One of the most tragic things to occur and for people to experience in life is the death of a family member. Everyone in the family suffers, as well as extended family and friends, suffer a great deal of grief. It is completely normal to grieve in different ways, nobody is the same therefore everybody has a different way of coping with such tragedies. It is especially difficult for teenagers. Adolescence is a very fragile time in which a teen is transitioning to adulthood. Their brain and their emotions are easily affected by things that happen around them. The death of a sibling can cause a very great deal of harm to the teen’s mentality and could cause further problems for them in the future, this is the case with Holden. Holden’s brother, Allie, died while Holden was a teen, and that took a serious toll on Holden causing him to act out in various rebellious ways, but also in caring ways towards children. The cause of Holden’s behavior is the death of his brother Allie. This is shown through his constant remising of the past and his desire to preserve the innocence of other children.
Throughout the book, Holden is always caught thinking about the past, and he often thinks back to his childhood. It seems as though his happy moments were only during his childhood. One person that is constantly on Holden’s mind, other than Allie, is Jane Gallagher. Holden is always thinking and talking about her, even if he doesn’t notice it sometimes. She seems to have a great impact on him, and he has a very deep caring for her. They met during Holden’s childhood in Maine: “Anyway, after that Jane and I got to be friends and all. I played golf with her that same afternoon.” (Salinger, 77) After this day, Holden and Jane spent a lot of time together and they became very close.
She was one of the only people that he showed Allie’s baseball mitt, which is a big deal because Holden is a very closed-off person. He doesn’t share much with people and he has a harder time making connections than most people. Within this difficulty of making connections, it seems as if Holden is missing a piece of himself, which doesn’t allow him to be the person he can be to the fullest. In the article, “Experiencing the Death of a Sibling as an Adolescent”, it states: “… even adolescents, cannot always tell the difference between themselves and their siblings. When the sibling dies, it may feel as if part of the self is lost too.” (White, 2) Holden may feel like when Allie died, he also lost a part of himself as well, and it makes it harder for him to connect with others. On the website “Ourgrief.org”, it was said: “After your brother or sister has died…In addition to the wide variety of typical physical and emotional expressions of grief, here are some reactions that are specific to the death of a sibling…
You may feel abandoned or left behind.” The thought is that Holden may feel as if when Allie died, he left Holden behind, that is why he may feel like he lost a part of himself and he has a hard time creating new relationships with others he meets or people that are around him. Additionally, Holden thinks about his little sister, Phoebe, a lot too. During the novel, he contemplates calling her to talk but hesitates because he doesn’t want his parents to answer the phone. When he was going to meet up with her at the museum, he was remembering his time at the school Phoebe currently attends: “We had this teacher, Miss Aigletinger, that took us there damn near every Saturday… I get very happy when I think about it. Even now.” (Salinger, 119) He used to go to the museum all of the time when he was younger and just thinking about the past and how his teacher would take the class there every Saturday made him very happy. It is commonly seen that anything having to deal with Holden’s childhood brings him at least some bit of happiness because his childhood was when his brother was still alive.
Not only is Holden’s rebellious behavior because of Allie’s death seen through his thoughts about the past, but it is also seen through his longing to preserve the innocence of other children and how their innocence brings him happiness. Holden was walking along the street when he saw a family who had a little boy. The little boy was simply minding his own business and being a little kid, just that brought Holden happiness: “The cars zoomed by, brakes screeched all over the place, his parents paid no attention to him and he kept on walking next to the curb and singing ‘If a body catches a body coming through the rye.’ It made me feel better. It made me feel not so depressed anymore.” (Salinger, 115) The boy was walking along the sidewalk just singing a song, Holden saw the innocence that was within him and that brought him joy. When Holden went to meet Phoebe at the museum, he saw a curse word written on the wall of the museum and it infuriated him. He thought about how all of the little kids that passed through there would see the curse words: “I thought how Phoebe and all the other kids would see it, and how they’d wonder what the hell it meant…
I kept wanting to kill whoever’s written it.” (Salinger, 201) He said he wanted to kill whoever had done it. He was scared that the little kids would wonder what the words meant, and he didn’t want the innocence of the children to be corrupted. Also having to do with Phoebe, when Holden told her that he was going to run away, she wanted to go with him but he didn’t let her: “I almost hated her. I think I hated her the most because she wouldn’t be in that play anymore if she went away with me.” (Salinger, 207) Being in the play was a demonstration of childhood to Holden. He knew that if his little sister went away with him, then she wouldn’t be able to be in the play and that would in a sense ruin her childhood. Furthermore, when Holden was asked by Phoebe what he wanted to do in life, he said:
“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.” (Salinger, 173)
Holden wanted to catch all of the children at the end of the cliff of the rye field before they fell off because they would be running and they wouldn’t see where they were going. Above all, Holden wanted to be the one that saved them and saved their innocence. Because he was the happiest during his childhood when his brother was alive, he finds it important to preserve the childhood and innocence of other kids so they can be happy.
In conclusion, it is clear to see that the cause of Holden’s behavior is the death of his brother Allie. Allie was alive during Holden’s childhood, therefore, that is when Holden was the happiest in his life. Holden is often caught thinking about the past, about Allie and Jane, who he also met during the early years of his life. Holden has also shown a caring for the protection of innocence and childhood of other kids. All of this is caused by the death of his younger brother that occurred while he was an adolescent.
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