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Setting and Symbolism in The Catcher In The Rye Essay


Life itself is a journey full of bonding and experiences which lead to wisdom and understanding. Without maturity one may never have these life teaching experiences. This leads to an empty shell of a person who has never truly felt passion, love or self harmony.(Ghandi) In a perfect world, everyone would be happy with the way they are and everyone would accept and embrace the differences of others. Unfortunately, this is not the case, the world we live in is far from perfect and not everyone accepts who they truly are. Is there a reason why people cannot be happy with their lives or with the differences of other people? This search for identity seems to be all too real for Holden Caulfield, a seventeen year old boy in J.D. Salingers novel, The Catcher in the Rye. Through settings and symbolism, Salinger illustrates that, Holden Caulfield, needs the support of the society around him, the society also needs Holden as a person.

Holden Caulfield is the odd one out in any environment that he is in during the novel. At Pencey, Holden is not wanted during the activities of his classmates. At the beginning of the novel, Holden gets kicked out of Pencey because he is failing his classes, and because he feels like he does not belong there, so he does not try. Holden separates himself from his classmates by not going to school functions, or joining any clubs. Although Holden is the equipment manager of the fencing team, he once again separates himself from the team by losing the equipment, showing that he does not fit in, and he really does not want to. As he looks back on his last day at Pencey he says: They kicked me out. ...I was flunking four subjects and not applying myself at all. They gave me frequent warnings to start applying myself...but I didnt do it (Salinger 4). The school is throwing Holden out because he is not what they want to represent their school, or be associated with their students. They want to show society fine young men, instead of the failing, confused young men. Salinger uses Pencey as a mock society of sorts. Holden does not fit in at Pencey. A second example of Holdens isolation from his classmates can also be seen when he stands alone on the top of the hill during the big game. During the football game Holden sits by himself above the football field where he can hear the cheering, but he cannot see the crowd. practically the whole school except me was there (Salinger 2). Holdens isolation is partly his fault in some ways, however there are other reasons to his loneliness. The high expectations of good grades and being social and outgoing in other activities separate Holden from the rest of his school. Holden gives very little effort to try and fit in at Pencey, because he knows that it is just a made up society, phony! The school setting isolates Holden because of his mistake in letting his grades drop. When Holden leaves Pencey, not only is he cast out from school, he is cast out from society.

After Holden leaves school, he takes a bus to New York City. Holden is again singled out and has the feeling that he does bit belong there. When Holden is on his way up to his hotel room in New York, the elevator operator offers him a prostitute for five dollars. The next day, Maurice, the elevator boy comes after Holden, saying he did not pay enough for the prostitute. After Maurice beats up Holden, He leaves the hotel. Holden feels that he cannot go back to that same hotel, but he will not go and search for another one. He says, I had no place to go. It was only Sunday and I couldnt go home till Wednesday- or Tuesday at the soonest. And I certainly didnt feel like going to another hotel and getting my brains beat out(Salinger 106-107). Holden cannot go back and he is very uneasy to find another room for fear that the same thing would happen to him again. Holden is once again unable to make a simple decision. He does not want to move on, because he does not know where to move on to, and he cannot go back home because his parents still think he is at school. This situation with the pimp shows how society needs Holden because he is so vulnerable. Holden easy to step on and take advantage of, and a society usually needs people to like this for its leaders to thrive. The affect that society has on Holden is obvious when Holden buys his red hunting hat. Holden wears it because he thinks that it is stylish and cool. Unfortunately it is an ugly hat that makes Holden stick out like a sore thumb. Although for some reason this makes Holden feel safe. ...and then I put on this hat that I d bought in New York that morning. It was this red hunting hat, with one of those very, very long peaks, (Salinger 17). The red hat is Holdens way of saying look at me!. He is like no one else, given the fact that he is wearing that hat and it proves that he does not belong. Holden later comments on his hat when his little sister Phoebe is wearing it. you could see that hat about ten miles away(Salinger 205) He does not understand the mark that society has put on him. The hat is a mark of society on Holden because the hat separated him from others. The most important symbol in the novel The Catcher in the Rye is most likely the symbol that gives the book its title. The little boy, singing Robert Burns poem If a Body Meet a Body. The child is walking next to the curb in a straight line singing If a body catch a body coming through the rye. Holden enjoys hearing the song and watching the little boy: He was just singing for the hell of it, you could tell. The cars zoomed by, brakes screeched all over the place, his parents paid no attention to him, and he kept on walking next to the curb and singing If a body catch a body coming through the rye (Salinger 115). Holden hears this little boy singing, not caring what anyone thinks of him. It comforts him because this little child is a representation of Holden. The boy is being ignored, but he keeps going along singing like there was nothing wrong. Holden wishes that he could go along just like that little boy, but instead he has to grow up and face the world. The little boy is also a symbol, because he represents this innocence that Holden wants to hold on to, but he cannot manage to hang on no matter how hard he tries. The child also signifies Holden, in the fact that his own parents are like the little boys: completely unaware, even when he faces dangers of speeding cars. Holden sees this child as lost, like himself but he realizes that the child may have a chance.

At the very end of the novel, Holden is having a conversation with Phoebe, about the song that he heard the little boy singing. You know what Id like to be? I said.... Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all...What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff....I have to come out from somewhere and catch them . Id just be the catcher in the rye and all. (Salinger 172-173) Holden states what he thinks he wants to do with the rest of his life. To everyone else it sounds crazy, but to Holden its a dream. The rye field that Holden sees all of these children playing in is the playground of childhood. The children playing in the rye field cannot see over the rye and into their future. To make sure that none of the children have to face what Holden did, he will catch them so that they do not have to go through the transition all alone. Holden Caulfield wants to catch kids before they fall off into the isolation that he has been faced with in his transition to adulthood. The little boy that he saw walking in the street was one of the ones that he could have saved if he had the chance. Holden wishes that someone would have saved him from falling off that cliff, and so now he dreams of saving others from the isolation and indecision that he had to face. Salinger is trying to show the reader that Holden wants to save the innocence of other children because he was forced to give up his early. He makes a point of Holdens innocence being so important to him; this is what society is trying to take away from Holden.

Through the use of setting, and symbolism, J. D. Salinger shows us that Holden, needs the support of the people around him and the people around him need Holden as a person. Holdens isolation by his parents leaves him to be guided by the society that he lives in. He cannot fit in, because society is not a good teacher, and Holden becomes mixed up in his journey and transition. Society mandates that people be what society thinks, but this is not the case. Holden Caulfield, in trying to do what he thinks best, but ends up a victim of society. The society that is creating Holden is ever changing, as is Holdens life, so after facing these challenges and learning these things for himself, he realizes that his journey was successful. And that in the end maybe he really was The Catcher in the Rye.

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