"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. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be. I know it's crazy."
When I read these lines as Holden Caulfield replied to his younger sister, Phoebe, who questioned what he would like to do when he gets older, my emotional buttons were deathly touched.
It is not due to his nobleness of protecting innocent children from falling down the cliff of phony adulthood implied by floods of book reviews, but the sensitivity and tenderness of the sixteen-year-old boy. Actually, I don’t think Holden had ever thought the noble cause that much when he said so, he just simply wanted to stay with innocent kids and bring out the child in himself.
Each time I read the book, my heart ached. It is a world where “people never notice anything”, “they are more interested in playing a part or looking good than in doing or saying anything honest”, and “everyone wants a Cadillac and to make a lot of dough”.
Even Mr. Spencer, the teacher Holden respected, told him “life is a game that one plays according to the rules,” Holden refused to take, since he never believes that life is a game. In fact, he believes the opposite— he is so serious about life, he cares every detail of life.
Although he always labeled himself as "the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life," and "probably the biggest sex maniac you ever saw", he is soft and sensitive at heart. He is always pitying people, and trying to help. He is not willing to accept the rules set before him by phony adults.
This world was never meant for one as Holden, I thought at beginning.
He missed his younger brother, Allie, who died of leukemia, but felt reluctant to visit his grave, because “all the visitors could get in their cars and turn on their radios and all and then go someplace nice for dinner--everybody except Allie. I couldn't stand it.”
He bought a record for his little sister, Phoebe, but he dropped accidentally and it broke into pieces. He still “took the pieces out of the envelope and put them in my coat pocket,” because “they weren't good for anything, but I didn't feel like just throwing them away.”
He sympathized the prostitute, Sunny, who “going in a store and buying the coat, and nobody in the store knowing she was a prostitute. The salesman probably just thought she was a regular girl when she bought it. It made me feel sad as hell.” She looks too real, too human for him to use as a prostitute.
He gave ten bucks for two nuns for charity, but felt sorry that he “by mistake I blew some smoke in their face. I didn't mean to, but I did it.”
He kept asking cab drivers “where the ducks went when the lagoon right near Central Park South got all icy and frozen over,” but got no accurate answers. He didn’t throw the snowball at a car or a hydrant, because they “looked so nice and white,” only to end up in “closing the window and walking around the room with the snowball, packing it harder”. Finally, he was forced to chuck the snowball, because the bus-driver didn’t trust him not to throw at anyone else.
He would rather have a “goddam horse” than a car, because “a horse is at least human, for God's sake.”
Reading the book was such a lonely and depressing journey with Holden. I can see myself once a while in him, who is always missing the sweet and witty childhood, not willing for a change and longing for someone who can empathize with his confusion about the world.
Holden was full of nostalgia for these old and innocent times in Museum of Natural History. He wanted himself to be kept inside a glass case like Egyptian mummies that will remain unchanged for years. "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. I know that's impossible, but it's too bad anyway,” he said. Also, he thinks “it is nice thing about carrousels; they always play the same songs.”
However, there is nothing wrong with growing up, and inevitable, everybody will grow up. How can one balance maturity with the need for honesty and integrity? How to preserve something of childhood innocence as we grow into the crazy and phony world of adulthood?
“Where does a person go when his environment can no longer support him?” Mr. Antolini’s also posed the question to Holden. “The whole arrangement's designed for men who, at some time or other in their lives, were looking for something their own environment couldn't supply them with. Or they thought their own environment couldn't supply them with. So they gave up looking. They gave it up before they ever really even got started.”
Mr. Antolini quoted psychologist William Stekel’s words as a way out: “The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.”
But is it appropriate to call the desire to die immature while the desire to live mature, I wonder. Take the survivors from Cultural Revolution, yes, sometimes, to die is easy, but to live, it needs courage and responsibility. Live for the sake of life. However, for those who cannot make it, I prefer not to label them immature. After all, life is a lonely journey, and people are steered by their own choices as long as they think it worthy.
As the story came to its end when Holden watched Phoebe on the carousel, I was so impressed with his affection with his younger sister as well as positiveness toward himself. He is both afraid that she's going to fall off reaching for the brass ring and happy to watch his sister's happiness. It occurs to him that we have to let kids reach for the gold ring and you can't always worry about protecting them, since they have to grow up in their own way. “The thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off, they fall off, but it's bad if you say anything to them,” he said.
The last paragraph of the story suggests that Holden was sick, which left readers much space to wonder whether he was driven insane by the society or turn innocence into cynicism or any other. I like this mysterious ending, because life is mysterious. Some will choose to stand it if they cannot fix it up. Some will never surrender, and accept what may cost. Some may still wander in the identity confusion. Anyway, C’est la vie.
Love the last sentence: “Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”