Symbolism in Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye

The novel The Catcher in the Rye is full of symbols. Actually symbol refers to the objects, characters, figures used to represent abstract ideas or concepts. The Symbol also carries the theme.

Jerome David Salinger

We can find that the title of the novel The Catcher in the Rye is symbolic. Rye is a kind of crop field on the top of a cliff which stands for the children's innocent world. Holden, the main character of the novel, wants to be the protector of children before they fall out of innocence into knowledge of the adult world including knowledge of sex. It is highly ironic that the word 'meets' refers to the physical attachment and Holden's substituting. The 'catch' takes on the exact opposite meaning in his mind.

Another symbol is Holden's Red Hunting Hat. His hat represents him in isolation, self- consciousness. It refers to the symbol of his uniqueness and individuality. The color of the hat is red which symbolizes the purity and innocence. He had bought the hat for one dollar in New York when he did not have the fencing equipment. The cap is though useful at times, it looks odd and strange with its extra-long bill and ear flaps. It is the emblem of Holden's pleasant fascination to unusual qualities, in objects as well as people that others around him would miss. He loves to wear it with the bill pointing to the back, as a baseball catcher might.

Museum of National History is another symbol. The museum is the symbol of Holden's world; it is the world of his catcher in the Rye's fantasy, a world where nothing ever changes, where everything is simple, understandable. Holden fears with complex things, he hates conflict. Holden wants to showcase the children like the things are kept in the museum. The museum is his platonic world where he wishes to live. He finds himself changing every time he visits the museum, but the museum remains same, static.  He is terrifically afraid of the unpredictable flux in the world and in the relationships. His fear of interaction is symbolically represented by the mute museum.

Ducks in the central park Lagoon are another important symbol. Holden's search for the ducks represents the curiosity of youth and a joyful willingness to encounter the mysteries of the world. The duck and ponds are very symbolic. The duck proves that some vanishing is only temporary. Holden is terrified by the idea of change and disappear. The ducks vanish every winter but return every spring. It symbolizes that life has motion and nature in itself like that.

Pencey Prep and Elkton Hills schools also stand for some symbolic meanings. For Holden, these schools represent the phony, cruel world of the administrators. Even the advertisements for Pencey Prep are deceptive. They feature "some hot shot guy on a horse" performing horse-riding feats. Holden mockingly says he has never seen a horse at Pencey. The school's slogan is equally disgusting to Holden: "Since 1888 we have been molding boys into splendid, clear-thinking young men." Holden thinks perhaps there are two boys who fit that description, and they probably might have come to Pencey that way. For Holden, the two schools are representative of a corrupt system planned by adults and catering to boys who want to join their ranks. Holden's dilemma is that he struggles so hard against a system into which he was born.

Allie's left-handed baseball glove is smaller in size, but the significant symbol in the novel. It embodies Holden's love for his departed brother as well as Allie's uniqueness. Allie kept poems written in green ink so that he would have something to read when things got boring in the baseball field. This mitt is not a catcher's mitt; it is a fielder's glove. Holden has shown it to only one person outside the family: Jane Gallagher.

The pond becomes minor metaphor for the world because it is partly frozen and partly not frozen. It is in the transition between two states just as Holden is in transition between childhood and adulthood.