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The Symbols of Identity in Catcher in the Rye

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The Catcher in the Rye is a story written by JD Salinger that takes place in 1951 about a teenager that faces many problems with life. Holden Caulfield, a 16-year-old boy who has just been expelled from his fourth school. JD Salinger uses symbolism to convey Holden's beliefs and how he feels for the reader to furthermore understand what is happening in the story. Throughout the story, Holden faces many challenges that he has to overcome by himself without anyone to talk to. We gradually learn about Holden's personality from his actions. And the things that he keeps close to himself. The three symbols that best expose Holden's true identity are: Holden’s Red Hunting Hat, Allie’s Baseball Glove and Holden being the Catcher in The Rye. All of these symbols reveal Holden’s fears of growing up and his transition of developing into a phony adult.

Holden’s Red Hunting Hat is one of the more mentioned symbols in the book, Holden first sees the hat in a window of a sports store “I put on this hat that id bought in New York that morning. It was this red hunting hat, with one of those very, very long peaks” (Salinger 17) the hunting hat represents Holden standing out from everyone in the city which shows Holden’s creativity, self-esteem, and confidence in himself. This shows that Holden wants to stand out from the crowd and be different than everybody else. Holden sees himself as the person who stands out and knows he is different amongst his classmates at pencey prep. But Holden does not want to be different all the time. “I took it (the hat) off before I checked in. I didn’t want to look like a screwball or something” (Salinger, 61). Holden knows he is different but acts like everyone else to fit in at times. Holden wants to be different but a level of different where people will respect him and see him for himself and not for someone else.

Allie’s baseball glove is a major symbol for Holden, the glove represents Holden's feelings and emotions towards his little brother, the grief over Allie’s death is a major influence on Holden's personality. Allie’s glove symbolism the weaknesses of people and the love for lost family members. Allie’s baseball glove also has poetry written on it with green ink for Allie to entertain himself while playing as an outfield catcher. Holden keeps the mitt to himself as a reminder of his grief over his brother and reminds Holden of Allie so that he never forgets. “My brother Allie had this left-handed fielder's mitt. He was left-handed. The descriptive aspect about the glove, though, was that he had poems written all over the fingers and the pocket and everywhere. In green ink. He wrote poems on the glove so that he'd have something to read when he was in the field and nobody was up at-bat.” (Salinger 33) The poems on Allie’s glove show how things come and go just like when Allie passed away, and the family members that keep something to remember you by.

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The colour green also symbolizes life, growth, and harmony showing that Allie was a harmonious optimist while Holden is more of a pessimist.

Holden Being the Catcher in the Rye, Holden tells Phoebe that he pictures himself as “The Catcher in the Rye” catching kids as they fall off a cliff with a big mitt. The kids represent innocence and purity. Holden's initial thought process is to save the kids from growing up to avoid the struggles of life in general. 'If a body catches a body,' I said. 'Anyway, I keep picturing this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids and nobody's around- nobody big, I mean- except me. And 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. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd like to be. I know it's crazy.' “ (Salinger 22) Holden knows he can change the world. Holden shows many times throughout the story that he acknowledges himself as an important person to his society and imagines himself as a protector of kids from the stresses of growing up.

JD Salinger uses symbolism to communicate Holden's ideas and how he feels for the reader to furthermore understand what is happening in the story. Throughout the story, Holden faces many challenges that he has to overcome by himself without anyone to talk to. We have learned how Holden sees the world from his perspective and his different ways of coping with the stresses of the difficult transition from being a teenager to an adult.

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The Symbols of Identity in Catcher in the Rye. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 8, 2023, from
“The Symbols of Identity in Catcher in the Rye.” Edubirdie, 16 Jun. 2022,
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