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Holden Caulfield’s Emergence into Enlightenment

November 8, 2010

In “An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment?” Kant defines enlightenment as “a man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity,” defining immaturity as “the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another.” With this, he states that the immaturity is self-imposed because “its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resole and courage to use it without guidance from another.” In the book “Catcher in the Rye,” Holden Caulfield faces this emergence head on when he is kicked out of school, and is forced to make a trip back home on his own.

Throughout Holden’s life, he always depended on others. He cared what others thought entirely too much. He strived for others’ attention and sought out help from others whenever possible. While alone one in New York, he depended on strangers and old friends to get him through his hard times. He met a pimp and a hooker in an elevator, and invited the hooker to him room not to have sex, but to talk with him. He just didn’t want to be alone for the night, and the comfort of someone else being there calmed his worries.  When he ran into old friends, he latched onto them like they had been best friends for years.

When these people unattached themselves from him, he was lost in the world. All he had left was his sister. His sister was his favorite person in the world; he would to anything for her. When he reached New York City, his home town, he didn’t tell his parents he was home, he only told his sister. When he told his sister he wanted to run away, she wanted to go with him. He refused to let her go with him, because he then realized he could not handle taking care of himself, let alone take care of another human being.

This caused Holden to emerge from his self-imposed immaturity. He had been relying on others his entire life, and when he realized that he couldn’t take care of his sister, he also had the realization that he should be able to take care of others. He was in high school, and couldn’t even take care of himself, he depended on others to watch what he was doing.

Having this realization caused Holden to check himself into a mental hospital.  In doing so, he grew out of his self-imposed immaturity, and learned to take care of himself. If he had never had this realization, he would have never noticed how dependent he was on others, and would never have gotten help on his own.

Kant believed that enlightenment came only through the emergence of man’ his own self-imposed immaturity. In “Catcher in the Rye,” this enlightenment occurred for Holden Caulfield. He emerged from his self-imposed immaturity after realizing that he was the only person that could help him. He couldn’t rely on others to do to job, and lead him through life. He knew he needed help, and through his enlightenment, he received the help, and overall, experienced enlightenment.

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