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Course Hero, "The Catcher in the Rye Study Guide," July 28, 2016, accessed September 25, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Catcher-in-the-Rye/.

Symbols

Learn about symbols in J.D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye with Course Hero's video study guide.

The Catcher in the Rye | Symbols

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Symbols help readers grasp the conflicts Holden confronts as he faces the end of the relatively protected years of his childhood and grapples with adult realities and concerns.

Holden's Red Hunting Hat

Holden's cap is a symbol of his insecurities and his creative personality. The bright red color appeals to his desire to be someone distinct and to have meaning and significance. He also likes how it looks, even if it's a little silly. Holden wears the hat when he feels confident, but he removes it and even hides it when he feels insecure. His giving the hat to Phoebe is a sign of his appreciation for her strong character, and when she puts it on his head after the carousel ride, he knows that she loves and accepts him as he is.

The "Catcher in the Rye"

Holden's journey toward adulthood causes him to want to protect children. The phrase "catcher in the rye" comes from Holden's misinterpretation of Robert Burns's poem "Comin' Thro' the Rye." In the poem, two people happen to meet in a field of tall rye. The poem asks whether it is okay for this random meeting to result in a sexual encounter and whether anyone else needs know about the encounter. It is ironic, then, given how conflicted about sex Holden is, that he misinterprets the poem as a call to protect children from the loss of innocence and specifically from too-early knowledge about sex. It is why he wishes he could rub out all the obscene graffiti, a task he admits is "hopeless."

Allie's Baseball Glove

Holden's fear of change and his desire to protect children stem partly from the love he feels for his younger siblings, and their love protects him in turn. Allie's glove, covered in poetry written in green ink, acts as a talisman for Holden. He lovingly describes the glove and his brother in the composition he writes, and he is enraged when Stradlater so casually dismisses what is, to Holden, nearly a sacred object. The glove also represents the importance of language to Holden. Stories and poems help him make sense of the confusing things that happen to him, which is perhaps why he speaks to Allie, the young poetry lover, when he is in emotional distress.

Museum of Natural History

The museum's displays are frozen and unchanging and represent the world that Holden wishes he could live in. Change frightens Holden, as it does many people. In the cool, hushed halls of the museum, everything is comfortably still and solid. The stone floors and walls are sturdy and resist change, and the exhibits are all in the same place every time he goes. Flashes of beauty and history are caught mid-moment and fixed in forms Holden has known since he was a young child. However, in the museum, all is old and dead as well. No new developments can happen in that sterile environment, which is both a refuge and a trap for Holden.

The Ducks in the Central Park Lagoon

Holden's obsession with where the ducks in Central Park go in the winter when their water freezes over is symbolic of his anxiety about impermanence. Some things in the park are permanent features, such as the exhibits in the museum. Others change, however, with the seasons. The pond where the ducks live sustains them in summer but becomes hostile to them in winter, driving them to other habitats in the same way that the passage of time is driving Holden away from the familiar realm of childhood and into adulthood. The ducks migrate to warmer places during winter, flying away from their troubles, much as Holden fantasizes about fleeing to the west, where it's sunny and warm, to start a new life.

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