Tuesday, August 9, 2011

comparative essay: the catcher in the rye vs. lord of the flies

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Comparative Essay The Catcher in the Rye vs. Lord of the Flies

The novels Lord of the Flies and The Catcher in the Rye share similar themes. One of

these themes is the loss of innocence as one is faced with new responsibilities and the transition

from childhood into the corruption of the adult world. The main characters in these novels

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encounter situations that help them mature, and situations that bring them into the evils of the

adult world. By becoming mature, learning to act responsible, and encountering death, the

characters lose their innocence and come into the adult world.

Evidence that the characters were maturing was present in Lord of the Flies, The

characters show signs of maturing at the very beginning of the novel. After they realize that there

are no adults and that they will have to, “look after [themselves]” (Golding, 1), they quickly elect

Ralph as their chief. Being chief, Ralph is expected to act responsibly with the power that his

status brought to him. He gives the others jobs to do and establishes temporary order in the new

“tribe” with, “rules... lots of rules!” (Golding, ). Even with the new rules and leadership

established, the boys on the island, according to Piggy, are “acting like a crowd of kids” (Golding,

8). Piggy acts maturely throughout the novel. His opinion is ignored at first, but he quickly

learns to speak up when the boys accidentally set half of the forest on fire, “Piggy [loses] his

temper” (Golding 45), and points out how irresponsible the boys are acting, “... the first time

Ralph says ‘fire’ you fo howling and screaming up the mountain. Like a pack of kids!” How can

you expect to be rescued if you don’t put first things first” (Golding, 45). Jack shows a sign of

maturity after he disobeys Ralph’s orders and lets the fire to out, “Im sorry. About the fire. I

mean, there. I� I apologize (Golding 7).

Holden Caulfield, the main character in The Catcher in the Rye, has a difficult time coming

into the adult world. “I act quite young for my age... and sometimes I act like I’m 1... one side of

my head is filled with gray hairs (Salinger, ), this reveals that Holden has doubts about acting

mature, because that means leaving his childhood behind. His one side of gray hair shows that a

part of him is already coming into the adult world and the other part of him wants to stay innocent

and protected. Holden attempts to act mature around adults, but his childish thoughts sometimes

show through, especially when he reveals his childish curiosity about the ducks in Central Park.

Holden’s attempts to enter the adult world are made clear during his attempts to order alcohol in

bars. Even though he is sometimes denied because of his age, these attempts show that he is still

trying to enter the adult world, because drinking alcohol is a symbol of age and maturity. The

evidence that Holden matured through the novel is strongest when the above statements are

contrasted with the end of the novel, when holden realizes that he cant protect everyone from

everything, “the thing with kids is, if they want to grab the gold ring, you have to let them do it,

and not say anything. If they fall off, they fall off, but its bad if you say anything to them”

(Salinger, 11). The characters in both novels mature at their own pace and in their own unique

ways, however they all have trouble with the transition, facing many difficult situations and

setbacks, all of which help them grow and continue into adulthood.

The main characters in Lord of the Flies have experiences involving death that contribute

to their fall from innocence. The characters witness or contribute to the death of animals and

humans in this novel. At the beginning of the novel, Jack Merridew thinks that he wants to kill,

but is hesitant to do it, “They knew very well why he hadn’t [killed the pig] because of the

enormity of the knife descending and cutting into living flesh; because of the unbearable blood.”

(Golding, 1). When Jack’s second attempt to kill fails, “he tried to convey the compulsion to

track down and kill that was swallowing him up... [and he said] I thought I might kill. Next

time!’ ” (Golding 51). These two failures, especially the first one, reveal that Jack is still holding

on to the innocence that killing a living thing will take away. He has the desire to take a life as a

right of passage into adulthood, but he fails because he is still hanging onto his innocence. During

Jack’s third attempt, and his first success at killing, he is accompanied by his “hunters”, which are

the boys from the choir. The hunters chant “Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Spill her blood” (Golding

6), as they come toward Ralph to tell him about their experience. The new experience consumed

Jack, “His mind was crowded with memories... of the knowledge that had come to them when

they closed in on the struggling pig, knowledge that they had out witted a living thing, imposed

their will upon it, taken away it’s life like a long satisfying drink” (Golding 70). This kill,

contributing to the loss of innocence and acting as a passage into the adult world, is not the end of

Jack’s exposure to the corruption of the adult world. Jack and his hunters break off into their own

tribe and kill one more pig before Jack and his tribe ultimately lose every bit of their innocence.

That night, around the fire roasting the dead pig, the boys get caught up in the moment and make

a terrible mistake, “A thing was crawling out of the forest... Simon was crying out something

about a dead man on a hill, [the boys yelled] ‘Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood! Do

him in!’... the beast was on its knees in the center [of the circle]...It was crying out... about a body

on the hill... [the beast] fell over the steep edge of the rock to the sand by the water” (Golding

15-15). Simon is dead because the boys discovered that they can take a life, but do not have the

discipline, (that comes with maturity), to control their urges. When Ralph and Piggy approach the

hunters, Piggy is struck with a rock and killed in their attempt to hit Ralph. Realizing all that had

happened to the boys on the island, “Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s

heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy” (Golding 0).

Holden’s experiences with death in Catcher in the Rye are not as severe in contrast with

the experiences of the boys in Lord of the Flies. Holden’s experiences with death include losing a

loved one, knowing a person who committed suicide, and his own suicidal thoughts. Holden had

been exposed to death at an early age, “My brother Allie... he’s dead now. He got leukemia and

died... on July 18, 146... I slept in the garage the night that he died and I broke all the goddamn

windows with my fist.” (Salinger, 8-). When Holden is walking, drunk, in Central Park on a

cold night he thinks that he might get pneumonia and starts to think about what people would do

if he died. This makes him think of Allie, “I certainly don’t like seeing him in that crazy cemetery.

Surrounded by dead guys and tombstones and all” (Salinger,155), this shows that Holden is

hanging on to the innocence that his brothers death would have taken away from him if Holden

had accepted it. He sees his brother as a model of innocence, he died when he was young so he

will forever be young. Phoebe helps Holden come to the realization that their brother is dead

when Holden visits her, “Allie’s dead� you always say that! If somebody’s dead and everything,

and in heaven, then it isn’t really�” (Salinger 171). Another experience with death that Holden

talks about is James Castle, “I won’t even tell you what they did to him�its too repulsive�but he

still wouldn’t take [what he said] back...finally what he did instead... he jumped out the window”

(Salinger 170). Holden’s suicidal thoughts and thoughts about killing reveal an obsession with

death that he has, “...pretending I had a bullet in my guts. Old Maurice had plugged me... I

pictured myself coming out of the bathroom... as soon as Old Maurice opened the doors, he’d see

me with the automatic in my hand... I’d plug him anyway. Six shots right through his fat hairy

belly” (Salinger 104). These experiences with death show Holden’s progressing fall from

innocence, even though a part of him wants to hold on to it. The thoughts that he has reveal that

he is coming into the corrupt adult world whether he likes it or not.

The many encounters with death that the characters in both novels experienced, had a

significant impact on their corruption and loss of innocence. With those, and other experiences,

most of them learned to act mature and responsible, with the exception of Jack, who lost his

ability to do so as the novel progressed. The themes of transition from childhood into adulthood

and the and the loss of innocence were demonstrated clearly by both Salinger and Golding.

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