Core Assessment Question How does Haddon represent Christopher through his narration and how does Haddon make the reader feel about Christophers family? Advanced Question for Y8 Exceeding and Mastering Pupils Compare and contrast Haddons representation of Christopher Boone in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time with Salingers representation of Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye. What ideological message do you think each writer is trying to convey through the narrative journey and character representation of each protagonist? CATCHER IN THE RYE SYNOPSIS (PAGE 1) The Catcher in the Rye is set around the 1950s and is narrated by a young man named Holden Caulfield. Holden is not specific about his location while hes telling the story, but he makes it clear that he is undergoing treatment in a mental hospital or sanatorium. The events he narrates take place in the few days between the end of the fall school term and Christmas, when Holden is sixteen years old. Holdens story begins on the Saturday following the end of classes at the Pencey prep school in Agerstown, Pennsylvania. Pencey is Holdens fourth school; he has already failed out of three others. At Pencey, he has failed four out of five of his classes and has received notice that he is being expelled, but he is not scheduled to return home to Manhattan until Wednesday. He visits his elderly history teacher, Spencer, to say goodbye, but when Spencer tries to reprimand him for his poor academic performance, Holden becomes annoyed. Back in the dormitory, Holden is further irritated by his unhygienic neighbor, Ackley, and by his own roommate, Stradlater. Stradlater spends the evening on a date with Jane Gallagher, a girl whom Holden used to date and whom he still admires. During the course of the evening, Holden grows increasingly nervous about Stradlaters taking Jane out, and when Stradlater returns, Holden questions him insistently about whether he tried to have sex with her. Stradlater teases Holden, who flies into a rage and attacks Stradlater. Stradlater pins Holden down and bloodies his nose. Holden decides that hes had enough of Pencey and will go to Manhattan three days early, stay in a hotel, and not tell his parents that he is back. On the train to New York, Holden meets the mother of one of his fellow Pencey students. Though he thinks this student is a complete bastard, he tells the woman made-up stories about how shy her son is and how well respected he is at school. When he arrives at Penn Station, he goes into a phone booth and considers calling several people, but for various reasons he decides against it. He gets in a cab and asks the cab driver where the ducks in Central Park go when the lagoon freezes, but his question annoys the driver. Holden has the cab driver take him to the Edmont Hotel, where he checks himself in. From his room at the Edmont, Holden can see into the rooms of some of the guests in the opposite wing. He observes a man putting on silk stockings, high heels, a bra, a corset, and an evening gown. He also sees a man and a woman in another room taking turns spitting mouthfuls of their drinks into each others faces and laughing
hysterically. He interprets the couples behavior as a form of sexual play and is both upset and aroused by it. After smoking a couple of cigarettes, he calls Faith Cavendish, a woman he has never met but whose number he got from an acquaintance at Princeton. Holden thinks he remembers hearing that she used to be a stripper, and he believes he can persuade her to have sex with him. He calls her, and though she is at first annoyed to be called at such a late hour by a complete stranger, she eventually suggests that they meet the next day. Holden doesnt want to wait that long and winds up hanging up without arranging a meeting. Holden goes downstairs to the Lavender Room and sits at a table, but the waiter realizes hes a minor and refuses to serve him. He flirts with three women in their thirties, who seem like theyre from out of town and are mostly interested in catching a glimpse of a celebrity. Nevertheless, Holden dances with them and feels that he is half in love with the blonde one after seeing how well she dances. After making some wisecracks about his age, they leave, letting him pay their entire tab. As Holden goes out to the lobby, he starts to think about Jane Gallagher and, in a flashback, recounts how he got to know her. They met while spending a summer vacation in Maine, played golf and checkers, and held hands at the movies. One afternoon, during a game of checkers, her stepfather came onto the porch where they were playing, and when he left Jane began to cry. Holden had moved to sit beside her and kissed her all over her face, but she wouldnt let him kiss her on the mouth. That was the closest they came to necking. Holden leaves the Edmont and takes a cab to Ernies jazz club in Greenwich Village. Again, he asks the cab driver where the ducks in Central Park go in the winter, and this cabbie is even more irritable than the first one. Holden sits alone at a table in Ernies and observes the other patrons with distaste. He runs into Lillian Simmons, one of his older brothers former girlfriends, who invites him to sit with her and her date. Holden says he has to meet someone, leaves, and walks back to the Edmont. KEY INFORMATION
