The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger

“You know those ducks in that lagoon in Central Park South? That little lake? By any chance, do you happen to know where they go, the ducks, when it gets all frozen over? Do you happen to know, by any chance? Do you?”

Only a broken 16 year old like Holden Caufield could think that finding the answer to such a trivial question would make him whole again. Raised by a well to do family, he lacks for nothing. His father who is a successful corporate lawyer, has connections that can get him into any good school. Yet despite all these luxuries, he is a deeply disturbed and a very sad teenager. There was just one person who made him feel truly happy, his younger brother Allie, who died from leukemia on July 18, 1946.

He hasn’t been able to stay with a single school and now just before Christmas, he is recently being expelled from Pancey Prep. A very highly reputed expensive school where he failed all his subjects except English.  Being not in any particular rush to break the news to his parents, he gets whatever little money he has and checks into a hotel in New York, hoping for some relaxation and fun. His adventures with sex, alcohol and prostitutes turn ugly, leaving him feeling no better than before. He eventually decides to run away from everything. But not before saying goodbye to his little sister, Pheobe.

When he tells her his decision, she asks him what he plans to do with his life and all he said was that he wants to save children;

“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.” 

No one sees Holden the way Pheobe does. After Allie died, Pheobe was the only person left that made showed true affection towards him. They spend an innocent and beautiful last day together walking down the cold streets of New York. Over just a span of one day Holden covered his extreme brokenness and vulnerability, and replaced it with protectiveness and love for his younger sister. The instant transformation was beautiful and proved that loving and caring for another can heal our own broken wounds.

Did you ever wonder, why the ducks?

Holden feels strongly about saving the children from the world. Maybe because he felt he couldn’t save Allie or himself. He felt that children are like the ducks in that pond. That no one cares what happens to them when the lake gets frozen, even though they all go through that park everyday . He felt no one noticed the little things anymore. And that if he found one person, just one person who knew where the ducks went, he would know that there was someone out there, who cared. And somehow that would have been something worth living for.

Holden displays characteristics of a deeply depressed juvenile in constant search for a sense of belonging. His highly judgemental attitude leaves him with nothing positive to say about anyone. Sallinger’s Catcher in Rye (Pub 1951) and Burgess’s Clockwork Orange (1962) were both around the pressures of teenager angst and interestingly, where the former is about a teenager that wants to save something, the latter seeks to destroy. The pressure they face from the community may either make them or break them.

The adolescent bridge is the last bridge a child crosses before he becomes a full fledged adult. So at a young age, they face an enormous amount of pressure not just from their families, peers and communities but from their selves to. The constant fear of failure, or of not being able to find your true purpose may either be nurtured to inspire them or  end up pushing them further into the shadows. It takes a lot of courage to grow into your own imperfectness and not everyone understands this, least of all a child.

It leaves a lot of questions and concerns for a parent ; are you expecting too much from your children? Is financial support enough? Is academic achievement everything? Should a life only be measured by its productivity and achievements? Can you teach them about the  underlying success in a failure? As a parent, will you be prepared to accept that your child’s potential has a limit? Can you respect that limit and teach your child to accept and respect his own limitations?  The exponential growth spurts that we hope to see in a tender being, can turn into a toxic fertilizer which ends up doing more harm then good and in the end raising a human being and being responsible for the kind of person they will become, is not as easy as one might think.

“If you get on the side where all the hot-shots are, then it’s a game, all right. But if you get on the other side, where there aren’t any hot-shots, then what’s a game about it? Nothing. No game.”

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