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The Catcher in the Rye and the Problem of Alienation

Political Philosopher Eric Voegelin refers occasionally to the ancient Egyptian poem, “Dispute of a Man Who Contemplates Suicide With His Soul.” The “Dispute” is about a “man driven to despair by the troubles of a disordered age,” who “wants to cast off a life that has become senseless.” [1] One stanza from the poem may sum up the issue well enough: “to whom can I speak today? One’s fellows are evil; the friends of today do not love.” The man in the “Dispute” wants to live an authentic life—a life that seeks to grow and honour goodness, and where matters of life, death and morality are treated with the seriousness they deserve. When the man in the “Dispute” finds himself surrounded by “friends” who do not care about living an authentic life, the friends in fact promoting the opposite through reckless pursuits of self-interest and pleasure, he begins to wonder if death will bring him to the order—the goodness—for which he yearns.

Professor Glenn Hughes writes about our search for transcendent truth, which in essence reflects our desire for “goodness and order.” [2] The mysteries this search is imbued within can be beautiful, but also a source of anxiety. When trying to understand human suffering, or coming to terms with the evil of which a human being is capable, many people young and old will fall into despair. They will retreat from a life guided by faith, love, and hope, and in their lives will no longer try to uphold ‘the good’ through their own self-sacrifice. In the face of such troubling problems as human suffering it is easy to say, ‘there is no God,’ or, ‘scientific progress will save us from ourselves,’ or, ‘let’s work for a political revolution that will usher in a new age of joy and prosperity for everyone.’ The list of evasive responses we can ascribe to the troubling nature of our existence goes on, including those who seek to avoid the issues altogether. Becoming numbed to soulful anxiety with the pleasures and distractions at our disposal, such as drug use, sex, shopping binges, mass media, and the pursuit of wealth and power, will be somewhat effective in dampening those soulful challenges, though we can wonder if these supposed antidotes will ultimately serve to only amplify issues of the soul for the wayward pilgrim.

I do not consider Voegelin’s work on alienation or spiritual order to be merely academic or abstract. It was in the middle of my own soulful struggles as a young man that a professor of mine, and an Anglican Priest, casually dropped The Ecumenic Age into my hands. I have been conscious of my own pilgrimage to understand the good ever since, even as I dealt with the pragmatic concerns of work and family life. Furthermore, my work in a High School has brought me into contact with young people trying to negotiate the troubles of their own day, and I take to heart the ups and downs that their own pilgrimages lead them through. Voegelin and others have made me aware of some of the issues at play not only in my own experience, but in the experiences of people I have had the privilege of knowing.

Some of the words Voegelin has written cut directly through the sometimes confusing studies about spiritual order. Voegelin writes, “The situation of the Man in the ‘Dispute,’ then, would not differ very much from that of a Man in our own time: to live in a society that lives by vulgar clichés of piousness, scepticism, and hedonism is trying enough to make a Man look for an oasis of reality—even if, in order to reach it, he will not necessarily resort to the radical means of suicide.” [3] In reference to the Man in the “Dispute” who, in seeking an authentic life, has been driven to despair, the challenge to the Man is, “why be so serious? Why not simply not despair?” This glib attitude toward soulful longing is commonplace today, and is enough to drive one further into the proverbial corner. In reference to the loss of an intelligible faith experienced by so many today, Voegelin writes of the faithless person, “A man cannot fall back on himself in an absolute sense, because, if he tried, he would find very soon that he has fallen into the abyss of his despair and nothingness.” [4] These are strong words, but in the contemporary High School setting these are also very real experiences that a counsellor is almost powerless to intervene in directly, exactly because these are matters of the soul, and not to be “cured” by behavioral psychology or psychiatric potions.