FULL TITLE The Catcher in the Rye AUTHOR J. D. Salinger TYPE OF WORK Novel GENRE Bildungsroman (coming-of-age novel) LANGUAGE English TIME AND PLACE WRITTEN Late 1940searly 1950s, New York DATE OF FIRST PUBLICATION July 1951; parts of the novel appeared as short stories in Colliers, December 1945, and in The New Yorker,December 1946 PUBLISHER Little, Brown and Company NARRATOR Holden Caulfield, narrating from a psychiatric facility a few months after the events of the novel POINT OF VIEW Holden Caulfield narrates in the first person, describing what he himself sees and experiences, providing his own commentary on the events and people he describes. TONE Holdens tone varies between disgust, cynicism, bitterness, and nostalgic longing, all expressed in a colloquial style. TENSE Past SETTING (TIME) A long weekend in the late 1940s or early 1950s SETTING (PLACE) Holden begins his story in Pennsylvania, at his former school, Pencey Prep. He then recounts his adventures in New York City. PROTAGONIST Holden Caulfield MAJOR CONFLICT The major conflict is within Holdens psyche. Part of him wants to connect with other people on an adult level (and, more specifically, to have a sexual encounter), while part of him wants to reject the adult world as phony, and to retreat into his own memories of childhood. RISING ACTION Holdens many attempts to connect with other people over the course of the novel bring his conflicting impulsesto interact with other people as an adult, or to retreat from them as a childinto direct conflict. CLIMAX Possible climaxes include Holdens encounter with Sunny, when it becomes clear that he is unable to handle a sexual encounter; the end of his date with Sally, when he tries to get her to run away with him; and his departure from Mr. Antolinis apartment, when he begins to question his characteristic mode of judging other people. FALLING ACTION Holdens interactions with Phoebe, culminating in his tears of joy at watching Phoebe on the carousel (at the novels end he has retreated into childhood, away from the threats of adult intimacy and sexuality) THEMES Alienation as a form of self-protection; the painfulness of growing up; the phoniness of the adult world MOTIFS Relationships, intimacy, and sexuality; loneliness; lying and deception SYMBOLS The catcher in the rye; Holdens red hunting hat; the Museum of Natural History; the ducks in the Central Park lagoon FORESHADOWING At the beginning of the novel, Holden hints that he has been hospitalized for a nervous breakdown, the story of which is revealed over the course of the novel.
CATCHER IN THE RYE SYNOPSIS (PAGE 2) Maurice, the elevator operator at the Edmont, offers to send a prostitute to Holdens room for five dollars, and Holden agrees. A young woman, identifying herself as Sunny, arrives at his door. She pulls off her dress, but Holden starts to feel peculiar and tries to make conversation with her. He claims that he recently underwent a spinal operation and isnt sufficiently recovered to have sex with her, but he offers to pay her anyway. She sits on his lap and talks dirty to him, but he insists on paying her five dollars and showing her the door. Sunny returns with Maurice, who demands another five dollars from Holden. When Holden refuses to pay, Maurice punches him in the stomach and leaves him on the floor, while Sunny takes five dollars from his wallet. Holden goes to bed. He wakes up at ten oclock on Sunday and calls Sally Hayes, an attractive girl whom he has dated in the past. They arrange to meet for a matinee showing of a Broadway play. He eats breakfast at a sandwich bar, where he converses with two nuns about Romeo and Juliet. He gives the nuns ten dollars. He tries to telephone Jane Gallagher, but her mother answers the phone, and he hangs up. He takes a cab to Central Park to look for his younger sister, Phoebe, but she isnt there. He helps one of Phoebes schoolmates tighten her skate, and the girl tells him that Phoebe might be in the Museum of Natural History. Though he knows that Phoebes class wouldnt be at the museum on a Sunday, he goes there anyway, but when he gets there he decides not to go in and instead takes a cab to the Biltmore Hotel to meet Sally. Holden and Sally go to the play, and Holden is annoyed that Sally talks with a boy she knows from Andover afterward. At Sallys suggestion, they go to Radio City to ice skate. They both skate poorly and decide to get a table instead. Holden tries to explain to Sally why he is unhappy at school, and actually urges her to run away with him to Massachusetts or Vermont and live in a cabin. When she refuses, he calls her a pain in the ass and laughs at her when she reacts angrily. She refuses to listen to his apologies and leaves. Holden calls Jane again, but there is no answer. He calls Carl Luce, a young man who had been Holdens student advisor at the Whooton School and who is now a student at Columbia University. Luce arranges to meet