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J.D
Salinger’s effective use of symbolism in The Catcher In The Rye

Symbolism is the use of
symbols to signify ideas and qualities, by giving them symbolic meaning that are
different from their literal sense(Literary
Devices, 2017) J.D Salinger in The Catcher In The Rye effectively
uses symbolism in order to convey the main idea through Holden’s thoughts and
feelings as well as his personality. The central idea of the novel is the
protection of childhood innocence. The story involves a 16 year old boy named
Holden who has depression and has been expelled from school. Holden believes
adults are fake and that they don’t think for themselves, Holden doesn’t want
to be like them and he is scared of growing up. Salinger uses symbols to help
the reader understand the idea of protecting childhood innocence and not moving
on into the adult world. They are also used to convey Holden’s fear of becoming
like the rest of society. There are four main symbols that Salinger mentions
throughout the novel that need to be explained which are: the symbolism in the
title itself, Allie’s baseball mitt, the ducks in the lagoon, and Holden’s red
cap.

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Holden had a younger
brother named Allie, he was very important to him. Allie died at a young age
due to cancer. Allie played baseball and Holden got to keep his baseball Mitt
when he passed. “My brother Allie had this left-handed fielder’s mitt. He was
left handed. The thing that was descriptive about it though, was that he had
poems written all over the fingers and the pocket and everywhere. In green ink”
(Salinger 43) Allie’s had poems written all over it the reason being to keep
him occupied on the field because he thought baseball was boring. Salinger uses
the Globe as a symbol of Holden’s love for Allie. The mitt shows how Holden
finds it hard to cope with the death of his brother. And he is unable to live

 

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with his feelings as they lead to all the
problems he has in school and with people. The baseball Mitt also symbolizes
Allie’s unique personality. The poems on the Mitt show how he was different
from other People. Allie was a very smart and kind person, different from the
rest, Holden feels guilty because he believes his brother was a better person
than him and he believes Allie should be alive instead of him. Salinger’s
symbol of the baseball mitt contributed to the reader’s understanding of how
Holden felt about his brother and what kind of person he was, as well show his
troubles coping with his loss.

 

After being expelled
from his school Holden left and traveled to New York. “‘Where the hellja get
that hat?’ he said ‘New York’ ‘How Much’ ‘A Buck'” (Salinger 26) While he was
in New York he purchased a red hunting hat. It wasn’t the typical hat people
would wear in the city, it shows how Holden chooses to be different from other
people. Holden isolates himself from the world around him and in this way he
protects himself from becoming like them. He doesn’t like the adult world, the
hat separates him from it. Salinger uses the red hunting hat as a symbol of
Holden’s isolation from the rest of the people. It makes him different and he
is okay with it because he doesn’t want to be like them. He thinks adults are
fake and they do things for the rest of society and not for themselves. Holden
is mostly confident of his hat but he understands that it makes him look
different. “I took it Off before I checked in. I didn’t want to look like a
screwball or something” (Salinger 68) He took his hat off before checking into
a hotel because he knew he looked a different and he didn’t want to be judged.
Salinger also uses the red hunting hat as a symbol of his siblings. The hat was
red and both Allie and his sister Phoebe had red hair, they are the most important
people to him. The hat helps remind Holden of them and in that way Salinger
uses the hat as a symbol of Holden’s family and his way of protecting himself
from the adult world. The symbolism behind the red hunting hat effectively
shows Holden’s feelings for his family and his point of view on the world and
how he thinks people have become corrupt and don’t think for themselves.

 

Holden in The Catcher
In The Rye constantly brings up the topic of the ducks in the lagoon. In
New York Holden took a taxi in which he asked his driver about the ducks:

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‘Hey, listen,’ I said. ‘You know those ducks in
that lagoon right near Central Park South? That little lake? By any chance, do
you happen to know where they go, the ducks, when it gets all

Frozen over? Do you happen to know, by any
chance?’ I realized it was only one chance in a million’. (Salinger 67)

The driver disregards his question and doesn’t
give him an answer. Holden later ask another Cab driver “The ducks. Do you know, by any chance? I mean
does somebody come around in a truck or something and take them away, or do
they fly away by themselves – go south or something?” (Salinger 91)  Still Holden doesn’t get an actual answer.
Salinger uses the fact that Holden keeps asking about the Ducks in the lagoon
to symbolize his frustrations with the fact that he doesn’t know what is going
to happen to him now that he is kicked out of school he doesn’t want to become
an adult Holden doesn’t want to grow up. In a sense when he asks what will
happen to the ducks in the winter it symbolizes him asking what will happen to
him, He is concerned about his future. Holden wants to put a pause on his life
he doesn’t want anything to change. The ducks also symbolize change and the
fact that even if he doesn’t want change it must happen, the ducks change and
adapt in order to survive in this world just like he will have to change to
become successful in life. Holden loves the mindset of children he believes
it’s the best stage in anyone’s life. Salinger’s use of symbolism in the Ducks
does a great job conveying his feelings toward moving on into the adult world.

 

Salinger uses symbolism
in the title of the novel itself to convey the central idea of protecting
childhood innocence. Later in the novel phoebe Holden’s sister accuses him that
he doesn’t like anything, she asks him what he wants to be when he grows up. Holden can’t think of anything else except for
this dream he has about of having this job where all he does is stand at the
end of a cliff and catch kids who are running and are about to fall off:

I keep picturing all these little kids playing
some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and
nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the

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edge of some crazy cliff. 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 I have to come out from

Somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all
day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s
the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.” (Salinger 191)

The title of the novel The Catcher in the rye
represents Holden’s dream of being the catcher in the rye (person catching the
kids). The title symbolizes that Holden loves the child world and that he truly
believes that it’s the best stage in anyone’s life. It also symbolizes the
protection of childhood innocence which is the main idea of the book. The cliff
represents the border between the adult and the child world and the kids
running off represents the innocence being lost and them being introduced to
the world of adulthood. And then there’s Holden who doesn’t want to grow up who
hates the adult life trying to protect all these kids from moving on and losing
their innocence. The idea of the catcher in the rye is one of the most
effective use of symbolism in the book as it really conveys the central idea of
protecting the innocence you are born with from the adult life.

 

The use of symbolism in
the catcher in the rye helps the reader understand Holden’s thoughts and
feelings. Without them there wouldn’t be much of a story as they play a major
role in the development of the plot. The symbols effectively convey how Holden thinks
the adult world is full of fake people and that he wants to keep children from
falling into the world of adults and how He wants to protect their innocence.
He’s brothers baseball mitt symbolizes how important his brother is to him and
how much he misses him and how it affects him. Holden’s hat symbolizes how he
wants to protect himself from the world of adults. And that it reminds him of
his brother and sister. The ducks in the lagoon symbolizes how Holden is scared
of where he is going in live and he is concerned for the life that is ahead of
him as he doesn’t know where it will take him. And finally, the title of the
novel symbolizes how Holden hates the world of adults and that he wishes he
could protect every child from it. Without the symbolism in the catcher in the
rye Salinger could not convey his message about the adult world as strongly as
he did. The

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Symbolism in this novel played a key role in
explaining how he believes that the world is full of phonies and that being a
child is the best part of your life.      

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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