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Growing Pains: Coming of Age in The Catcher in the Rye

By Amanda Wang, IV Form

Growing Pains: Coming of Age in The Catcher in the Rye

Growth is a beautiful pain. In American classic, The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger vividly depicts a teenage protagonist who is overwhelmed by the rapid changes around him and his impending adulthood. Holden lives in a metropolis but does not belong to it. All he wants is to “catch [children] if they start to go over the cliff [of sophistication]” (Salinger 191). But in reality, he is the child who runs astray. When he is on the verge of falling, Mr. Antolini lends him a helping hand and provides him a satisfactory answer to his dilemma. At last, Holden accepts his philosophy and procures a new understanding of his situation, surroundings, and society. 

Mr. Antolini wakes Holden up from his dream of escaping the city. Mr. Antolini speaks bluntly that Holden is “riding for some kind of a terrible, terrible fall” (Salinger 206). Since Holden wastes all his time deceiving others and himself and trying to delay his inevitable adulthood, Mr. Antolini has to ruthlessly tear off his mask and force him to face reality. Yet he takes an atypical approach to help Holden. While old Spencer reinforces that “life is a game that one plays according to its rules” (Salinger 11), Mr. Antolini advises Holden to know his “true measurement and dress [his] mind accordingly” (Salinger 210). Contrary to other adults in the book, Mr. Antolini sees hope in Holden. His firm belief inspires Holden to become the captain of his life instead of drifting along the mainstream or dropping anchor in place. Holden’s struggles now motivate him to continue his ordinary life instead of alienating him from it. Then Mr. Antolini asks Holden to think twice about attending school, describing education as history and poetry. Holden takes his proposal into consideration because he feels cared for and understood by him. Moreover, Mr. Antolini consoles Holden by stating that he is “not the first person who [is] ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior” (Salinger 208). His words narrow the feeling of disparity between the depressed and lonesome Holden and other youths. Mr. Antolini gives Holden a carrot after the stick, bringing him back to the real world and arousing his passion for life.