him for a drink after dinner, and Holden goes to a movie at Radio City to kill time. Holden and Luce meet at the Wicker Bar in the Seton Hotel. At Whooton, Luce had spoken frankly with some of the boys about sex, and Holden tries to draw him into a conversation about it once more. Luce grows irritated by Holdens juvenile remarks about homosexuals and about Luces Chinese girlfriend, and he makes an excuse to leave early. Holden continues to drink Scotch and listen to the pianist and singer. Quite drunk, Holden telephones Sally Hayes and babbles about their Christmas Eve plans. Then he goes to the lagoon in Central Park, where he used to watch the ducks as a child. It takes him a long time to find it, and by the time he does, he is freezing cold. He then decides to sneak into his own apartment building and wake his sister, Phoebe. He is forced to admit to Phoebe that he was kicked out of school, which makes her mad at him. When he tries to explain why he hates school, she accuses him of not liking anything. He tells her his fantasy of being the catcher in the rye, a person who catches little children as they are about to fall off of a cliff. Phoebe tells him that he has misremembered the poem that he took the image from: Robert Burnss poem says if a body meet a body, coming through the rye, not catch a body. Holden calls his former English teacher, Mr. Antolini, who tells Holden he can come to his apartment. Mr. Antolini asks Holden about his expulsion and tries to counsel him about his future. Holden cant hide his sleepiness, and Mr. Antolini puts him to bed on the couch. Holden awakens to find Mr. Antolini stroking his forehead. Thinking that Mr. Antolini is making a homosexual overture, Holden hastily excuses himself and leaves, sleeping for a few hours on a bench at Grand Central Station. Holden goes to Phoebes school and sends her a note saying that he is leaving home for good and that she should meet him at lunchtime at the museum. When Phoebe arrives, she is carrying a suitcase full of clothes, and she asks Holden to take her with him. He refuses angrily, and she cries and then refuses to speak to him. Knowing she will follow him, he walks to the zoo, and then takes her across the park to a carousel. He buys her a ticket and watches her ride it. It starts to rain heavily, but Holden is so happy watching his sister ride the carousel that he is close to tears. Holden ends his narrative here, telling the reader that he is not going to tell the story of how he went home and got sick. He plans to go to a new school in the fall and is cautiously optimistic about his future. Holden Caulfield The number of readers who have been able to identify with Holden and make him their hero is truly staggering. Something about his discontent, and his vivid
way of expressing it, makes him resonate powerfully with readers who come from backgrounds completely different from his. It is tempting to inhabit his point of view and revel in his cantankerousness rather than try to deduce what is wrong with him. The obvious signs that Holden is a troubled and unreliable narrator are manifold: he fails out of four schools; he manifests complete apathy toward his future; he is hospitalized, and visited by a psychoanalyst, for an unspecified complaint; and he is unable to connect with other people. We know of two traumas in his past that clearly have something to do with his emotional state: the death of his brother Allie and the suicide of one of his schoolmates. But, even with that knowledge, Holdens peculiarities cannot simply be explained away as symptoms of a readily identifiable disorder. The most noticeable of Holdens peculiarities is how extremely judgmental he is of almost everything and everybody. He criticizes and philosophizes about people who are boring, people who are insecure, and, above all, people who are phony. Holden carries this penchant for passing judgment to such an extreme that it often becomes extremely funny, such as when he speculates that people are so crass that someone will probably write fuck you on his tombstone. Holden applies the term phony not to people who are insincere but to those who are too conventional or too typicalfor instance, teachers who act like teachers by assuming a different demeanor in class than they do in conversation, or people who dress and act like the other members of their social class. While Holden uses the label phony to imply that such people are superficial, his use of the term actually indicates that his own perceptions of other people are superficial. In almost every case, he rejects more complex judgments in favor of simple categorical ones. A second facet of Holdens personality that deserves comment is his attitude toward sex. Holden is a virgin, but he is very interested in sex, and, in fact, he spends much of the novel trying to lose his virginity. He feels strongly that sex should happen between people who care deeply about and respect one another, and he is upset by the realization that sex can be casual. Stradlaters date with Jane doesnt just make him jealous; it infuriates him to think of a girl he knows well having sex with a boy she doesnt know well. Moreover, he is disturbed by the fact that he is aroused by women whom he doesnt respect or care for, like the blonde tourist he dances with in the Lavender Room, or like Sally Hayes, whom he refers to as stupid even as he arranges a date with her. Finally, he is disturbed by the fact that he is aroused by kinky sexual behaviorparticularly behavior that isnt respectful of ones sex partner, such as spitting in ones partners face. Although Holden refers to such behavior as crumby, he admits