Stories have a way of clarifying things, and of evoking a response from the sufferer, so that an avenue towards a “cure” can at least be glimpsed. So it is that while in conversation with people suffering from despair, nihilism or acedia I have on occasion referenced The Catcher In the Rye in hopes of finding a common ground on which to visit. Sometimes, in order turn ‘toward the light’ we need to hear a voice that penetrates the issues of the day more clearly and profoundly than our own unarticulated feelings. The Catcher in the Rye provides an analysis of “one’s fellows,” as well as an analysis of the broader culture made up of education, religion, and the public spaces in general. The ultimate challenge the novel may pose for the reader is to try to glean something hopeful from it, or determine a suggestion of how to live, so that goodness and hope will accompany the pilgrim through the disorders of our age.

The Catcher in the Rye is the tale of Holden Caufield, an anxious and intelligent sixteen year old who is remembering his last three days of relative freedom before being institutionalized in a mental hospital. Holden has many traits common to teenagers in the television age, if not in every era. He is prone to exaggeration, forgetfulness, is interested in justice and truth though sometimes can be mean spirited, and is notoriously uncomfortable in his own skin. He yearns for meaningful human contact, though is sometimes debased by his own sex drive, and is trying to make sense of a world in constant change that seems to keep spinning from his grasp.

We learn early in the novel that Holden is destined to time in a mental institution. With that in mind, a question the casual reader may rightfully ask is, why read The Catcher in the Rye? We do not want to read about teenage angst since we experienced it once already, and once was enough. Some readers may be tempted to overlook the prophetic nature of the novel and concern themselves in offering a “cure” for Holden. The book could thus offer an opportunity to practice psycho-analytical skills, glibly pinning down the character and cracking him open like a sea shell. Familiar as we are these days with mental illness and mental wellness scales, we might be tempted to find out where Holden fits on the mental wellness chart. Perhaps we would even want to include a behavioral antidote to Holden’s depression, such as more walks in the park, or squeezing stress balls. A reader with clinical experience might be tempted to see Holden as a puzzle to figure out; namely, what prescription of psychiatric potions would ‘cure’ this young man with clearly unbalanced chemistry in his blood?

In fact, built into the novel is a type of warning against such reductionisms. Already feeling dissatisfied about the state of the world and his place in it, Holden sits down and opens a discarded magazine. He reads about our hormones, and how one should look if their hormones “were in good shape.” Then, he reads an article that explains how one could detect early signs of cancer just by seeing if you had sores in your mouth. Thinking he probably only has two months left to live since he has those same signs of cancer, he quits reading and goes for a walk with the intention to eat “something with some vitamins in it.” This ironic moment, placed as it is toward the end of the novel following nearly three full days observing the human condition in its fallen state, can serve as a reminder that Holden lives in a time when attention to physical symptoms of wellness or suffering trumps any serious concern for the ‘inner’ world we carry around with us—the life of the soul.

Would Holden’s observations and experiences of the disorder of his age be false if his hormones were ‘brought into line’ by the right chemistry? In other words, is Holden a free human being with a soul who is seeking to make sense of good and evil, suffering, and impermanence, or is he simply a biological drone operating with a malfunctioning battery? If we are prescribed the right drug can we happily waltz through life no matter how chaotic society may be, or how debauched our companions may be, without concern for the loss of goodness and love—the ruins of our time—that we are dancing through? Would we want someone we love to go through life with a chemical high that keeps them “happy,” but prevents their soulful pilgrimage from a place of anxiety to a richer understanding of the human condition, and a loving response to that condition? As Hughes points out, the anxiety we experience in life is a requirement for beginning a serious reflection on the human condition and the culture of which we are part, but being guided by anxiety does require a faith that truth and goodness exist as ultimate, transcendent truths worthy of pursuit. All of this is null and void when we choose to reduce the human experience to chemistry.

