Symbols and Symbolism in Catcher in the Rye


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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
Caulfield.
   
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
freeze.
   
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.

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"  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
present.
   
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
expressed.


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