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 Holden’s idea of being the “catcher in the rye”.
Holden Caulfield, the main character in the novel, is not the typical sixteen year old boy. Holden has many characteristics that aren’t typical of anyone that I know. Holden is very afraid of growing up. He feels the adult world is “phony”, 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 “phony”, dishonest, and shallow people, and comparing it to the honest, innocent, and fun world a child lives in.
Throughout this book Holden’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 “phoniness”, 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 “phoniness” from infecting the children’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 that’s lyrics were “if a body catch a body coming through the rye.” 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, “his parents paid no attention to him.” This displays the fact that the boy has a freedom to be a child and have fun and his parents aren’t trying to change him. This is the first appearance of “the catcher in the rye” 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 Holden’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 “Daddy’s gonna kill you.” After she gets mad at him about it, he thinks that Phoebe stops listening and if she is, she does not comprehend what he’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 he’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 wouldn’t want to be a lawyer like their father. But the only way he’d want to be a lawyer is to held save innocent people and do pure things of that sort, even then he’s not sure if he’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 people’s innocence and being the actual catcher in the rye are not clear. As he said in his description about the lawyers, “…how would you know if you did it because you really wanted to save guys’ lives, or…what you really wanted to do was be a terrific lawyer, with everybody slapping you on your back and congratulating you…the reporters and everybody. How would you know you weren’t being a phony? The trouble is, you wouldn’t.” 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 doesn’t want him to, she tells Holden that she put ink on his jacket and Holden responds to that by saying, “That isn’t nice. What are you-a child, for God’s sake?” 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