The novel begins with some evocative images. Holden is on top of a hill on a chilly autumn day, gazing down upon a football stadium. The annual rivalry game between his school, Pency, and Thomsen Hill is being played, and it was “supposed to be a very big deal.” Students were “supposed to commit suicide or something if old Pency didn’t win.” Holden has separated himself from the crowd, the community that is his school, and he has separated himself from the passing exuberance of a football game; instead, he watches from a distance, listening to the yells rise up the hill from the stadium. The hype surrounding the game has a superficial element about it, played by jocks that Holden notes are of a privileged class in the school. “In every school I’ve gone to, all the athletic bastards stick together,” he says, receiving perks, like driving a coach’s car, which would never be allowed for other students in the school.

Holden wants none of this manufactured excitement created out of a game, an excitement the masses create for themselves, and are thrilled by at the same time. His debasing of the game is enough for the reader to realize that Holden stands not only physically alone on that hill, but is a person who lives on the periphery of his private school spiritually. We learn, in fact, that he is being expelled from the school for poor grades, despite the fact that he is alert and extremely well read, a young man who loves reading the classics. Removed in every way from the big game, Holden descends the opposite side of the hill in order to visit his history teacher, “old Spencer,” in order to say good-bye.

In the “Dispute,” the Man reveals his isolation through regarding the people around him “who do not love.” Holden’s isolation is made clear when we meet the students with whom he shares dorm life. In particular, three students are highlighted, Ackley, Stradlater, and Ernie. Ackley is a coward, sneaky, greedy, and spiteful. He is quick to cynically debase someone’s virtuous act, and will obsessively belittle a person behind their back before skulking away when that person appears.  Stradlater is full of self-love, a larger than life character who will share his belongings, but who is also a cheat, and lazy at heart. One suspects he will share his belongings with other students because it elevates him in the eyes of his rivals. When it comes to pursuing his pleasures, he will lie and smooth talk a young woman into his arms, and treat the word “no” as an invitation to continue his “lovemaking.” Then there is Ernie, who takes pleasure in seeing others in pain as he whips them with his wet towel, a young man “as sensitive as a…toilet seat,” a rat who Holden fears will be a rat his entire life. To draw from the Egyptian contemplating suicide, “to whom can one speak today? One’s fellows are evil.” Holden appears to be stuck with himself. Friendship cannot offer a cure for his searching soul.

Before Holden can leave the suffocating atmosphere of friendless dorms behind, he still has one visit to pay as he descends the hill away from the big football game, and that is to see his history teacher, Mr. Spencer. We expect his visit with Spencer to be revealing. And while it is true Spencer, a nice old man, shows the reader enough of Holden’s work to help us understand the lack of effort Holden is putting into his studies, Spencer unwittingly draws attention to himself and his own corrupted nature. He is sick, suffering from “the grippe,” with “pills and medicine all over,” wearing a bathrobe that reveals his “bumpy chest.” Spencer is fixated on the trivial, nodding nonsensically as though at a loss for words, and is unable to guide Holden with any sense of moral or intellectual authority. In other words, Holden’s teacher is shown to be physically decrepit, and no longer lives with any vitality, physically or spiritually.

The teacher’s lost soul is revealed clearly enough when he finally tries to rescue his suffering student. When pressed, Holden explains how Pency’s headmaster spent two hours with him in his office, explaining “about Life being a game… And how you should play it according to the rules.” How does Spencer, an authority on ancient Egypt and history in general, respond to the headmaster’s revelation that life is a mere game? He endorses the headmaster’s lecture. “Life is a game, boy,” Spencer says, “that one plays according to the rules.” The teacher is telling the pupil, ‘just pass your classes, attend a college for four years, and then return to Manhattan where your connections will ensure a good job—riches and pleasures will pursue you for the remainder of your years!’ This sounds eerily familiar to Voegelin’s words challenging the Egyptian contemplating suicide: “why be so serious? Enjoy the pleasures as they come. Pursue the happy day and forget care.” Holden, instinctively polite if only because he pities his teacher, agrees with him. Within his soul, however, he is seething. “Game, my ass,” he thinks. “If you get on the side where all the hot-shots are, then it’s a game… But if you get on the other side, where there aren’t any hot-shots, then what’s a game about it?” More than once Holden will hold up Manhattan’s upper middle class existence for examination, and find nothing appetizing in money, cars, golf, and the trivial discussions to be had on these mundane distractions of the day over martini lunches. He rejects the ‘wisdom’ of Pency without hesitation.