that it is pretty fun, although he doesnt think that it should be. A brief note about Holdens name: a caul is a membrane that covers the head of a fetus during birth. Thus, the caul in his name may symbolize the blindness of childhood or the inability of the child to see the complexity of the adult world. Holdens full name might be read as Hold-on Caul-field: he wants to hold on to what he sees as his innocence, which is really his blindness. Phoebe Caulfield Before we meet Phoebe, Holdens side of the story is all weve been given. He implies that he is the only noble character in a world of superficial and phony adults, and we must take him at his word. There seems to be a simple dichotomy between the sweet world of childhood innocence, where Holden wants to stay, and the cruel world of shallow adult hypocrisy, where hes afraid to go. But Phoebe complicates his narrative. Instead of sympathizing with Holdens refusal to grow up, she becomes angry with him. Despite being six years younger than her brother, Phoebe understands that growing up is a necessary process; she also understands that Holdens refusal to mature reveals less about the outside world than it does about himself. Next to Phoebe, Holdens stunted emotional maturity and stubborn outlook seem less charming and more foolish. Phoebe, then, serves as a guide and surrogate for the audience. Because she knows her brother better than we do, we trust her judgments about him. Our allegiance to the narrator weakens slightly once we hear her side of the story. Phoebe makes Holdens picture of childhoodof children romping through a field of ryeseem oversimplified, an idealized fantasy. Phoebes character challenges Holdens view of the world: she is a child, but she does not fit into Holdens romanticized vision of childlike innocence. Although she never explicitly states it, Phoebe seems to realize that Holdens bitterness toward the rest of the world is really bitterness toward himself. She sees that he is a deeply sad, insecure young man who needs love and support. At the end of the book, when she shows up at the museum and demands to come with him, she seems not so much to need Holden as to understand that he needs her. Mr. Antolini Mr. Antolini is the adult who comes closest to reaching Holden. He manages to avoid alienating Holden, and being labeled a phony, because he doesnt behave conventionally. He doesnt speak to Holden in the persona of a teacher or an authority figure, as Mr. Spencer does. He doesnt object to Holdens calling him in the middle of the night or to Holdens being drunk or smoking. Moreover, by opening his door to Holden on the spur of the moment, he shows no reservations about exposing his private self, with his messy apartment, his older wife with her hair in curlers, and his own heavy drinking. Mr. Antolinis advice to Holden about why he should apply himself to his studies is also unconventional. He recognizes that Holden is different from other students, and he validates Holdens
suffering and confusion by suggesting that one day they may be worth writing about. He represents education not as a path of conformity but as a means for Holden to develop his unique voice and to find the ideas that are most appropriate to him. When Mr. Antolini touches Holdens forehead as he sleeps, he may overstep a boundary in his display of concern and affection. However, there is little evidence to suggest that he is making a sexual overture, as Holden thinks, and much evidence that Holden misinterprets his action. Holden indicates in Chapter 19 that he is extremely nervous around possible homosexuals and that he worries about suddenly becoming one. We also know that he has been thinking about sex constantly since leaving Pencey. Finally, this is not the only scene in which Holden recoils from a physical approach. He is made very uncomfortable when Sunny pulls off her dress and sits in his lap. Even when his beloved sister puts her arms around him, he remarks that she may be a little too affectionate sometimes. Holden regrets his hasty judgment of Mr. Antolini, but this mistake is very important to him, because he finally starts to question his own practice of making snap judgments about people. Holden realizes that even if Mr. Antolini is gay, he cant simply be dismissed as a flit, since he has also been kind and generous. Holden begins to acknowledge that Mr. Antolini is complex and that he has feelings. THEMES Alienation as a Form of Self-Protection Throughout the novel, Holden seems to be excluded from and victimized by the world around him. As he says to Mr. Spencer, he feels trapped on the other side of life, and he