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Catcher in the Rye - the Influence of Allie and Phoebe on Holden’s Depression and Love for Children

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Christina Zhang                                                                Zhang 1

Ms. Hoffman

ENG2DG

21 November 2015

The Influence of Allie and Phoebe on Holden’s Depression and Love for Children

In J.D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, misanthropic teenager Holden Caulfield embarks on a three day journey of depression and impulsivity. As both his physical and mental deterioration continues, the love of his younger siblings, Phoebe and Allie, keeps him sane. Through the guiding influence of his younger sister and brother, Holden manages to delay his downward spiral into depression while simultaneously expressing his undying love for children.

The child-like image of Allie symbolizes Holden’s love for youth and innocence and his desire to preserve times of happiness. Everything down to his “red hair” represents the childhood spontaneity Holden cherishes. This is shown when Allie “used to laugh so hard at something he thought of at the dinner table that he just about fell off his chair.” Holden does not understand this impulsive reaction, but loves that children may do whatever they please without explanation, something lost in adulthood. He immortalizes Allie as a means of delay into adulthood-stalling by wearing a red hunting hat parallelizing Allie’s red hair. His mechanisms of preservation are the reasons why he is unhappy in the adult world as he does not understand why he cannot return to the happiness he felt with Allie. This frustration is clearly seen when: “they were going to have me psychoanalyzed and all, because I broke all the windows in the garage.” (Salinger 39) The use of

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the words “they were going to” suggests that he never did go to the psychoanalyst, explaining the lack of therapeutic support necessary to move on from a death.

Allie’s death is a reminder to Holden that the innocence in childhood is short-lived and can be taken away at any moment, compelling Holden to hold on to Allie more drastically. The audience sees that talking to Allie helps comfort Holden when he“ felt so depressed, you can't imagine.” He would “start talking, sort of out loud, to Allie.” (Salinger 129)Reaching out to his younger brother helps enforce the idea that Allie is still there as a guardian angel against life’s “phoniness”. However, although a protector of innocence, Holden also looks to Allie as a barrier between him and “disappearing” This is especially shown when Holden crosses the street and every time “[He]'d reach the other side of the street without disappearing, [he]'d thank him.” (Salinger 111) Since Allie is the embodiment for childhood purity, “disappearing” might not mean death, but the fear of being lost amongst the vast emptiness of adulthood.

Similar to Allie, Phoebe symbolizes the purity found in childhood.  As the only living relative Holden trusts, the audience can clearly see the genuine nature Holden is attracted to, especially in her notebook.  Her seemingly random thoughts are all written down with the lack of extravagant and deceptive words as shown:

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Why has south eastern Alaska so many caning factories? Because theres so much salmon
Why has it valuable forests? because it has the right climate.
What has our government done to make life easier for the alaskan eskimos? look it up for tomorrow!!!
Phoebe Weatherfield Caulfield
Phoebe Weatherfield Caulfield Phoebe Weatherfield Caulfield Phoebe W. Caulfield
Phoebe Weatherfield Caulfield, Esq. Please pass to Shirley!!!!
Shirley you said you were sagitarius but your only taurus bring your skates when you come over to my house

Although not very clear, the notebook is an active representation of the befuddling mind of a ten-year old. Holden admires the purity in which Phoebe writes with; since it is obvious she was completely genuine with each word. This quality is a useful tool that helps Holden realize that he “do[esn’t] like anything that’s happening.” This makes him “more depressed than ever” (Salinger 169) but what is really depressing him is the fact that “she said that”. Here, the audience can truly see how much he values her opinion while simultaneously progressing in his self-discovery. However, along with her understanding nature, there are limits to her maturity, seen when Holden asks his most pressing question of the novel, “How would you know you weren't being a phony? The trouble is, you wouldn't." and she responds with a mere “Daddy’s going to kill you”, not understanding Holden’s erratic behavior. Her limited life experience contradicts Holden overestimating that “if you tell old Phoebe something, she knows exactly what the hell you’re talking about.” (Salinger 114) Nevertheless, her childish perspective

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