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Seth Cassel
February 2008

Carl Luce's Influence on Holden Caulfield's Transition into Adulthood

In J.D. Salinger's novel, The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield, needing assistance in his transition into adulthood, seeks help from Carl Luce, who instead initially makes him feel lonelier, but plants a seed of thought in Holden's mind that helps his growth into the adult world. Holden clings onto his childhood because he is perplexed about adulthood, particularly issues such as sexuality. However, Holden seeks to understand and enter the adult world. For help he goes to Luce, a former student advisor from Whooton, whom he respects for his intelligence and insight into the adult world, particularly sexuality. Luce, instead, discourages Holden, who then initially decides to seek refuge in childhood. However, through this interaction, an idea begins to develop within Holden's mind that intelligence, and a more analytical and thoughtful approach to the adult world, lets one grow into adulthood, a growth that he has been subconsciously seeking. J.D. Salinger, in The Catcher in the Rye, suggests that one caught between childhood and adulthood is undergoing a difficult transition that can be influenced by interaction with others.

Holden holds on to childhood because he is confused and having difficulty transitioning into the adult world. He sees childhood as the source of beauty and innocence in the world. In addition, Holden views adulthood as corrupt and feels that he does not fully understand it. Sexuality is the one aspect of the adult world that Holden repeatedly points out that he is confused about and, thus, it becomes a symbol of his confusion concerning all adulthood. More specifically, Holden does not see how people can treat sex as casual and not have a deep love for one's partner. Upon seeing a couple through their hotel room window spitting their drinks at each other, laughing and playing in a sexual manner suggesting that they are going to have sex, Holden shows his confusion about the adult world reflected in the way it treats causal sex by saying, "Sex is something I really don't understand too hot." Subsequently, Holden tries to have causal sex with different women including, Faith Cavendish, Sunny, and Sally, because this act would indicate that he understands adulthood; however, in each situation, he cannot bring himself to do it. This failure at casual sex is because Holden does not understand it. Recognizing his confusion, Holden feels that he needs someone to help him understand adulthood, especially its sexuality, and thus he calls Luce. Holden respects Luce because he sees him as an intelligent adult. Holden, when he thinks to call Luce, says, "He was very enlightening sometimes." Holden is alluding to the fact that he wants Luce to help him come to terms with his confusion about adulthood as represented by his concerns about sexuality, which Holden has a poor grasp on. Prior to meeting Luce, Holden says with reverence, "He [Luce] really knew quite a bit about sex and all. He was one of the few guys I knew that did. He lost his virginity at the age of fourteen." Holden particularly sees Luce as an expert on casual sex and their meeting as an opportunity to gain understanding that will allow him to grow.

Upon meeting Luce, Holden probes for information concerning sexuality, but Luce finds the conversation "inane." When Holden is asking about Luce's sex life, he is, in an awkward manner, begging Luce for help understanding how adults think. He is really asking Luce, "How do you function in the adult world?" To understand the adult world, Holden looks towards Luce to solve his confusion about casual sex, saying, "I can never get really sexy- I mean really sexy- with a girl I don't like a lot. I mean I have to like her a lot." However, despite Holden's attempts at trying to get Luce to help him understand casual sex, and thus comprehend adulthood, Luce refuses to discuss sexual subjects, asking, "When the hell are you going to grow up?" Luce thinks that Holden is the same immature child he met at Whooton. When Holden asks if he should see a psychoanalyst, Luce responds by giving an answer that Holden does not want to hear. "It's up to you, for God's sake. It's none of my goddam business what you do with your life." Because Holden wants guidance and help in understanding the adult world, hearing that it is his decision does not benefit him. Holden's pleading to Luce for an understanding of adulthood is ignored. Subsequently, when Luce stands up to leave, Holden starts to beg him to stay. "Have just one more drink. Please. I'm lonesome as hell. No kidding." This understanding would have comforted Holden and helped him to stop taking refuge in childhood. Nevertheless, Holden does not acquire help that he desperately sought from Luce and in the next chapter he goes home to see his younger sister, Phoebe. This retreat to Phoebe shows that Holden's failure getting help that would enable him to better understand the adult world, has made him continue to take refuge in childhood. However, although Holden is disappointed at his conversation with Luce, he still respects Luce for his intelligence as an adult.

After Holden's disappointing meeting with Luce, Holden simply says, "Old Luce. He was strictly a pain in the ass, but he certainly had a good vocabulary. He had the largest vocabulary of any boy at Whooton when I was there. They gave us a test." Despite Luce's Holden continues to see Luce as an intellectual. Luce leaves a subconscious impression on Holden that intelligence helps one better understand the adult world. Luce had used the word, "certainly" repeatedly at their meeting, and to Holden it signified a show of intelligence and sounded adult-like. Subsequently, when Holden goes to see Phoebe, Holden uses this word in their discussion. When Holden tries to convince Phoebe of the feasibility of his idea of moving west, he tells Phoebe to "Use your head," showing that he now respects thinking, something that he has never done. Later, after visiting Mr. Antolini, an adult that he respects, Holden, comments that Mr. Antolini is smart. This statement is another sign that Holden, after his meeting with Luce, has come to respect being intelligent as an important part of adulthood. Finally, at the end of the story, Holden eludes to the fact that he has spoken to a psychoanalyst, which represents an intelligent approach to problems. This solution to his confusion is something that he had discussed with Luce and which he now come to peruse.

J.D. Salinger, in The Catcher in the Rye, suggests that the maturing process from childhood to adulthood is a difficult transition. Salinger also implies that issues like sexuality are a large part of adulthood and one must deal with the questions they pose when he or she is entering the adult world. Holden, who is in a transition where he seeks answers to questions about adulthood, wants someone, like Luce, to help him. In fact, Luce refuses to talk to Holden about adulthood, thus leading to Holden's retreat to childhood. However, from Luce, an idea is planted in Holden's mind that being intelligent is an important part of growing into an adult. Salinger's Holden Caulfield is a teenager transitioning into adulthood, confused about adult issues, looking for answers from others, who finds a path to adulthood. (Intellect)