The Unanswered Question: Holden Caulfield, John Yossarian and the Fate of Innocence

J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye and Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22 reveal a concern for innocence within each protagonist. Salinger and Heller center their novels on questions relating to innocence: Holden Caulfield’s “where did the ducks go” (Salinger, 13) and John Yossarian’s “Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear?” (Heller, 35). Both Holden and Yossarian state a central question early in the novel. Each question develops with the protagonist’s experience throughout the novel, revealing widespread ignorance in relation to innocence. The characters’ interactions with others provide no help, so they must go on their own search for truth. This search, however, leaves both Holden and Yossarian with no answer. Holden Caulfield and John Yossarian introduce central questions that develop to reveal a single truth within each novel: the attempt to solve the disappearance of innocence will only lead to series of unanswered questions, and the only available conclusion is that the loss of innocence cannot be prevented in a hostile world.

There are minor differences to address between the protagonists in The Catcher in the Rye and Catch-22. At sixteen years old, Holden is much younger than Yossarian (who is twenty-eight), and...

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