the story of The Catcher in the Rye while he is recovering from
his breakdown. Do you think the promise of recovery that Holden
experiences as he watches the carousel at the end of the novel has been
fulfilled? Specifically, has Holden gained a more mature perspective
on the events that he narrates?
It is possible that Holden is simply trying
to recapture his original emotions and thoughts in his narration,
and thus masking the fact that he has a more enlightened view regarding
his behavior than he had during his escapades. But nothing he says
seems to point to such irony on Holden’s part. Although Holden narrates
his story after it has already happened, he seems to have gained
little perspective. He alludes to his present situation only twice—once at the beginning and once at the end of the novel—and he refuses
to tell us much about it. Additionally, many of the personal characteristics
that have been damaging to him—for example, his cynicism and his
lack of introspection—are in fact more pervasive in his narration
of his story than in the story itself. As a result, the story he
tells is only partial; he often glides over moments of particular
trauma or treats painful moments by pretending not to care.
Because Holden is an unreliable narrator, in order to
understand his character it is necessary to look beyond his words
at his behavior and his interactions with others, using the knowledge
of his personality acquired from his narration and applying it to
his actions in the story. For instance, when Holden tells about
being beaten and robbed by Maurice, the elevator operator, he admits
that he thought he was dying and fantasizes about being a movie
hero and seeking his revenge. But he never describes how any of
this makes him feel; his sole comment is that the “goddam movies”
can ruin a person. Since we have learned from previous moments in
the book that Holden is a deeply sensitive boy, we can look beneath
the surface of his narrative to see the suffering it covers up.
In this scene, we also see how self-conflicted Holden is: he claims
to hate movies, but he turns to them in a moment of crisis. Because
the relationship between the events that Holden narrates and his
explanations of those events is so complex and contradictory, and
because he is unwilling to discuss any part of his “recovery,” nothing
that Holden says suggests that he has really matured from his experiences.
What is the
significance of the carousel in Chapter 25?
Holden’s release at the end of his story
comes as he watches Phoebe ride the carousel. There is an element
of magic to the moment, as the carousel is operating even though
it is wintertime. Holden mentions that Phoebe protests, arguing
that she is too big to ride the carousel, but Holden knows that
she wants to do it and he buys her a ticket. Holden, on the other
hand, declines to ride, which shows him recognizing, if not accepting,
his status as an adult.
In a way, the carousel is reminiscent of the
statues in the Museum of Natural History, because, like them, it
never changes. It continues to move in circles and always stays
in the same pace; it stays the same while the children who ride
it continue to grow older. It would seem, then, that the pleasure
Holden takes in watching Phoebe ride is, like his moments at the
museum and watching Phoebe sleep, self-deceptive.
But Holden does show some signs of growth. He
comments: “All the kids kept trying to grab for the gold ring, and
so was old Phoebe . . . but I didn’t say anything . . . if they
want to grab the gold ring, you have to let them do it . . . If
they fall off, they fall off.” Holden’s pronouncement references
his emendation of his “catcher in the rye” fantasy. Now he has come
to terms with the idea that every child will eventually “fall”—out
of innocence and into adulthood. Holden cannot prevent them from
doing it or save them, just as he cannot prevent or save himself
from becoming an adult. This recognition brings about a huge emotional
release for him, and he begins to cry; the sky emulates him with
a thunderstorm. Most of the other adults take refuge under the carousel’s
canopy, but Holden stays out in the rain. Whether we are meant to
take this action as one of defiance or acceptance is, like the remainder
of the novel’s ending, unclear.
never describes his psychological breakdown directly, it becomes
clear as the novel progresses that he is growing increasingly unstable. How
does Salinger indicate this instability to the reader while protecting
his narrator’s reticence?
Salinger uses two main techniques with great
efficiency. The first is to emphasize a contrast between Holden’s
relatively casual description of his actions and the apparent desperation
of the actions themselves. When Holden describes walking to the
Central Park duck pond late at night, for instance, he casually
mentions that he had icicles in his hair and worried about catching
pneumonia, but he does not seem to consider it strange to walk outdoors
with wet hair in freezing weather. It does seem strange to the reader,
however, and Salinger uses that sense of strangeness, as well as
Holden’s apparent obliviousness to it, to emphasize his mental imbalance.
His other technique is to provide alternative viewpoints in the
other characters’ responses to Holden’s behavior as guidelines.
For instance, when Holden has his meltdown with Sally and tries
to persuade her to flee society and live with him in a cabin, she
repeatedly asks him to stop shouting. In his account of the scene,
Holden claims he wasn’t shouting, but we believe Sally. Salinger
uses her angry, fearful response to signal to the reader that Holden’s
mental state is worse than he admits or acknowledges.