Holden is searching for an authentic way to live, and the four private schools he has now passed through have all failed to guide him in a way to approach life honestly. He recalls the headmaster Mr. Haas from another private school, “a phoney” who ingratiates himself with the wealthy parents, and distances himself to the point of rudeness from the poor or “funny looking” parents. Holden does not even try to explain this to Spencer when he is asked why he keeps failing out of schools, because “he wouldn’t have understood it anyway.” How can it be that this sixteen year old drop out is more sensitive to a life guided by faith, love and hope than a soon to retire history teacher?

Holden has one final engagement with a teacher toward the end of the novel, in this case, with Mr. Antolini. Although the hour is late, Antolini invites his former student to sleep at his apartment instead of trying to survive a cold autumn night on the streets of New York. Antolini is the youngest teacher we meet in The Catcher in the Rye, and as the novel is nearing its climax, the reader cannot help but hope that this guide of young souls will finally be able to ground the suffering student to some degree. And there are moments of promise too, and some sage advice. For example, Antolini challenges Holden to appreciate the discipline being asked of his teachers, and he tries to help Holden explain why he fails as a student. But those discussions are only an introduction to the more serious topic at hand, because Antolini knows there is more going on with his former student than merely a lack of will, or focus. He tells Holden, “I have a feeling that you’re riding for some kind of a terrible, terrible fall… it’s a special kind of fall… The whole arrangement’s designed for men who, at some time or other in their lives, were looking for something their own environment couldn’t supply them with. Or they thought their own environment couldn’t supply them with. So they gave up looking.” Antolini is drilling down to the source of Holden’s sufferings. The teenager growing into a young man is feeling disoriented in his world because he feels instinctively drawn to the good and the true, and all he sees about him are false fronts, self-interest, and a disinterest in the good and the true.

Antolini reminds Holden that he is not “the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior.” He suggests that Holden will be excited to know that “many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually,” but that, “happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them.” This guidance by Antolini alerts the reader, if they are not sure yet, that Salinger has been sharing an evocative tale that brings the reader alongside Holden’s soulful struggle in a world that has become morally cold and vacuous. And to accentuate the point, Antolini continues, “someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you.” So, Holden’s story is not simply the ranting of a teenager suffering through a stage of unbalanced hormones in his blood, it is an attempt to communicate the utter loneliness felt by a soul guided by love and hope whose fellows, to draw from the Egyptian poet contemplating suicide, do not love. Beyond that, Holden is sharing his story, suggesting that perhaps we can hope to learn from him.

Sadly for Holden, Antolini is merely human, a fallen creature. He is a binge drinker who “may get to be an alcoholic,” who “smokes like a fiend.” And when Holden awakens later on the couch, Antolini is there kneeling beside him, stroking his hair seductively. Is it possible Holden misreads the situation when suspecting perversion with this physical sign of affection from his teacher? It conjures up discussions about Socratic love, and the movement ‘upward’ from the physical to the soulful. [5] Like Socrates, Antolini could happily indulge in alcohol while maintaining his composure. Having married an older woman who that evening “didn’t look too gorgeous,” there is a possibility that Antolini indeed has begun to admire beauty of a more soulful type, moving from the baseness of merely physical desires. So, perhaps Holden has overreacted to his teacher’s concern and affections, his judgment marred by a series of unsettling experiences through his years at private schools. Sexual perversions of various types, Holden notes, have been following him “since I was a kid.” In either case, the sage advice offered by his teacher has been lost in an instant. Is this a subtle suggestion that the intimate atmosphere required between teacher and student for soulful learning, led by a love of the Platonic type, is now difficult to realize in a culture where a preponderance of people—including teachers and students—are motivated, and understand the world, through pleasure, power, image, and social status?

