Why the Catcher in the Rye?

JD Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye
JD Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye

It's More Layered Than Many Realize.


J.D. Salinger’s masterpiece debut novel, The Catcher in the Rye, is a novel loaded with imagery and symbolism. This imagery and symbolism is often overlooked due to the apparent simplistic nature and angst of its protagonist and narrator, Holden Caufield. There’s the reference to the film King’s Row , a movie from 1942 about incest. Jane Gallagher, Holden’s neighbor, when playing Checkers, always leaves her kings in the back row, and doesn’t move them. It’s later implied that her step father sexually abuses her. It’s a nod to film, a medium which Caufield constantly rails against, proclaiming actors to be phonies.

Then there’s the name Holden Caufield itself. In 1947, William Holden and Jane Caufield starred in a film (Dear Ruth )with a female protagonist who had a coming of age road trip, much like Holden does in Catcher in the Rye. These two film references are especially ironic given Holden’s general disdain for the “phoniness” of films. It’s also an oddity that a man, Salinger, who would not allow his story to be sold and turned into a movie, would use two movie references so slyly and cleverly in his novel.

These subtle and brilliant nuances are often overlooked in favor of the Christ figure of James Castle (who, in addition to bearing the same initials as the Savior, also becomes a martyr, by suicide. Some could argue that Jesus Christ Himself died by state assisted suicide, though this is admittedly a stretch ). Perhaps the biggest mystery of all, and the biggest theme to explore is the title of the novel itself. Why The Catcher in the Rye ?

Holden Caufield
Holden Caufield | Source

Holden Caufield... The Boy Who Didn't Want to Grow Up

Interestingly, Holden misquotes the poem throughout the story, and is eventually corrected by his sister, Phoebe, adding even more poignancy and appropriateness to the title.

When asked by his sister Phoebe, whom really “knocks him out”, what he wants to do when he’s older, he says he wants to be the catcher in the rye. He wants to stand next the edge of some “crazy cliff” and catch kids before they fall over it. He wants to save kids. He wants to save kids from falling over a cliff. That cliff? Adulthood. He wants to save children from losing their innocence and purity and honesty. He wants to save them from becoming phony adults. This is the crux of Holden’s plight, and the crux of the story, and the reason Salinger chose to title the story as such.

In a way, Caufield himself doesn’t want to grow up and is seeking his own catcher in the rye.

Caufield is an aimless wandering sixteen year old. He’s a rich kid, and he’s just been expelled from yet another prep school. He despises most of those he schools with and, even though he’s highly intelligent, he has very little interest in school, except for English. English, in fact, is the only class he was passing when he got booted from Pencey. He refers to nearly everyone he’s surrounded by—peers, teachers, acquaintances—as phonies. The only people he shows a fondness and admiration for are children.

The interesting thing is, Caufield is sixteen years old. He’s at the crossroads between adulthood and youth, and he’s reluctant to cross it. For instance, he talks a big game about sex and even says he’s quite “sexy” (in the parlance of the times, he means “horny”) yet he’s still a virgin. Certainly most, if not all sixteen year old boys are insane with hormones though many have probably not acted on their sexual urges. With Holden, it’s different. He’s had opportunity, but didn’t go through with it. In many ways, sex is a threshold from childhood to adulthood. Could Holden have abstained from sexual intercourse as a way to prevent himself from growing up? Does he view sex as a loss of innocence?

He also becomes indignant and fights Stradlater (his Pencey roommate) when he thinks Stradlater tried to have sex with Jane, especially since Stradlater doesn’t know her name, referring to her as Jean throughout his appearance in the novel.

Caufield is told by everyone that he needs to think about his future. He needs to consider the needs of his adult self. All Caufield wants is to live in a cabin and pretend to be a deaf mute and marry a deaf mute. He doesn’t want to grow up. He doesn’t want to go over that crazy cliff into adulthood. He wants to stay innocent and shirk the responsibilities, pain and hardship that comes with adulthood.

Don’t we all?

In Conclusion


There’s much that has and could be said regarding Holden Caufield. He would certainly be an interesting case study for sociologists, psychologists and every other ologist out there. Me? I’m just a reader and a literary analyzer. That’s my role. That’s what I do. The above is why I believe JD Salinger’s novel is called the Catcher in the Rye. I hope you found it interesting.

