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Symbolism in Catcher in the Rye and Great Gatsby

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Fitzgerald uses symbolism in The Great Gatsby to express underlying emotions. The first example of his use of symbolism is when Nick and another guest at Gatsby’s party are observing the books in Gatsby’s library. The guest described by Nick as “a stout, middle-aged man, with owl eyed spectacles”(Fitzgerald,45) was trying to observe and learn more about Gatsby by looking through his house. While the man looked through Gatsby’s library, he discovers that surprisingly the books were actual books and that they were not props. He expresses his disbelief to Nick by saying “Absolutely real- have pages and everything. I thought they’d be a nice durable cardboard. Matter of fact they’re absolutely real.”(Fitzgerald, 45). Despite the books turning out to be real and not props, the library was not what it seemed to be. Gatsby’s library gives a false impression that he actually uses it, but upon further inspection it is clear that none of the books have ever been read “ [ . . .] didn’t cut the pages’(Fitzgerald, 46). The fact that the pages of the book are not even cut shows that the books couldn’t have been read and that they have never been used. The library and all of the books it holds turn out to be very meretricious and lacking authenticity. Gatsby tries to put forth a dishonest image of himself to get noticed, specifically by his romantic interst Daisey. The library shows how Gatsby wants himself to be perceived by others, but it does not represent his true self. Another object in the novel that is symbolic for emotion is the green light. The green light is first introduced at the end of chapter one. Nick notices his neighbor standing outside. Gatsby looking out over at the water “( talk about green light quote, then how he chases Daisy which is an unachievable dream, such as Holden chases holding onto his child hood. Both relate to emotion. ).

J.D.Salinger uses symbolism in the Catcher in the Rye to show underlying emotions, specifically chasing an out of reach dream. While both Jay Gatsby and Holden Caufield may be trying to have unattainable dreams, their dreams that they want are different. While Gatsby longs to have Daisey’s love and affection, Holden longs to forever protect innocence in not only himself but in others. This longing for the protection of innocence is clearly illustrated when Holden returns home to his family’s apartment and he is talking to his younger sister Phoebe. Phoebe can sense that Holden is having difficulty finding purpose and so she questions him about what he plans to do with himself. Holden responds by saying:

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I’m 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 cliff—I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.(Sallinger, 224)

This symbolism pictures Holden as if he is himself the catcher in the rye. This idea of the catcher in the rye is symbolic of preserving innocence in children. The cliff is the possibility of losing innocence, and Holden wants to save the children from falling shows his internal desire to protect not only his innocence but rather of all youth. Holden’s desire to have this pure innocence interferes with his ability to mature and develop into a young adult. He also associates all of these phony characteristics with being an adult. He tries to sometimes rush into adulthood too, this is shown by his premature and heavy consumption of alcohol and his other immature decisions. These actions are quite the opposite of innocent, but are what he seems to think is normal from his surroundings. This issue of struggling to find an appropriate rate to mature is more prevalent now than ever. So much pressure is put onto teens, and sometimes knowing what is right and wrong can be confusing. Holden’s phobia of being phony and his longing of innocence causes him to have difficulty when trying to mature at a proper pace.

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Symbolism in Catcher in the Rye and Great Gatsby. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 27, 2023, from
“Symbolism in Catcher in the Rye and Great Gatsby.” Edubirdie, 16 Jun. 2022,
Symbolism in Catcher in the Rye and Great Gatsby. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 27 Sept. 2023].
Symbolism in Catcher in the Rye and Great Gatsby [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 16 [cited 2023 Sept 27]. Available from:
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