Phoniness, or masking one’s true nature behind social niceties or bravado, occupies much of Holden’s observations. His brother, D. B., was a gifted writer of short stories who moved to Hollywood and became a “prostitute,” which is to say, writing for the movies, and living the showbiz lifestyle of ingratiating oneself and networking. Holden is sensitive about performers, such as a piano player in Greenwich Village named Ernie, who “won’t hardly talk to you unless you’re a big shot.” Ernie’s piano playing was suffering from phoniness as far as Holden was concerned, putting into his music “dumb, show-offy ripples” which the crowd “went mad” over. But Holden also recognizes the pressures on the man, whose sense of perspective has been warped by an adoring public that applauds everything he does. Anybody, Holden notes, can be fouled up by this artificial inflation from the masses.

In the Christianized culture of America, an important question is whether there is a religious structure capable of reorienting Holden, and of evoking a soulful response from him that will encourage him in his desires for an authentic life amidst the disorder of his day. Holden declares himself an atheist, but he desires to pray, and recoils as he witnesses two workers cursing as they mishandle a Christmas tree they are unloading from a truck, the tree being a sacred object for Holden. He likes Jesus, just not the Disciples, who “keep letting Him down.” For instance, Holden is sure Jesus would not send Judas to Hell, but that the Disciples would. Much of the formal religious practice that Holden encounters, however, has fallen to the same forces of disorder that his classmates, his teachers, and his city, have already succumbed to. In Pency’s chapel the student body has to listen to a very wealthy alumnus who made his fortune as an undertaker, speaking about his “buddy” Jesus who he can talk to anytime he wants, such as when he is driving his Cadillac down the road. Considering how the alumnus made his fortune, Holden is prompted to wonder if his prayers are for more dead people to arrive at his funeral parlours. Ministers Holden encountered at his four different schools “all have these Holy Joe voices” that sound phoney, and Catholics he has met are typically more concerned about his Catholicity, or his lack thereof, than who he is as a person. Before a movie at Radio City he witnesses a religious procession of sorts, with angels flooding the stage and “actors carrying crucifixes all over,” with the aim of honoring the soon to arrive Christmas season. This play-acting at reverence for the sacred by paid actors is seen through by Holden, who recalls the previous Christmas when regarding this same Radio City religious spectacle, told his friend Sally, “Jesus would’ve puked if He could see it.” As in the discussion with another friend about Jesus letting Judas into heaven, this keen observation about the soulful challenge of Christian faith versus the socially acceptable, sterile version leads him into conflict with his friends who know enough to honour a notion of the divine, but only on a more comfortable, superficial level.

Yet it is in the realm of the religious that Holden also experiences authenticity. He delights in seeing a nice family that “just came out of some kind of church,” and “looked sort of poor,” but who happily walked down the street together, the young boy drifting near his parents and singing to himself. He meets two nuns at a cafeteria with straw baskets for collecting alms for the poor, and has a heartfelt conversation with them. After saying good-bye to the nuns, Holden reflects on his own family as well as family friends, wondering who among them could live like those nuns, avoiding fancy restaurants, and collecting alms without seeking praise, and without losing patience and hope. Holden returns to the nuns more than once, a touchstone for him of an authentic way to live. He recalls the nervous and sweet man stationed at the kettle drum in the Radio City orchestra, and how Jesus would have liked that guy, “who never looked bored,” even though he only hit the drum once in an entire song.

