Mr. M. Dempsey
December 18, 2013
The novel “The Catcher in the Rye,” revolves around the protagonist Holden Caulfield as the story is told from his perspective. J.D. Salinger constructed Holden Caulfield as a cynical person who cannot accept to grow up. Throughout “The Catcher in the Rye,” J.D. Salinger uses symbolism to reveal and reinforce critical aspects of the protagonist Holden Caulfield. Three important aspects Holden acquired through Salinger’s use of symbolism are: his stubborn, uncompromising mentality; his softer, more caring respectful side; Holden’s cowardly way of acting and thinking. A big trait in Holden’s character is the stubbornness. Holden is not willing to accept his problems in addition to let others help him. It is equally important to realize that Holden’s stubbornness is fatal to changing, otherwise growing up. One of the first symbols introduced is Holden’s red hunting hat. “This is a people shooting hat. I shoot people in this hat. (3.31)” gives signs that this hat is a way to alienate himself from the world. When Holden articulates it is for shooting people; shooting really means calling them phonies to only stubbornly protect himself from the outer world. Proceeding to Holden’s visit to Phoebe’s school, the f**k you signs on the wall are a way of representing the negative influences on kids. Holden’s stubbornness is shown when he attempts to erase them off the wall, although states “you couldn’t rub out even half the ‘F**k You’ signs in the world.(25.18)” The symbol’s meaning towards the story is understood that it’d be pointless to erase even all of the negative influences in the world because they’d just re-appear, except the protagonist cannot accept the reality of the situation. Jumping right to the end of the novel, when Phoebe rides the carousel, Holden is finally accepting to change, contrasting from the rest of the book. The instant also results in happiness. When Holden speaks to us in the rain, “All the kids kept trying to grab for the gold ring, and so was Phoebe-(25.85)” it represents the kids changing, growing up or finally wanting to go someplace. His epiphany is told to us through the lines, “I was sort of afraid she’d fall off the goddamn horse, but I didn’t say anything or do anything. The thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. (25.85)” These are three solid examples of symbolism (his visit to Phoebe’s school; the red hunting hat; Phoebe’s ride on the carousel for contrast) to reflect on his relentless mentality throughout the novel based on a will to change; accept.
A second more hidden aspect of Holden Caulfield is his kindness. When truthfulness is witnessed, he treasures the phony free moment by having deep respect for it. One of Salinger’s symbols to highlight this aspect is Phoebe’s notebook. In chapter twenty-one, as Holden sneaks into Phoebe’s room, one of the first things he does is read Phoebe’s notebook. He says, “I can read that kind of stuff, some kid’s notebook, Phoebe’s or anybody’s, all day and all night long (21.16)” The point Holden is trying to get through Salinger’s symbolism is that these notebooks have nothing phony in them. Every single notebook has the person being truthful to themselves; just as Phoebe shows she prefers one middle-name Weatherfield over her real middle-name, Josephine; which is why Holden cares so much for Phoebe. He treasures this self-respect by respecting her for the integrity in contrast to his older brother D.B. Caulfield. D.B. Caulfield reflects on Phoebe because Holden does not care as much for him. Holden believes D.B. is somewhat a phony for prostituting his writing talents for Hollywood, instead of being more sincere to himself to not only write for the money. This is taken right out of his lines, “He used to be a regular writer, when he…