his teacher, Mr. Spencer. Mr. Spencer and Holden talk about
his direction in life: “‘Do you feel absolutely no concern for your future,
boy?\' ‘Oh, I feel some concern for my future, all right. Sure. Sure, I do.\' I
thought about it for a minute. ‘But not too much, I guess,\'” (14). After
leaving Pencey, he checks into a hotel where he invites a prostitute up to his
room. He gets cold feet and decides not to have intercourse with her, though.
Later, Holden decides to take his old girlfriend, Sally Hayes, to the theater.
After taking her to the theater, Holden formulates a crazy plan which entails
running away with Sally, getting married, and growing old together. Sally
thinks that he is crazy, and she decides to go home. During his stay away from
home, Holden drinks and smokes, showing even more misdirection. However, when
Holden returns home and talks to his sister, Phoebe, his direction becomes clear.

Holden wants to be the Catcher in the Rye to protect children from the
world in which he is forced to live. While talking with Phoebe, she asks Holden
what he would like to be. He responds saying:

"Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big
field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody\'s around--nobody big,
I mean--except me. And I\'m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I
have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff--I mean
if they\'re running and they don\'t look where they\'re going I have to come out
from somewhere and catch them. That\'s all I\'d do all day. I\'d just be the
catcher in the rye and all.\'" (173)

Holden wants to protect the innocence of his sister and every other innocent
child in the world. Before Holden meets Sally for their date, he stops in
front of the Museum of Natural History and begins to reminisce. He thinks about
the way he visited the museum when he was younger. He also tells that every
time one visits the museum, he is changed in some way, but the figures in the
exhibits always stay the same. He wants to be able to preserve some things in
the glass: “Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be
able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone,”
(122). Holden wants the innocence of children to be frozen behind that glass.
When he visits Phoebe\'s school to give her a note, Holden notices two instances
of graffiti on the walls. He succeeds in rubbing one of them off cannot rub off
the other. It depresses Holden to think that someday this kind of graffiti will
spoil his sister Phoebe and all of her companions. Up to this point, keeping
young children from his plight is Holden\'s sole motive. He soon realizes that
this is impossible.
Holden sees that becoming the Catcher in the Rye is an unattainable
ideal. When he meets Phoebe during her lunch break at school, he has made up
his mind to leave and hitchhike out west. Phoebe knows this and asks if she can
come along. This overwhelms Holden, and he decides not to leave. Instead, he
decides to take her to the zoo and to the carousel. Phoebe gets on the carousel
and finds her favorite horse. When the carousel starts Holden notices Phoebe
trying to grab for the golden ring. He