The novel The Catcher In The Rye, by J.D. Salinger, contains many complex symbols, many of the symbols in the book are interconnected. A symbol is an object represents an idea that is important to the novel. I believe the most important symbol in this novel is Holdenâ€™s idea of being the â€œcatcher in the ryeâ€.
Holden Caulfield, the main character in the novel, is not the typical sixteen year old boy. Holden has many characteristics that arenâ€™t typical of anyone that I know. Holden is very afraid of growing up. He feels the adult world is â€œphonyâ€, everyone in it, and everything associated with it. Holden never actually states that he is afraid of growing up, or that he hates the idea of it, instead he expresses his resistance to become an adult by making the adult world into a place full of â€œphonyâ€, dishonest, and shallow people, and comparing it to the honest, innocent, and fun world a child lives in.
Throughout this book Holdenâ€™s main quest is to try and preserve the innocence in both him, and in everyone around him. He knows that adults have already taken the path leading to â€œphoninessâ€, but he tries to save children from this fate that toward the end of the book he sadly realizes is almost completely inevitable. In order to keep the â€œphoninessâ€ from infecting the childrenâ€™s life, and his, he thinks he needs to preserve the innocence of himself and of the children. The biggest example of his need to preserve the innocence in himself and in all the children he meets in the book is his vision of being the catcher in the rye.
In Chapter 16 Holden hears a young boy singing a song thatâ€™s lyrics were â€œif a body catch a body coming through the rye.â€ Before seeing this boy Holden is walking down the street feeling rather depressed, like he is most of the time due to the fact that he gets depressed quite easily. Once Holden sees this boy he automatically cheers up. One reason for this is most likely because this young boy is walking on the side of the street instead of the sidewalk with his parents, which most other people would choose. This shows that this boy still has the innocence and does not feel the need to conform to everyone else yet as many adults do. I believe he also liked this boy because he says, â€œhis parents paid no attention to him.â€ This displays the fact that the boy has a freedom to be a child and have fun and his parents arenâ€™t trying to change him. This is the first appearance of â€œthe catcher in the ryeâ€ in the novel.
In Chapter 21 Holden decides to visit his sister Phoebe. Phoebe is much younger than Holden, and loves her older brother dearly. Phoebe does not agree with Holdenâ€™s reluctance to grow up though, she actually gets mad at him. Holden has been kicked out of countless private schools, and after being kicked out of Pency Prep, he goes to visit Phoebe in the middle night, to avoid being seen by his parents. When she first sees him she is very excited, but then she realizes the only reason that he would be home early would be if he had gotten kicked out of school. For the rest of the time he is talking to her in her room practically the only thing that she says is â€œDaddyâ€™s gonna kill you.â€ After she gets mad at him about it, he thinks that Phoebe stops listening and if she is, she does not comprehend what heâ€™s trying to say, it is then that Holden says two of the most important things in the entire novel.
When Phoebe asks Holden what he wants to be when heâ€™s older, Holden responds with two answers that let the reader get to know way more about him, and many of his intentions much better. The first thing he says is that he wouldnâ€™t want to be a lawyer like their father. But the only way heâ€™d want to be a lawyer is to held save innocent people and do pure things of that sort, even then heâ€™s not sure if heâ€™d be doing it to save innocent people, or just to look mature and responsible to other adults. Here we can see that his motives for saving peopleâ€™s innocence and being the actual catcher in the rye are not clear. As he said in his description about the lawyers, â€œâ€¦how would you know if you did it because you really wanted to save guysâ€™ lives, orâ€¦what you really wanted to do was be a terrific lawyer, with everybody slapping you on your back and congratulating youâ€¦the reporters and everybody. How would you know you werenâ€™t being a phony? The trouble is, you wouldnâ€™t.â€ This is displayed when he is talking to Phoebe and she is talking about a boy in her class who probably likes her but she doesnâ€™t want him to, she tells Holden that she put ink on his jacket and Holden responds to that by saying, â€œThat isnâ€™t nice. What are you-a child, for Godâ€™s sake?â€ Holden likes getting reactions from people to reassure himself of his actions. This is a parallel to what all teenagers must go through at one point in their life, the line between should I do this to please my parents, or should I do what I want to do? Holden represents every teenagers struggle for independence.
