Throughout J.D. Salinger’s most famous work of literature, The Catcher in the Rye, the reader is exposed to several facets of symbolism that help give substance and characterization to the protagonist of the story, young Holden Caulfield. It is through these assorted symbols that Holden transforms from an average teenager to a socially disturbed and confused individual, constantly longing for something more. Holden’s gray hair, the ducks from the lagoon in Central Park, and Holden’s deceased younger brother Allie all help characterize Salinger’s sixteen year old knight on his quest to find his true self in a world full of false facades and misleading motives.
One of the first symbols to appear in the novel is Holden’s gray hair. Holden describes himself by saying, “…I’m six foot two and a half and have gray hair. I really do. The one side of my head-the right side-is full of millions of gray hairs. I’ve had them ever since I was a kid.” (Salinger, 9). The appearance of these uncolored hairs at such an early age is a great representation of Holden’s inner struggles. For a long time, he has been caught between two seemingly conflicting worlds: the carefree world of childhood and the daunting and intimidating world of adulthood....
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Symbols and Symbolism in Catcher in the Rye
- Length: 463 words (1.3 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
The Catcher in the Rye - Symbolism
In the Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger uses different examples of symbolism
throughout the novel to let the reader into the thoughts of Holden Caulfield.
Three major examples of his symbolism are the ducks with the frozen pond,
Jane Gallagher, and the Museum of Natural History. Salinger uses all three
of these symbols to represent the thoughts of the central character, Holden
While Holden Caulfield is wondering around New York City, he asks many people
what happens to the ducks when the pond freezes. The repetition of this
question symbolizes what Holden is truly asking for himself. He isn't trying
to find out what will happen to the ducks, he is really finding out about
himself by using the ducks symbolically. He wants to know what will happen
to him when the weather gets brutally cold. He is pondering on whether or
not to go home, which he is deftly afraid of doing, or stay outside and
The other two symbols in the novel, Jane Gallagher and the Museum of Natural
History, both represent Holden's past. Jane Gallagher was an old friend of
Holden's whom he mentions quite often throughout the novel. He many times
mentions that he will call her, but he never builds up the nerve to. As S.N.
Behrman stated in his review for The New Yorker, "Jane Gallagher represents
his everlasting symbol of goodness." She is an important part of his past
that he misses a lot, and wants to have back again.
The Museum of Natural History represents a different aspect of Holden's past.
While Jane Gallagher makes Holden want to return to his past, the museum
changes his mind. He remembers how he used to go there all the time, and how
the wax figures were always the same, but from day to day, he was the only
thing that would change. This is exemplified in a criticism by Frank
Kermode, from the Speculator. Frank states, "Next he walks to the Museum of
Natural History, which he loved as a child; it seemed 'the only nice, dry
cozy place in the world.' Nothing changed there among the stuffed Indians
and Eskimos; except you. You changed every time you went in.
How to Cite this Page
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Symbols Symbolism New Yorker Old Friend Natural History Go Home D. Salinger Important Part Many People Freeze
" Because of
this constant change, he realizes that he can't go back in time to be the
same way that he used to be, and that his past can never return to his
J.D. Salinger's use of symbolism in The Catcher in the Rye conveys hidden
messages of what Holden is thinking. All three examples, the ducks, Jane
Gallagher, and the Museum of Natural History all symbolically give the reader
an idea of what goes on inside of Holden's head, even when it is not candidly