continually attempts to find his way in a world in which he feels he doesnt belong. As the novel progresses, we begin to perceive that Holdens alienation is his way of protecting himself. Just as he wears his hunting hat (see Symbols, below) to advertise his uniqueness, he uses his isolation as proof that he is better than everyone else around him and therefore above interacting with them. The truth is that interactions with other people usually confuse and overwhelm him, and his cynical sense of superiority serves as a type of self-protection. Thus, Holdens alienation is the source of what little stability he has in his life. As readers, we can see that Holdens alienation is the cause of most of his pain. He never addresses his own emotions directly, nor does he attempt to discover the source of his troubles. He desperately needs human contact and love, but his protective wall of bitterness prevents him from looking for such interaction. Alienation is both the source of Holdens strength and the source of his problems. For example, his loneliness propels him into his date with Sally Hayes, but his need for isolation causes him to insult her and drive her away. Similarly, he longs for the meaningful connection he once had with Jane Gallagher, but he is too frightened to make any real effort to contact her. He depends upon his alienation, but it destroys him. The Painfulness of Growing Up According to most analyses, The Catcher in the Rye is a bildungsroman, a novel about a young characters growth into maturity. While it is appropriate to discuss the novel in such terms, Holden Caulfield is an unusual protagonist for a bildungsroman because his central goal is to resist the process of maturity itself. As his thoughts about the Museum of Natural History demonstrate, Holden fears change and is overwhelmed by complexity. He wants everything to be easily understandable and eternally fixed, like the statues of Eskimos and Indians in the museum. He is frightened because he is guilty of the sins he criticizes in others, and because he cant understand everything around him. But he refuses to acknowledge this fear, expressing it only in a few instancesfor example, when he talks about sex and admits that [s]ex is something I just dont understand. I swear to God I dont (Chapter 9). Instead of acknowledging that adulthood scares and mystifies him, Holden invents a fantasy that adulthood is a world of superficiality and hypocrisy (phoniness), while
childhood is a world of innocence, curiosity, and honesty. Nothing reveals his image of these two worlds better than his fantasy about the catcher in the rye: he imagines childhood as an idyllic field of rye in which children romp and play; adulthood, for the children of this world, is equivalent to deatha fatal fall over the edge of a cliff. His created understandings of childhood and adulthood allow Holden to cut himself off from the world by covering himself with a protective armor of cynicism. But as the book progresses, Holdens experiences, particularly his encounters with Mr. Antolini and Phoebe, reveal the shallowness of his conceptions. The Phoniness of the Adult World Phoniness, which is probably the most famous phrase from The Catcher in the Rye, is one of Holdens favorite concepts. It is his catch-all for describing the superficiality, hypocrisy, pretension, and shallowness that he encounters in the world around him. In Chapter 22, just before he reveals his fantasy of the catcher in the rye, Holden explains that adults are inevitably phonies, and, whats worse, they cant see their own phoniness. Phoniness, for Holden, stands as an emblem of everything thats wrong in the world around him and provides an excuse for him to withdraw into his cynical isolation. Though oversimplified, Holdens observations are not entirely inaccurate. He can be a highly insightful narrator, and he is very aware of superficial behavior in those around him. Throughout the novel he encounters many characters who do seem affected, pretentious, or superficialSally Hayes, Carl Luce, Maurice and Sunny, and even Mr. Spencer stand out as examples. Some characters, like Maurice and Sunny, are genuinely harmful. But although Holden expends so much energy searching for phoniness in others, he never directly observes his own phoniness. His deceptions are generally pointless and cruel and he notes that he is a compulsive liar. For example, on the train to New York, he perpetrates a mean-spirited and needless prank on Mrs. Morrow. Hed like us to believe that he is a paragon of virtue in a world of phoniness, but that simply isnt the case. Although hed like to believe that the world is a simple place, and that virtue and innocence rest on one side of the fence while superficiality and phoniness rest on the other, Holden is his own counterevidence. The world is not as simple as hed likeand needsit to be; even he cannot adhere to the same black-and-white standards with which he judges other people. MOTIFS - Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the texts major themes. Loneliness Holdens loneliness, a more concrete manifestation of his alienation problem, is a