Empathy In J. D. Salinger's The Catcher In The Rye

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Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Throughout J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, main character and narrator Holden Caulfield displays a deep desire for someone to simply hear him out. In his eye, the world is simply a bunch of “phonies” who are, for lack of better words, too self-involved and egocentric to listen to anybody. He may be the only person to ever pay for a prostitute with the mere purpose of having someone to talk to. In his effort to understand the real world and the process of growing up however, it appears that Holden sinks deeper and deeper into his fear of change and a longing to live in childhood. Holden Caulfield’s idolization of innocence is exemplified through the …show more content…
The reason he is so caught up with them is because they are symbolic of himself. Constantly he questions random strangers, such as cab drivers, if they “happen to know where they go, the ducks, when [the lagoon] gets all frozen over” (Salinger 60). He believes that if he can understand the ducks and their migration patterns, he will more confidently and contently be able to resonate with himself that life will turn out okay, and so will he. Having experienced death first hand, Holden finds extreme comfort in knowing that no matter how harsh of a winter it has been, the ducks will always come back. Holden finds the ducks’ constant return extremely pertinent to his own situation because he himself is having a rough winter, being kicked out of Pencey for “flunking four subjects” (Salinger 4). He does not even know where the ducks go, just like he’s oblivious to where he is going and where he will end up, and yet he still finds comfort in knowing that the ducks, indicative of himself, will indeed “return” to normality and will be alright. Not only does he find similarities with the ducks, but the frozen lagoon itself is representative of the pressures Holden is facing in growing up. Just as a pond freezes from the outside in, Holden finds the burden of growing up and figuring out where to go to be closing in on …show more content…
He remembers how he used to go there with his class every Saturday. It is in his remembrance of the museum’s layout that his idolization of innocence comes alive and extremely apparent. He takes extreme interest in the “big glass cases” throughout the museum because they preserved the exhibits in a way, “everything always stayed right where it was” (Salinger 121). Simply put, Holden does not want to grow up; he wants to live with, and more importantly keep, the intangible qualities of youth and innocence. It troubles him to think about how his little sister is growing up and doing all of the things that he used to and especially how “she’d be different every time she saw [the museum].” Holden’s preoccupation with innocence and its connection to the museum “didn’t [necessarily] make [him] feel gay as hell” and exemplifies how he is terrified by the unpredictable changes that the world will bring upon him. The fantasy of the “impossible,” a world where nothing every changes and “certain things… stay the way they are” has yet to escape Holden Caulfield due to his attempt to shield himself from ‘phoniness’ of the real world (Salinger

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