J. D. Salinger presents an image of an atypical adolescent boy in The Catcher in the Rye. Holden is much more than a troubled teen going through “a phase.” Indeed Holden is a very special boy with special needs. He doesn’t understand and doesn’t wish to understand the world around him. In fact most of the book details his guilty admissions of all the knowledge he knows but wishes he didn’t. Though his innocence regarding issues of school, money, and sexuality has already been lost, he still hopes to protect others from knowing about these adult subjects.
Holden, unlike the usual fictional teenager, doesn’t express normal rebellion. He distrusts his teachers and parents not because he wants to separate himself from them, but because he can’t understand them. In fact there is little in the world that he does understand. The only people he trusts and respects are Allie, his deceased brother, and Phoebe, his younger sister. Everyone else is a phony of some sort. Holden uses the word phony to identify everything in the world which he rejects. He rejects his roommate Stradlater because Stradlater doesn’t value the memories so dear to Holden (Allie’s baseball glove and Jane’s kings in the back row). Even Ernie, the piano player, is phony because he’s too skillful. Holden automatically associates skill with arrogance (from past experiences no doubt) and thus can’t separate the two. Even Holden’s most trusted teacher, Mr. Antolini, proves to be a phony when he attempts to fondle Holden. Thus the poor boy is left with a cluster of memories, some good but most bad.
Yet because of these memories, Holden has developed the unique ability to speak candidly (though not articulately) about the people he meets. Though he seems very skeptical about the world, he is really just bewildered. His vocabulary often makes him seem hard, but in fact he is a very weak-willed individual. Holden has no concept of pain, and often likes to see himself as a martyr for a worthy cause. This is proven after the fight with Maurice, after which he imagines his guts spilling out on the floor.
The end of the book demonstrates significant growth on the part of Holden. Although at first Holden is quick to condemn those around him as phony (like Stradlater and Ackley), his more recent encounters with others prove that he is becoming more tolerant and less judgmental.
Spirituality in Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Can anyone possibly deny the spirituality within the Shakespearean tragedy Hamlet? Yes, some literary critics do. But most critics agree with the contention of this paper – that there is considerable spirituality present in the play.
In his essay “Hamlet: His Own Falstaff,” Harold Goddard sees that Hamlet was made for “religion” and several other purposes:
He [Hamlet] was made, that is, for religion and philosophy, for love and art, for liberty to “grow unto himself” – five forces that are the elemental enemies of Force.
And this man is called upon to kill. It is almost as if Jesus had been asked to play the role of Napoleon (as the temptation in the wilderness suggests that in some sense he was). If Jesus had been, ought he to have accepted it? The absurdity of the question prompts the recording of the strangest of all the strange facts in the history of Hamlet: the fact, namely, that nearly all readers, commentators, and critics are agreed in thinking that it was Hamlet’s duty to kill, that he ought indeed to have killed much sooner than he did. (12)
Goddard’s highlighting of the main question underlying the narrative of the play – a moral question – indicates the spiritual nature of Hamlet. Not all critics appreciate the spirituality in Hamlet. A.C. Bradley’s Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth presents a different interpretation regarding the presence of spirituality within the play:
For although this or that dramatis persona may speak of gods or of God, of evil spirits or of Satan, of heaven and of hell, and although the poet may show us ghosts from another world, these ideas do not materially influence his representation of life, nor are they used…
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…Tragedies.” Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Rpt. from Shakespeare’s Women. N.p.: n.p., 1981.
Rosenberg, Marvin. “Laertes: An Impulsive but Earnest Young Aristocrat.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from The Masks of Hamlet. Newark, NJ: University of Delaware Press, 1992.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 1995. http://www.chemicool.com/Shakespeare/hamlet/full.html
West, Rebecca. “A Court and World Infected by the Disease of Corruption.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from The Court and the Castle. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1957.
Wilson, John Dover. What happens in Hamlet. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1959.