driving force throughout the book. Most of the novel describes his almost manic quest for companionship as he flits from one meaningless encounter to another. Yet, while his behavior indicates his loneliness, Holden consistently shies away from introspection and thus doesnt really know why he keeps behaving as he does. Because Holden depends on his isolation to preserve his detachment from the world and to maintain a level of self-protection, he often sabotages his own attempts to end his loneliness. For example, his conversation with Carl Luce and his date with Sally Hayes are made unbearable by his rude behavior. His calls to Jane Gallagher are aborted for a similar reason: to protect his precious and fragile sense of individuality. Loneliness is the emotional manifestation of the alienation Holden experiences; it is both a source of great pain and a source of his security. Relationships, Intimacy, and Sexuality Relationships, intimacy, and sexuality are also recurring motifs relating to the larger theme of alienation. Both physical and emotional relationships offer Holden opportunity to break out of his isolated shell. They also represent what he fears most about the adult world: complexity, unpredictability, and potential for conflict and change. As he demonstrates at the Museum of Natural History, Holden likes the world to be silent and frozen, predictable and unchanging. As he watches Phoebe sleep, Holden projects his own idealizations of childhood onto her. But in real-world relationships, people talk back, and Phoebe reveals how different her childhood is from Holdens romanticized notion. Because people are unpredictable, they challenge Holden and force him to question his senses of self-confidence and self-worth. For intricate and unspoken reasons, seemingly stemming from Allies death, Holden has trouble dealing with this kind of complexity. As a result,
he has isolated himself and fears intimacy. Although he encounters opportunities for both physical and emotional intimacy, he bungles them all, wrapping himself in a psychological armor of critical cynicism and bitterness. Even so, Holden desperately continues searching for new relationships, always undoing himself only at the last moment. Lying and Deception Lying and deception are the most obvious and hurtful elements of the larger category of phoniness. Holdens definition of phoniness relies mostly on a kind of self-deception: he seems to reserve the most scorn for people who think that they are something they are not or who refuse to acknowledge their own weaknesses. But lying to others is also a kind of phoniness, a type of deception that indicates insensitivity, callousness, or even cruelty. Of course, Holden himself is guilty of both these crimes. His random and repeated lying highlights his own selfdeceptionhe refuses to acknowledge his own shortcomings and is unwilling to consider how his behavior affects those around him. Through his lying and deception, Holden proves that he is just as guilty of phoniness as the people he criticizes. SYMBOLISM - Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts. The Catcher in the Rye As the source of the books title, this symbol merits close inspection. It first appears in Chapter 16, when a kid Holden admires for walking in the street rather than on the sidewalk is singing the Robert Burns song Comin Thro the Rye. In Chapter 22, when Phoebe asks Holden what he wants to do with his life, he replies with his image, from the song, of a catcher in the rye. Holden imagines a field of rye perched high on a cliff, full of children romping and playing. He says he would like to protect the children from falling off the edge of the cliff by catching them if they were on the verge of tumbling over. As Phoebe points out, Holden has misheard the lyric. He thinks the line is If a body catch a body comin through the rye, but the actual lyric is If a body meet a body, coming through the rye. The song Comin Thro the Rye asks if it is wrong for two people to have a romantic encounter out in the fields, away from the public eye, even if they dont plan to have a commitment to one another. It is highly ironic that the word meet refers to an encounter that leads to recreational sex, because the word that Holden substitutescatchtakes on the exact opposite meaning in his mind. Holden wants to catch children before they fall out of innocence into knowledge of the adult world, including knowledge of sex. Holdens Red Hunting Hat The red hunting hat is one of the most recognizable symbols from twentieth-century American literature. It is inseparable from our image of Holden, with good reason: it is a symbol of his uniqueness and individuality. The hat is outlandish, and it shows that Holden desires to be different from everyone around him. At the same time, he is very self-conscious about the hathe always mentions when he is wearing it, and he often doesnt wear it if he is going to be around people he knows. The presence of the hat, therefore, mirrors the central conflict in the book: Holdens need for isolation versus his need for companionship. It is worth noting that the hats color, red, is the