” . . 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.”
– J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
In one of the greatest novels penned down by J.D Salinger, Holden Caulfield confesses what he would like to do ‘with his life’– he would like to be the catcher in the rye. An admittedly strange way of looking at the world. As a coming-of-age novel, The Catcher in The Rye captures Holden’s struggle to transition from childhood to adulthood. This description reflects strongly on the essence of simplicity and innocence- of simply running around and catching children in a field of rye, protecting them from falling over the cliff, the metaphorical parallel of the complex and dark adult world. There are several ways of reading in to this metaphor, but one of the underlying thematic strains of the preservation of the childhood within us is something to ponder upon.
As we have sped over from on century to another, from fields and thatched roofs to concrete roads and tall buildings, we have progressed a great deal from our incessant endeavor to venture into the unknown and to develop more and more innovations, newer than the newest. Somewhere however, as mankind has leapt giant leaps to reach where we are today, it has detached itself from the essence of simplicity and happiness that was once within its folds. Some might argue this is an oversimplified view of looking at things, or worse still, an exposition of what has already been discussed at length by the older generations as they sit recounting about their days of climbing apple trees and our days of fiddling with smartphones.
There are, however, two reasons why this exposition is arguably different. Firstly, the essence of childhood discussed contextually in its true sense, is exclusive of time and space. Even in the older generations there were times when children were pushed into their houses to help with work and this did compromise their spirit of innocence to a large degree. Nevertheless, the effect of development to decrease the possibilities of tapping into a purer form of childhood cannot be blindly ignored. Herein comes the second difference. If one must look at the idea of detaching oneself from innocence and simplicity, older generations cannot relieve themselves of blame by pushing on the burden of the ills of development onto the newer ones, it is a blame that we share as mankind.
We have developed a rigid system to encase our lives in a ridiculous algorithmic pattern- a dangerous tendency to control and organize everything- a tendency that is to blame behind all the odd amount of scrutiny that a four year old is put through at the very beginning of school, all the entrance exams coaching tuitions that begin as early as the sixth grade, all the assignments and exams to tackle with at college, all the gigantic targets that must be met at work. With such intense arenas of stress created in a good portion of our lives, we are left too tired to go out and play or sit under a tree. Relaxation through more technologically accessible means seems, very practically, more viable. This cause-and-effect cycle has squeezed out with stoic determination the slightest possibilities of being in touch with our innocence.
It seems especially ridiculous, at this point in time to suggest a forty year old to go out and play football or fly kites, that is just not what ‘grown-ups’ do. But why don’t they? It is the way we lived many years ago when there weren’t offices we could go to and furnished flats we could come back to. The reason people like Holden even today are so befuddled by the world of adults is because its complexity is born because of adults themselves. Being an adult is synonymous to a life of a kind of constricted responsibilities that cut out any essence of simplicity or true happiness.
It must be noted however, that Holden’s perspective was not perfect in its approach, and in a sense detached from reality and driven by fear of venturing into adulthood. However, the very fact that this is a fearful prospect speaks of something of our society. We have prioritized certain fixed ways of an ideal life that is often unnecessarily complex. Perhaps we shouldn’t all have to sit and map out a plan to be followed at all times; perhaps there is nothing wrong with just being catchers in the rye, if we can be happy that way.
-Contributed by Tinka Dubey
Picture Credits: violettevineyard.blogspot.com