Sunday, July 31, 2011

Failing Mentors

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In The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D Salinger, Holden Caulfield is introduced as a troubled New Yorker in desperate need of guidance. He doesn’t care about life or school, and has to find a way to change. The only problem is, Holden doesn’t want to or even think he needs to. Instead, he chooses to make poor choices that keep getting him kicked out of schools. Holden really could have changed easily. All he needed to do was make a simple decision. But he chose not to. So Holden ends up in a Mental Hospital, overwhelmed with his troubles. Yet he wasn’t on his own during his times of struggle. People tried to help Holden, but this just made things worse for him. J.D Salinger shows how three characters fail to become positive mentors, pushing Holden further into emotional trauma.


Mr. Spencer is one character who fails to become a positive mentor to Holden. If Mr. Spencer was a true positive mentor, he would have given him guidance and advice on what Holden should do. Instead all he does is tell Holden that his lack of care is stupid and continually nags about his schoolwork. But first of all, Mr. Spencer’s appearance really bothers Holden. He becomes very uncomfortable because of the way Mr. Spencer looks. “The minute I went in, I was sort of sorry I’d come.” (pg.7) Mr. Spencer’s attempt to become a positive mentor had already begun to fail as soon as Holden walked into his room. It’s tough to give someone advice when that person doesn’t want to be there in the first place. But Holden listens to Mr. Spencer anyway just to be polite. Yet he ends up getting a lecture he doesn’t expect. Mr. Spencer gets very angry and scolds Holden when he finds out that he was kicked out of Pencey. If Mr. Spencer wanted to be a good mentor, he would have tried to give him some words of encouragement instead of putting him down. What Mr. Spencer said to Holden just made him more upset and angry. Mr. Spencer brings up talk about the poor job Holden did on the schoolwork he would turn in. This really agitates Holden, and towards the end of their talk, Holden really wants to leave. But when he starts leaving he takes a good look at Mr. Spencer and actually starts feeling really sorry for him. There is no possible way Holden could look up to Mr. Spencer and see him as a mentor when he feels sorry for him.


Mr. Antolini is another character who tries to become a mentor for Holden, but instead fails miserably. At first it seems as though Mr. Antolini is really going to be able to help Holden out. He talks with him for awhile about his problems, and Holden actually listens. He isn’t annoyed by what Mr. Antolini says like he was with Mr. Spencer. Then Mr. Antolini even gives him a place sleep for the night. But all of these good things are immediately ruined when something happens that Holden wasn’t expecting. Holden wakes up in the middle of the night and realizes that Mr. Antolini is petting his head. Confused and frightened, Holden immediately wants to leave. He thinks Mr. Antolini is coming on to him, but doesn’t say anything about that to him. Instead, he says he has to go right away for some urgent reason. It was at that point that Mr. Antolini had failed to be a helpful mentor when he was so close to doing so. He tries, but fails to convince Holden to stay. Mr. Antolini couldn’t find a way to explain why he was petting him. Holden wasn’t listening to him anyway. He just got out of his house as fast as he could. But after Holden leaves the house, he starts to feel that maybe he reacted wrongly to what Mr. Antolini. Holden begins to think that Mr. Antolini could have just been petting his head for no wrong reason at all. He regrets the way he immediately judged Mr. Antolini, and all of this just makes Holden more depressed and angry.


Thought D.B really isn’t aware of it, he is also a potential father figure to Holden who ended up failing. D.B is Holden’s older brother, and since Holden’s father is never really there for him, it’s only natural that Holden would turn to D.B for guidance. But D.B changes, as does Holden’s opinion about him. D. B. wrote a volume of short stories that Holden admires very much. Holden’s favorite is “The Secret Goldfish.” It is about a child who buys a goldfish and does not allow anyone to look at it, because he has paid for it with his own money. This foreshadows Holdens consistent passion for the innocence and authenticity of childhood. This is the center of Holden’s problems, and D.B indirectly emphasizes this idea to him through his book. Also, Holden finds it hard to take D.B seriously, when his definition of a phony directly applies to his older brother. D.B is a movie writer in Hollywood. Holden hates movies more than anything. He thinks people in show business are the phoniest people out there. So when D.B moves to Hollywood to be a writer, Holden loses a little respect for him. Also, he was the only older family member that really had a chance to be any sort of mentor to Holden, yet he ended up moving away. That was tough for Holden. But what was toughest for Holden to accept was D.B’s new profession as a prostitute. Holden could handle the phoniness of his brother. He didn’t like it, but D.B was writing and that’s what he was good at. So Holden accepted that. But he could never see D.B the same way now that he was a prostitute. After that, there was no chance Holden would ever look up to D.B. Instead, he actually looked down on him because of the job had chosen. This really had a negative effect on Holden. D.B was his only brother left after Allie had died, and seeing him turn into something awful must have had added to his distress.


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All Holden needed in order to straighten out his life was guidance from some sort of mentor. It wouldn’t have even needed to be a lot of guidance, just enough good advice to set him in the right direction. Unfortunately, only three people in his life tried to do so; Mr. Spencer, Mr. Antolini, and his older brother D.B, whom all failed to become the mentor Holden needed. Mr. Spencer only nagged Holden about his schoolwork, Mr. Antolini started coming on to him, and D.B became a prostitute in New York. Out of all three characters, Mr. Antolini comes closest to reaching Holden. He manages to avoid phoniness, and doesn’t speak to Holden as a teacher or authority figure. Yet, unexpectedly he comes up short. He ends up pushing Holden further into his worries, just like the other two did. But was that their fault or Holden’s own? They were just trying to help Holden out, so you can’t really blame them. And Holden wouldn’t have been in that position if his father had shown the right amount of care for him. So how can Holden be held responsible for his actions? If you don’t have a father to provide any guidance in your life, you won’t end up knowing how to accept it from others.





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