same as that of Allies and Phoebes hair. Perhaps Holden associates it with the innocence and purity he believes these characters represent and wears it as a way to connect to them. He never explicitly comments on the hats significance other than to mention its unusual appearance. The Museum of Natural History Holden tells us the symbolic meaning of the museums displays: they appeal to him because they are frozen and unchanging. He also mentions that he is troubled by the fact that he has changed every time he returns to them. The museum represents the world Holden wishes he could live in: its the world of his catcher in the rye fantasy, a world where nothing ever changes, where everything is simple, understandable, and infinite. Holden is terrified by the unpredictable challenges of the world he hates conflict, he is confused by Allies senseless death, and he fears interaction with other people. The Ducks in the Central Park Lagoon
Holdens curiosity about where the ducks go during the winter reveals a genuine, more youthful side to his character. For most of the book, he sounds like a grumpy old man who is angry at the world, but his search for the ducks represents the curiosity of youth and a joyful willingness to encounter the mysteries of the world. It is a memorable moment, because Holden clearly lacks such willingness in other aspects of his life. The ducks and their pond are symbolic in several ways. Their mysterious perseverance in the face of an inhospitable environment resonates with Holdens understanding of his own situation. In addition, the ducks prove that some vanishings are only temporary. Traumatized and made acutely aware of the fragility of life by his brother Allies death, Holden is terrified by the idea of change and disappearance. The ducks vanish every winter, but they return every spring, thus symbolizing change that isnt permanent, but cyclical. Finally, the pond itself becomes a minor metaphor for the world as Holden sees it, because it is partly frozen and partly not frozen. The pond is in transition between two states, just as Holden is in transition between childhood and adulthood. Important Quotations Explained (Page 1) 1.Life is a game, boy. Life is a game that one plays according to the rules. Yes, sir. I know it is. I know it. Game, my ass. Some game. If you get on the side where all the hot-shots are, then its a game, all rightIll admit that. But if you get on the other side, where there arent any hot-shots, then whats a game about it? Nothing. No game. This quotation is from Holdens conversation with Spencer in Chapter 2. His former teacher is needling him about his failures at Pencey; at this point, he lectures Holden about the importance of playing by the rules. The conversation succinctly illuminates key aspects of Holdens character. We see his silent contempt for adults, which is evidenced by the silent ridiculing and cursing of Spencer that Holden hides beneath his nodding, compliant veneer. We also see how alienated he feels. He clearly identifies with those on the other side of the game, and he feels alone and victimized, as though the world is against him. At this point in the novel, Holdens sense of disadvantage and corresponding bitterness seem somewhat strange, given his circumstances: hes clearly a bright boy from a privileged New York family. As the book progresses, however, we learn that Holden has built a cynical psychological armor around himself to protect himself from the complexities of the world. 2.[Ackley] took another look at my hat . . . Up home we wear a hat like that to shoot deer in, for Chrissake, he said. Thats a deer shooting hat. Like hell it is. I took it off and looked at it. I sort of closed one eye, like I was taking aim at it. This is a people shooting hat, I said. I shoot people in this hat. This brief passage occurs in Chapter 3, after Holden has returned to his dorm room and is being pestered by Ackley. Of all the places in the novel where Holden discusses his hat, the most famous and recognizable symbol in the book, this is probably the most enlightening. It is obvious from the start that Holden uses the hat as a mark of individuality and independence. Here, we see how deeply his desire for independence is connected to his feeling of alienation, to the bitterness he has for the rest of the world. Of course, Holden will not really shoot people in this hat, but it remains a symbol of his scorn for convention. Holden nevertheless does shoot people in his own way: when he is in this cynical frame of mind, he expends all of his mental energy denigrating the people around him. He desires independence because he feels that the world is an inhospitable, ugly place that, he feels, deserves only contempt. 