These humble images of the good and true are contrasted with Holden’s observations of Sunday morning in Manhattan, where he notices with disdain the excited crowds of well-dressed people flocking to the movies. Seeing crowds rushing to the movies happily on a Sunday suggests that any soulful appeal Christianity had for the masses is now seriously challenged by the enticements offered by the mass media. Holden only knows a perfunctory Christianity through the private schools he attended, and the crass displays of piousness seen in Manhattan during the Christmas season. This is not enough. Christianity has very little evocative power on his soul, outside of his admiration for Jesus. Is Holden a representative of today’s middle class youth in the suburbs, living without tradition and without religious practice? Surrounded by superficial distractions such as mass media, he is alone with his feelings, and with the message from his elders that life is a “game” one plays. All one has to do in this scenario is carefully plan for a pragmatic education which will lead directly to a career, and the riches and pleasures that come with it. Is this all life can offer?

Holden’s family is well to do, living in a spacious apartment on 5th avenue, across from Central Park. His father is a corporate lawyer, and his parents are image conscious and concerned to keep family secrets away from prying eyes. The parents are agnostic at best, the father once a Catholic who dropped his religion when marriage demanded it. The family has also suffered a tragedy, that being the death of Holden’s younger brother, Allie. Allie is a source of fond memories for Holden, and also an incarnation in many ways of innocence and goodness, and through memory’s lens, a presence of mystery as well. But now Allie is dead, and the ever changing nature of reality troubles Holden’s aching and lonely soul. He recalls Allie’s gravesite during a rainstorm, and how people could leave their flowers at the grave and quickly return to the car, listening to the radio, and then going out for dinner. All the while, the rain continued to fall on Allie, who lies alone. Holden is troubled. Is remembrance of the dead, and of the good and pure, such a trivial exercise that a rain can distract people, and even drive them to forgetfulness through the pleasures of a good meal?

Holden’s love of the Museum of Natural History is captured in the displays, such as the Eskimo fishing, which never changes. “You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be finished catching those two fish,” Holden says, and “the only thing that would be different would be you.” So, the many visits Holden has taken to the museum over the years have served as a measuring stick of sorts. He has been able to recall the ever changing status of people, things, and the state of his own soul in the presence of evocative museum scenes that at least verge on permanence. However, Holden regretfully recognizes the impossibility of this permanence in the museum, too. Not only is there the logic that tells him things will change, there is also the experience of finding the ‘F’ word engraved in the Pharaoh’s tomb exhibit, prompting Holden to declare that there are no peaceful places in the world. In other words, even if the museum is a place where Holden can experience something of transcendent goodness, in his time this peaceful place has also been desecrated.

Holden is so anxious about the nature of impermanence in the universe that he even questions how he could ever tell if a good act he carried out to help someone was genuine, or just a phoney act he was putting on. Is there a highest good, however much ‘beyond’ physical, rational experience, that we can enter into the presence of that will allow us to measure the well-being of our soul, and even guide and inspire us to grow in goodness and ‘wholeness’? There must be, if Holden is able to recognize the moral stature of the people around him, and the sincerity of their thoughts and actions. In the absence of a religious tradition that can at least make him conscious of concepts such as eternity, pilgrimage, freedom in the Spirit, and redemption, is it impossible for Holden to recognize a transcendent goodness in some other way?

Holden has utopian visions of living a serenely happy life in a cabin in the woods, and he has visions of being a savior, a “catcher in the rye,” as it were, who saves innocent and playful children from danger. And he does recognize the good and genuine when he encounters it, such as remembering the two nuns he visited with. When recalling Allie, we see how Holden is in awe of the innocence and purity of childhood. He recalls two occasions at the private schools he attended where he played with that same genuine childhood joy free of phoniness, playing catch with classmates well past sunset, or playing with classmates in fresh fallen snow. He loves remembering a socially awkward student in Oral Expression class who grew excited about a point in his presentation, and drifted wildly off topic because of that excitement. His friend Jane, who he befriended the summer before, is a suffering friend of whom he feels protective of. Jane is a girl who carries the beauty of innocence, such as her insistence on leaving her kinged checkers on the back row, yet courageously endures a step-father’s dominating physical presence in her life. He fondly remembers James Castle, a boy who would not cave to dorm room bullying, and who fell to his death because he insisted on standing up for truth. Holden loves visiting with his little sister Phoebe, and delights in meeting two younger boys at the museum, whom he guides into the Egyptian exhibits. Holden lives aware and touched by these encounters with goodness and innocence, yet in the end he stands alone in the world, grieving that this goodness is threatened either by a chaotic impermanence that seems to rule the universe, or by people who, wittingly or unwittingly, trample over the good and the innocent without so much as a backwards glance. How can one continue on in a universe such as this?

