Catcher in the Rye Symbols – Introduction
The Catcher in the Rye takes place in two major places: Pencey Prep, the exclusive boarding school in New Jersey that Holden is attending in the beginning of the novel, and New York City. The story takes place during the post-WWII era—so probably the 1940s or 1950s, although it is never specified exactly.
No matter where Holden finds himself, his setting serves to reflect his dissatisfaction with people and the world, highlighting the superficial and hypocritical nature of adults. There are a few major motifs that tie into this idea. The first motif is loneliness. No matter where Holden goes and who he interacts with, he feels dissatisfied and lonely. Another major motif is Holden’s approach to intimacy and sexuality. As he journeys through the few days between failing out of Pencey Prep and having to return home to his parents, he has several encounters with people that point out his discomfort with intimacy and his fear regarding his sexuality. The loudest and clearest motif is deception. Again, no matter where Holden goes or who he interacts with, he is met with “phonies” and sees everyone as being misleading and hypocritical.
Symbolism in Catcher in the Rye
Here’s a list of the major symbols in Catcher in the Rye.
- “Catcher in the Rye”
- The Red Hunting Hat
- The Museum of Natural History
- The Central Park Lagoon’s Ducks
“Catcher in the Rye”
“Catcher in the Rye” – This is a misinterpretation of the Robert Burns song “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye.” Holden’s younger sister, Phoebe, asks Holden what he wants to do with his life in an effort to encourage him to grow up. He misremembers the song and says he wants to be the catcher in the rye because he can protect children and catch them if they fall from the cliff. Phoebe points out that Holden doesn’t have the lyrics right and that it drastically changes the meaning of the song. However, this reveals that Holden is desperately clinging to the innocence of childhood and just wants to protect other children from having to go through coming-of-age pains like he is.
The Red Hunting Hat
The Red Hunting Hat – Holden is in possession of a very noticeable red hunting hat which stands as a symbol for his uniqueness and his unwillingness to just conform for the sake of blending in. This is part of what makes his transition into adulthood so painful. He finds it hard to know how to fit in because of his glaring uniqueness. However much he loves the hat, he also feels self-conscious of it at certain points which shows how uncomfortable he is with himself, not just with other people.
The Museum of Natural History
The Museum of Natural History – Holden explains in the narrative that museums are important to him because they remain reliable and unchanging. He feels upset that museums stay the same, yet he is different every time he returns to one. This narrative helps readers understand how uncomfortable Holden is with change, how he wishes for a world where nothing would change, and how he works so hard to avoid unpredictability. When he realizes it can’t be avoided, he experiences a crisis
The Central Park Lagoon’s Ducks
The Central Park Lagoon’s Ducks – Holden mentions several times that he wonders what the ducks in Central Park do during the Winter. He remembers loving them as a child, and his curiosity about the ducks represents the childlike nature and wonder that he so fiercely clings to.