3.The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobodyd move. . . . Nobodyd be different. The only thing that would be different would be you. This passage, in which Holden explains why he loves the Museum of Natural History, is located in Chapter 16. Killing time before his date with Sally, Holden decides to walk from Central Park to the Museum of Natural History. Along the way, he remembers in detail his school trips to the museum. Holden has already demonstrated that he fears and does not know how to deal with conflict, confusion, and change. The museum presents him with a vision of life he can understand: it is frozen, silent, and always the same. Holden can think about and judge the Eskimo in the display case, but the Eskimo will never judge him back. It troubles him that he has changed each time he returns, while the museums displays remain completely the same. They represent the simple, idealistic, manageable vision of life that Holden wishes he could live. It is significant that in the final sentence Holden uses the second-person pronoun you instead of the first-person me. It seems to be an attempt to distance himself from the inevitable process of change. But the impossibility of such a fantasy is the tragedy of Holdens situation: rather than face the challenges around him, he
retreats to a fantasy world of his own making. When he actually gets to the museum, he decides not to go in; that would require disturbing his fragile imaginative construction by making it encounter the real world. He wants life to remain frozen like the display cases in the museum. Important Quotations Explained (Page 2) 4.. . . Im standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliffI mean if theyre running and they dont look where theyre going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. Thats all Id do all day. Id just be the catcher in the rye and all. This, the passage in which Holden reveals the source of the books title, is perhaps the most famous in the book. It occurs in Chapter 22, after Holden has slipped quietly back into his apartment and is speaking with Phoebe. They talk, argue, and then reconcile, and Phoebe asks Holden what he wants to do with his life. Holden responds with this image, which reveals his fantasy of idealistic childhood and of his role as the protector of innocence. His response makes sense, given what we already know about Holden: he prefers to retreat into his own imaginary view of the world rather than deal with the complexities of the world around him. He has a cynical, oversimplified view of other people, and a large part of his fantasy world is based on the idea that children are simple and innocent while adults are superficial and hypocritical. The fact that he is having this conversation with Phoebe, a child who is anything but simple and innocent, reveals the oversimplification of his worldview. Holden himself realizes this to a degree when he acknowledges that his idea is crazy, yet he cannot come up with anything more pragmatic; he has trouble seeing the world in any other way. His catcher in the rye fantasy reflects his innocence, his belief in pure, uncorrupted youth, and his desire to protect that spirit; on the other hand, it represents his extreme disconnection from reality and his nave view of the world. 5.I have a feeling that youre riding for some kind of terrible, terrible fall. . . . The whole arrangements designed for men who, at some time or other in their lives, were looking for something their own environment couldnt supply them with. . . . So they gave up looking. The conversation in which Mr. Antolini speaks these words takes place in Chapter 24. Holden has just left his parents apartment, following his conversation with Phoebe, and he is reaching a point of critical instability, having just burst into tears when Phoebe lent him her Christmas money. He goes to Mr. Antolinis because he feels he can trust and confide in himit seems to be his final chance to save himself. But Holdens interaction with Mr. Antolini is the event that precipitates his full-blown breakdown. It completely unsettles him, and leaves him feeling confused and unsure. While most of Holdens confusion stems from what he interprets as a homosexual come-on from Mr. Antolini, some of it stems from the conversation they have. Both the conversation and Mr. Antolinis head-rubbing serve a similar purpose: they upset Holdens view of the way things are or the way he believes they ought to be. Mr. Antolinis words here resonate with the desires Holden has just expressed to Phoebe: like the catcher in the rye that Holden envisions, Mr. Antolini is trying to catch Holden in the midst of a fall. But the fall Mr. Antolini describes is very different from the one Holden had imagined. Holden pictured an idyllic world of childhood innocence from which children would fall into a dangerous world; Mr. Antolini describes Holden in an apathetic free fallgiving up, disengaging himself from the world, falling in a void removed from life around him. In both cases, we sense that although Holden envisions himself as the protector rather than the one to be protected, he is the one who really needs to be caught. Mr. Antolini guesses that Holden feels disconnected from his environment, and, as we have already seen, his assessment is accurate. Holden has isolated himself in an attempt to be his own savior, but Mr. Antolinis image of falling presents a more accurate image of what awaits Holden on the other side of the cliff. It thus reveals the weaknesses of Holdens romantic outlook.