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Symbolism in The Catcher in the Rye

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/17/2012

Didn't quite catch on to everything your teacher was discussing in class? That's ok. Review the many symbols in The Catcher in the Rye with analysis and interpretation.

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    Symbols in The Catcher in the Rye

    The Catcher in the Rye: The novel's most important symbol is found in the title. Holden explains to Phoebe that all he wants to be is the catcher in the rye. He pictures himself wearing a giant mitt, ready to catch kids as they fall off a cliff while playing in the rye. The kids represent childhood. The field represents innocence. The fall from the cliff represents the fall from innocence. Holden represents the attempt to shelter kids from growing up, and more personally, represents his desire to avoid the harshness of adult life.

    The Catcher in the Rye, Part 2: The symbol is ironic. Holden mistakes the words in the song, much in the same way he mistakes the cause of his torment--it comes from himself, not from others. He thinks the words are "if a body catch a body comin' through the rye." The actual words are "if a body meet a body comin' through the rye" and is a justification for casual sex. It is ironic, too, that Holden's avoidance of adulthood and his resistance to the "phony" adult world is setting himself up for a fall, as pointed out by Mr. Antolini.

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    Allie's Baseball Mitt: Holden chooses to describe his younger brother's baseball mitt, covered in poems, for the composition he writes for his roommate, Stradlater. Allie had died several years earlier and his death made a lasting impression on Holden. It represents innocence and goodness. Stradlater's anger at the description and Holden's subsequent ripping up of the composition serves as a reminder of Holden's isolation and his loss of childhood innocence.

    Holden's Red Hunting Hat: Holden's hat symbolizes his independence. He mentions the hat every time he wears it, symbolic of his desire to mention how independent he is. The fact that he often takes it off when around people he knows highlights his conflict between wanting isolation and wanting companionship. It's no coincidence that the hat is the same color as Phoebe and Allie's hair.

    The Museum of Natural History: Holden finds the museum appealing because everything in it stays the same. It represents Holden's desire to keep everything the same.

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    The Profane Graffiti: Holden is shocked to see "F&^* You" written on the walls of Phoebe's school. He rubs it out with his hand so the kids at the school won't be exposed to it and wonder what it means. He later finds it written in another part of the school and then again at the Museum of Natural History. It represents Holden's inability to prevent the loss of innocence in others. The taunting nature of the phrase represents his own inability to protect himself from the trials of adulthood.

    The Ducks in Central Park: Holden wonders where the ducks go in the winter when the pond in Central Park freezes over. The fact that they come back brings Holden some consolation, insomuch that the change in the pond is temporary. It also stands in contrast to the permanent loss he experiences with the death of Allie.

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    For Further Reading

    Holden makes several allusions to literary works in the novel. Refresh your memory by checking out these study guides: Romeo and Juliet and The Great Gatsby.