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Symbolism in Catcher In The Rye

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Everyone experiences growing up in a different way. Some people have a fear of it and some people look forward to it. In The Catcher in the Rye Holden, a teenage boy who just got expelled from his boarding school, experiences the challenges of growing out of adolescence. Some challenges he faces are the need for security, learning how to accept adulthood, having a fear of change, and having the need to protect innocence, these challenges are represented by various symbols throughout the novel. J.D Salinger uses the hunting hat as a symbol of the need for security, the carousel as a symbol of childhood, the ducks as a symbol of protecting innocence, and the glass cases as a symbol of the fear of change. These difficulties Holden experiences are a common challenge for many teenagers throughout all-time when growing up.

The first symbol that comes up in the book are ducks at a frozen pond that Holden can’t get his mind off of. These ducks symbolize protecting innocence. At the beginning of the book in chapter 2 Holden is visiting his professor when he starts thinking about these ducks at a pond he used to visit in New York, “I was wondering where the ducks went when the lagoon got all icy and frozen over. I wondered if some guy came in the truck and took them away to a zoo or something. Or if they just flew away” (13). J.D Salinger is communicating that Holden has a sense of protection for anything that cannot protect itself. Holden keeps thinking about the ducks because he is concerned about how they will survive with no one to care for them. A few days later Holden is in the cab on his way to Ernie’s when he starts a conversation with the cab driver, “‘The ducks. Do you know by any chance? I mean does somebody come around in a truck or something and take them away, or do they fly away by themselves -go south or something?’”(81-82). Further on in the novel, Holden still has a concern for these ducks. He has a need to protect them because of their innocence. He, later on, he visits the pond after going drinking. Holden thinks to himself “I’d figure I’d go to that little lake and see what the hell the ducks were doing”(153). No matter the circumstances Holden is in he will always be concerned about what is going on with these ducks. Overall throughout the book, Holden shows that he has a place in his heart for things with innocence whether it’s children or ducks Holden seems to care a lot and feels the need to protect things with innocence.

Another symbol is Holden’s red hunting hat which resembles a need for security that Holden has when he is in certain situations. Right when Holden bought the hat was when he felt ashamed and embarrassed because he lost the foils he was supposed to bring to the meet for the fencing team, “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. I saw it in the window of this sports store when we got out of the subway, just after I’d noticed I’d lost all the goddam foils” (17). When Holden had bought the hat just recently he had made a mistake and let people down. This hat is a security blanket for him when he is sad, scared or in need of comfort. Holden uses his hunting hat for security again when he is talking to Stradlater, his boarding school roommate, about Jane, his old friend who he cares a lot about, “I pulled the peak of my hunting hat around to the front all of a sudden, for a change. I was getting nervous, all of a sudden” (34). Holden is worried about how Stradlater is treating Jane because he cares about her. In his state of worry, he is thinking about his hat and starts to fidget with it. From beginning to end Holden puts on his hat when he is in an uncomfortable situation. His hat symbolizes comfort and security.

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The glass case in the museum at the park resembles a fear of change that Holden has. When Holden goes to the museum he used to visit as a kid that he has fond memories of he is thinking about the glass cases and tells the reader“the best thing though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it is. Nobody’d move” (121). Holden is suggesting that he appreciates when everything stays the same. He wants his life to never change from where it is now. He wants to stay in his childhood. Later in the chapter, Holden goes on again about how he wishes everything could stay the same. “nobody’d be different” (121). When Holden is thinking about the museum he compares it to his personal life and how he is wishing that nobody would change. He shows how he’s afraid of growing up and the changes that come with that. Thinking about the museum is Holden’s way of expressing his fear of his life changing as he grows out of adolescence.

Another symbol that Holden encounters is the carousel that Phoebe, his little sister, wanted to go on at the park. The carousel represents childhood. At the end of the book when Holden is walking with Phoebe they end up going to a carousel. He has a conversation with Phoebe, “‘are you going to ride too?’ she asked me. She was looking at me sort of funny. You could tell she wasn’t too sore at me anymore. ‘Maybe I will next time I’ll watch ya’ I said”(112). Holden declining Phoebe’s offer to go on the carousel is Holden accepting his adulthood. A carousel is something that moves around continuously like how Holden wants his childhood to go on continuously. Declining her offer was a big step for, representing him finally accepting adulthood. He then describes how on the carousel “All the kids kept trying to grab for the gold ring, and so was old Phoebe, and I was sort of afraid she’d fall off the goddamn horse, but I didn’t say anything or do anything” (112). Holden sees many children, as well as his little sister- that he really cares about, in a situation where they could possibly end up hurt. Then Holden does something he usually does not do, he refuses to react. This small decision shows signs of Holden maturing as he is moving on from his need to protect the innocent. When Phoebe is on the Carousel and Holden is waiting for her he thinks “The thing is with kids is, If they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off, they fall off, but it’s bad if you say anything to them”(112). Holden is finally realizing that he is not going to be the catcher in the rye, the person who protects children from facing adulthood. He realizes that everyone is going to fall from that cliff of childhood and grow up at some point and you just need to let it happen. Holden now understands that growing up is inevitable.

Holden faces the challenges of the need for security, accepting adulthood, protecting innocence, and fear of change on his journey into adulthood. As a teenager, Holden is confronted with more than just one challenge. Facing these challenges is what people go through as they get older. Growing up is scary for everyone but it is unavoidable. Every human in the world is confronted with obstacles they will need to overcome in order to grow and mature. People just need to make the decision to pass those obstacles when they are ready to face the challenges they will bring.

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Symbolism in Catcher In The Rye. (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 28, 2023, from
“Symbolism in Catcher In The Rye.” Edubirdie, 09 Jun. 2022,
Symbolism in Catcher In The Rye. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 28 Sept. 2023].
Symbolism in Catcher In The Rye [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 09 [cited 2023 Sept 28]. Available from:
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