In today’s world, innocence cannot be preserved forever. As humans age, they lose their innocence due to the corruption that exists in society. This is demonstrated in the two novels, Catcher in the Rye and Frankenstein. The two authors, J.D. Salinger and Mary Shelley prove this statement through their use of various literary devices. Key characters in both novels- Holden and the creature- learn through personal experiences that innocence cannot, in fact, be preserved forever, and they both face the reality of corruption.
The use of allusions in both novels plays a big role in assisting the authors with introducing the message of innocence and corruption. The most obvious use of an allusion in Catcher in the Rye is the reference to the poem “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye” written by Robert Burns. J.D. Salinger mentions this poem a few times throughout the novel; however the most significant use of it in relation to the theme of innocence is during a conversation between Holden and his younger sister, Phoebe. She asks him what he wants to do with his life and Holden refers to the poem and says: “What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff- I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going” (Salinger 173). Using this interpretation of the poem Salinger is able to express Holden’s desire to preserve not only his own innocence but the innocence of all children.
Holden wishes to save children from the corruption that comes with entering adulthood, because he associates adulthood with being equivalent to death. However, Holden must soon realize that innocence does not last forever and that he must accept that he will naturally face corruption. Salinger references “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye” to explain the meaning behind the title of the novel, Catcher in the Rye and to prove the point that, try as one might, innocence cannot be held onto forever; eventually, the corruption of society wipes out the innocence experienced in childhood.
Similarly, Mary Shelley uses the well-known reference to the Bible to get the point of corruption across in Frankenstein. The creature feels abandoned by his creator, Victor, and proclaims to him: “Remember that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel” (Shelley 87). Shelley refers to the creature as being abandoned by Victor just as God abandoned angel Lucifer after he committed terrible sin. The reference to Adam in the Bible is a reoccurring theme which reflects how Victor’s abandonment of the creature caused him to do harm. Victor brings his monster into the world as an innocent creature, or so the creature believes. However, society rejects the creature because of his appearance and he is corrupted to a life of misery, thus losing his innocence. Shelley uses this allusion to prove that as humans (or creatures of similar nature, in this case) experience the corruption that exists in the world, their innocence is lost.
Furthermore, both Salinger and Shelley display an effective use of motifs which also assist in demonstrating the theme of innocence and corruption. The most recognized motif used by Salinger is without a doubt Holden’s red hunting hat. Salinger suggests that the hat is a symbol of Holden’s uniqueness and individuality. The hat is a bit strange, which shows Holden’s desire to be different from everyone else, thus isolating himself from others. It is worth noticing that the colour of the hat, red, is the same as that of Allie and Phoebe’s hair. Perhaps Holden associates his hat with the innocence and purity that his younger siblings possess, which is why it is so important to him. The hunting hat is mentioned many times by Salinger in Catcher in the Rye; however one particular incident that stands out is when Holden watches Phoebe ride the carousal at the park after they visit the zoo together.
It begins to pour rain, and Holden says: “My hunting hat really gave me quite a lot of protection, in a way, but I got soaked anyway. I didn’t care, though. I felt so damn happy all of a sudden” (213). Salinger uses the red hunting hat and the rain to represent the internal conflict Holden faces throughout the novel of letting go of innocence and accepting the corruption that comes with growing up. Holden refers to his hunting hat (which symbolizes his innocence and isolation) as somewhat protecting him from the rain (which symbolizes corruption).
Anyhow, his hat cannot do much to prevent him from getting wet. At this particular time in the novel Holden realizes- perhaps subconsciously- that he cannot protect himself from corruption by means of isolation and innocence forever, and he is perfectly content with that for the time being. Salinger expertly incorporates the red hunting hat into the novel to suggest the idea that humans lose their innocence as they reach adulthood due to the corruption they face in society, and that this is not necessarily a bad thing.
Mary Shelley also uses motifs in Frankenstein that help to develop the theme of the loss of innocence. Shelley tracks the creature’s physical and mental journey as he individually faces the corruption that exists in the world. On this journey the creature encounters fire and different sources of light several times. During one distinctly cold and dark night he comes across “a fire which had been left by some wandering beggars” and is “overcome with delight at the warmth” he experiences from it (Shelley 92). After settling down to sleep beside the fire, the creature recalls, “I was in the greatest fear lest my fire should be extinguished” (92). The fire provides light and protects the creature in the darkness of the night, just as innocence can act as protection from the reality of corruption in society. Shelley’s work with this motif displays that just as the creature is scared that he will lose the light and warmth of the fire in the night, losing innocence in a world of corruption can be frightening as well.
Additionally, through Shelley’s use of this motif it can also be determined that innocence is eventually lost, just as the fire eventually burns out. However when the fire does burn out the creature has no use for its protection anymore because the night has transitioned into day time. Likewise, when humans lose their innocence in the transition from childhood to adulthood, they no longer need its protection because they are equipped to cope with the corruption they are exposed to. Through her clever use of fire as a motif, Shelley exposes her readers to the idea that innocence is lost when entering adulthood, but that this should not be frightening; what humans experience in this transition is a natural part of maturity.
J.D. Salinger and Mary Shelley teach their readers a valuable lesson about life and the way the human world works. Corruption exists in society and as a result of that humans will lose their innocence as they age. It can be acquired through these authors’ examples with the stories of Holden and the creature that humans should accept that they will face corruption in their lifetime. Readers can take away from the works of these two authors that the transition from childhood to adulthood-from innocence to corruption- is a natural part of humanity and to be prepared to face it with a sense of direction and confidence.
Salinger, J.D.. Catcher in the Rye. New York, NY: Little Brown Company, 1951. Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York, NY: Bantam Dell, 1981.
Salinger, J.D.. Catcher in the Rye. New York, NY: Little Brown Company, 1945. Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York, NY: Bantam Dell, 1818.