Holden tells Phoebe that what he actually wants to do when heâ€™s older is he wants to be the â€œcatcher in the ryeâ€. He tells Phoebe the lyrics to the song that the boy was singing, â€œIf a body, catch a body, coming through the rye.â€ Phoebe corrects him telling him that the song he is referring to is actually a poem, and the correct lyrics are â€œIf a body, meet a body, coming through the rye.â€ He acknowledges her, but he believes he is right, being as heâ€™s the older brother and all. Using the lyrics that he believes are right as his inspiration he creates a fantasy world, making himself the hero, most likely so that he can gain the recognition he talks about when describing lawyers. Holden imagines this huge field of rye filled with thousands of kids. Theyâ€™re all playing and having a good time, happy to just be kids and playing together. The only thing is that there is a huge cliff on one side of the field of rye. Holden is the only adult there. If the children get too excited from all the playing, and forget what they are doing and start to go over the cliff Holden wants to be the one to catch them and prevent them from falling. He wants to do this everyday, just constantly saving innocent children from certain death. The field of rye that the children are playing in symbolizes the life of a child and the cliff represents the transition from childhood to adulthood. This entire fantasy represents Holden wanting to protect the children from what he is going through, having to deal with the â€œreal worldâ€ that kids can ignore because adults deal with it daily letting the children live free of worry.
The question raised is does Holden want to save the children to in truth save them from what he is going through, or does he want to save the children from falling off the cliff in order to appear responsible and mature to adults. I believe that Holden only wants to appear to be mature to adults. I think this is true because he even admits it himself, â€œI know itâ€™s crazy, but thatâ€™s the only thing Iâ€™d really like to be.â€ Holden is so much still like a child. The example of him saying that he wants to be the â€œcatcher in the ryeâ€ is the biggest example of this in the book. His only idea of something that he wants to do when he is older is something he knows is completely impossible, but still wants to do it. When people â€œgrow upâ€ and become adults, many of them give up their dreams and do the best they can with what they have. Holden is still dreaming like a child, but trying to put himself in an adult world. Many of the names in this novel are similar to the people. Holden sounds like hold on, just like Holden is trying to hold on to childhood. His friend from Pency Prep Ackley has a lot of acne, and his old roommate from Pency Prep, Stradlater, is the only one that Holden knows that is honest because he actually has had sex.
No matter how hard Holden tries to be the catcher in the rye, he knows that he canâ€™t save Jane anymore. Jane was his best friend when he was little and has been his closest female friend ever. Holden still thought of Jane as the totally innocent girl he knew when he was little when Stradlater mentioned her to him. He immediately began to think of her and every time he did he knew that the girl who he used to play checkers with everyday who â€œkept her kings in the back rowâ€ was in the back of a car with Stradlater. Since Holden knows that Stradlater has actually had sex, and he also remarks that Stradlater does not listen to a girl when she tells him to stop, he figures that Jane has probably had sex with Stradlater now, and once youâ€™ve had sex, that is considered one of the most significant events in a young adults life. Once youâ€™ve had sex, youâ€™re pretty much considered an adult in our society. This book is set in the 1950â€™s and premarital sex was considered only a thing for the bad boys, and the easy girls to do. Holden will always view Jane, in his mind, as being that innocent sweet girl from when they were younger, but he knows thatâ€™s not what she really is anymore.
Holden learns itâ€™s impossible to preserve things forever. He expresses this with his feelings for Jane, and with his trip to the museum. As mentioned above Jane has changed, as all teenagers do, and is now a woman. Sheâ€™s no longer the sweet girl who Holden used to hold hands and play checkers with all day long. The museum also demonstrates Holdenâ€™s want for things to stay the same as they always were for him. He never wants anything or anyone to change, that way he will be familiar with everything and not feel the pressure to change himself. He remembers going to the museum when he was Phoebeâ€™s age, and now Phoebe is going. Holden thinks itâ€™s amazing that Phoebe is still seeing the same things he used to see all the time, every time he stepped foot into that museum he would always feel the same thing. No one feels comfortable with change, for the better or for the worse, but Holden especially isnâ€™t. Holden says, â€œCertain things, they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases.â€ He knows that this is impossible, but he wishes just the same. He wishes he could think of everything the way he thinks of Allie, his dead brother, completely innocent. Allie died when he was young and therefore never had to go through the transition into adulthood. He wishes that Jane could be stuck into a glass case, not die, but get stuck in a big glass case where she would still always keep her kings in the back row.
Holden Caulfield wishes so much to be the â€œcatcher in the ryeâ€. This symbol in the book reveals many things about him and his thoughts. After this symbol and his talk about the lawyers we learn that his whole ideals he expresses before this in the book are totally superficial. This symbol is the most meaningful and complex symbol in the novel.