Holden’s story takes place in a Christianized culture. Voegelin was sensitive to the fact that in such a culture, a fall from the Christian faith would lead a person to some other form of “spiritual experience,” even if that experience did not honour reality like the Christian tradition. [6] Some of these possible responses, such as a negation of the present for a belief in scientific progress ending in a utopian world, have already been mentioned. In the case of Holden, it appears that The Catcher in the Rye reveals him in the midst of the fall, with only his own despairing self to fall back onto.

The Catcher in the Rye does not clearly answer the question of how one can resolve the problem of alienation, learning to accept “responsibility for bringing oneself and the world…as fully as possible into harmony with a good,” that rests on “a dimension of transcendent meaning.”[7] It can be reasoned that there is never a clear answer to offer an alienated soul. The novel articulates some of the issues present in Holden’s day, and brings us alongside him so that we can contrast our experiences with Holden’s. In other novels, Salinger will articulate something of the transcendent source of order, such as in Franny and Zooey, with the Russian ‘Jesus Prayer,’ but in The Catcher in the Rye we are left with an unsettled ending.

There is a hopeful sign on the final page of the book, however, when Holden admits to missing everyone, including those classmates who were spiteful or dangerously self-centered. Perhaps his sequestered time in a mental institution was enough for him to look with new eyes at the world in which he lives. Regarding the Egyptian poem about the Man contemplating suicide, Voegelin writes that through an “ultimate rejection of society, its persuasion and pressure,” the Man found the freedom, “to articulate both the reality living in him and the negative state of society” that he has rejected. The Man could “be at one with himself and find the language adequate to his experience.” [8] This leads to the realization that The Catcher in the Rye has indeed offered a cure to the alienated soul, an offer made in such an obvious way that it escapes notice at first glance; in the act of remembering and writing a cure is provided—a turning around—for Holden, and for anyone of us who feel lost, and search for the good in the human community. When we are ready to actively remember our experiences, and to articulate our experiences by writing of them, we will engage in a process of discovery that transcends our time. Through seeking the good and the trials in our experience, we may even realize a certain excitement for life, not only celebrating goodness wherever we encounter it, but desiring to grow goodness through our thoughts and actions.



1. Voegelin, Eric. “Immortality: Experience and Symbol.” Harvard Theological Review, July, 1967. P. 241

2. Hughes, Glenn. Transcendence and History. University of Missouri Press, 2003. P. 92

3. Voegelin, Eric. “Immortality: Experience and Symbol.” P. 240

4. Voegelin, Eric. The New Science of Politics. The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Volume 5. University of Missouri Press, 2000. P. 188

5. Rhodes, James M. Eros, Wisdom, and Silence. University of Missouri Press, 2003. P. 187—189

6. Voegelin, Eric. The New Science of Politics. P. 187-188

7. Hughes, Glenn. Transcendence and History. P. 92

8. Voegelin, Eric. “Immortality: Experience and Symbol.” P. 243

Michael BuhlerMichael Buhler

Michael Buhler

Michael Buhler is the Pastoral Care Worker for the Northeastern Catholic District School Board in Timmins, Canada. He has a B.A. from the University of Alberta in History and Comparative Religious Studies, and a M.A. from Wilfrid Laurier University in Religious Studies. His studies included two years of work for a M. Div. at Newman Theological College, Edmonton.

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