There are things in life that people have a very hard time letting go of, be it a childhood toy, friends, places, or experiences. Now moving on from these things can be trying for most people, because if you love something and are completely comfortable with it you most likely won’t just toss it aside like it is nothing. In J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye the protagonist Holden Caulfield has an inner struggle with his fear of change; this is exposed throughout the book through the use of symbols repeatedly showing Holden’s attachment to childhood and innocence. These symbols and characters offer up a few different points of argument as to what Holden holds dear and values, but we will specifically be looking at his fear of change.
The first of the symbols that most people pick out as the most obvious is the museum that Holden always went to as a child. This is the most obvious symbol because Holden says directly “The best thing though in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move . . . Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different was you” (121). This tells the reader, once again obviously, that he doesn’t enjoy his world changing much as he is constantly talking about the world and how everyone is a phony because they try and conform with the times. So even though he is wrong about the museum being truly unaffected by change and time, one can see that he wishes that everything in his life was that reliable. This brings us to a second element that represents his fear of change: Jane.
Jane, although technically a person in the novel, is never actually actively playing a part in the story other than when Holden reminisces about her, so we will use her as a symbol rather than a character. Jane is brought up first in the story by Holden’s roommate Stradlater as he is going on a date with her. Holden is worried though, because Stradlater is a bit of a womanizer and Holden will not accept that she would do anything with Stradlater, this worries Holden greatly as he can’t get it off his mind. “Every time I got to the part about her out with Stradlater in that damn Ed Banky’s car, it almost drove me crazy. I knew she wouldn’t let him get to first base with her, but it drove me crazy anyway” (84). Holden cannot stop thinking about Stradlater and Jane for this portion of the chapter because he can’t imagine his “innocent” Jane being corrupted by Stradlater’s distasteful way with woman. He simply will not accept it into his mind. And throughout the novel he always talk about calling Jane, although he never really does because as we can infer he does not want to ruin his picturesque view of Jane. But we come to find that it is not only Jane, or his own personal memories that he wishes to protect, but everyone that he can possibly help from changing and becoming a “phony”.
The reason that I say he will save everyone he can is because towards the end of the novel when he goes home to visit Phoebe she sort of bursts his bubble and asks if there’s anything that he truly likes. His response is definitely not bubble gum, or cars, or any other typical answer you might have guessed. Instead it is a very unique and enlightening dream of his.
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 do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. (173)
Now, this is quite an odd thing for someone to say, surely, but it tells us something about Holden. It shows us that he wants to protect people if he can, namely children. What significance does that have? well, in this case it is significant because to him falling off of this cliff represents a loss of innocence and change into being a phony adult. This is yet another example of how he does not like change, because to him childhood is a sacred state and if it is to be lost it is the end of goodness in someone. This is why he so adamantly defends Jane in his own mind, and assumedly why he talks to kids so willingly and cheerfully, yet he avoids adults because he believes they are without innocence or in other words; they have changed from what he wants to see in people.
So, in essence, we see from all of this that Holden wants nothing to change, wants people to stay the same, wants innocence to be preserved, and ultimately wants to avoid phoniness. Holden Caulfield in “The Catcher in the Rye” has an inner struggle with his fear of change it is shown repeatedly throughout the book with symbols and characters, some of which were not even covered above. There are many things in the world that change, toys, friends, homes, memories . . . But don’t let it destroy you like poor Holden Caulfield was, thing’s change and that’s how life goes.