Thanks for Reading.

A FREELANCE WRITER, HONORS STUDENT AND GOVER PRIZE FINALIST, JUSTIN W. PRICE (AKA, PDXKARAOKEGUY)IS A POET, SHORT STORY, BIOGRAPHY AND HUMOR WRITER. HIS POETRY COLLECTION,DIGGING TO CHINA, WAS RELEASED FEBRUARY 2ND, 2013 BY SWEATSHOPPE PUBLICATIONS AND IS AVAILABLE ON AMAZON.COM, BARNES AND NOBLE AND THROUGH YOUR LOCAL BOOKSELLER.

HIS WORK IS ALSO FEATURED INBEST NEW FICTION (2014 EDITION), AND HAS APPEARED PREVIOUSLY INTHE RUSTY NAIL, EFICTION, THE CRISIS CHRONICLES, THE HELLROARING REVIEW, BURNINGWORD, SEE SPOT RUN AND THE BELLWETHER REVIEW. HE PREVIOUSLY SERVED AS MANAGING EDITOR OFEPOETRY MAGAZINEAND THE BRIDGEONLINE NEWSPAPER.

HE WORKS AS THE MARKETING DIRECTOR FOR CARR CHEVROLET IN BEAVERTON, OREGON. HE ALSO WORKS AS FREELANCE WRITER, EDITOR, AND GHOSTWRITER, AND IS WORKING TOWARDS HIS PH.D. HE LIVES IN A SUBURB OF PORTLAND, OREGON WITH HIS WIFE, ANDREA, THEIR LABRADOODLE, BELLA, AND A NAMED SHPOO, SAUVEE.

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Comments 22 comments

PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Thanks Janine. It's so reach in symbolism. It's deceptive because it's such a simple novel on it's surface.


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Thanks Suzette. It's a book I try to read once or twice a year :-) And you can easily read it in a day or two.


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Thanks John. I agree. he wasn't very prolific, but he had such great quality, it didn't matter!


Janine Huldie profile image

Janine Huldie 4 years ago from New York, New York

Tis was truly my favorite book when I was growing up. We had to read it for school, but must have read 10 more times after that. Thank you for sharing the meaning behind the title here and some of subtle symbolism also in this book. Have voted and shared too.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM

Very interesting! Well done and well written. I like your interpretation and I agree with those above me, it makes me want to read the book! Thanks so much!


John Sarkis profile image

John Sarkis 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

Excellent hub. I read this book a long time ago. I do like Salinger very much; he's one of the great American novelists of the 20th century - hands down!

Nice job

John


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Thanks Jenna. I think I've read it half a dozen times and it speaks to me in different ways each time. It's really a quite brilliant book!


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

J.S., We will see indeed. Keep me posted!


Jenna Kunc profile image

Jenna Kunc 4 years ago from Colorado

Very well written.

It's been a while since I've read it. I remember being a teen when I read it and being able to relate to a lot of the character's struggles. I bet my perspective has changed a little over the past 5 years.


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 4 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

He/she hasn't written much yet...certainly not on the book. We will have to wait and see!

JSMatthew~


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

J.S.... that is interesting. I wonder if he understands the significance...


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 4 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

It is quite fascinating, I agree! I actually found a Hubber on here named "Rye Catcher"...I thought that was interesting too...

JSMatthew~


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Thanks J.S. I learned the movie stuff just recently, and found it terribly fascinating!


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Thansk so much, Angela. That's incredibly kind!


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Gypsy, I didn't read it til college. It's a deceptively complex book.


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

andrea... you should :-)


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

thanks xstatic. I read the book about once a year. It's one of my favorites.


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 4 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

This is very interesting PDX! I haven't read this book in a few years but you have sparked my curiosity. I do own 2 copies...You offer a great explanation to many of the issues going on behind the scenes in this book, that I wouldn't have know otherwise. Thank you! Interesting indeed! Voted up and shared.

JSMatthew~


Angela Blair profile image

Angela Blair 4 years ago from Central Texas

PDX - your previous commenters have hit the nail on the proverbial head -- now I want to go back and read it again! That says volumes for your skill as a reviewer/analyzer -- encouraging others to read a book the first time is a skill -- being able to entice readers to read a work a second time is absolutely amazing! Hat's off on a wonderful piece of work (and yes, I'm going to go back and read it again!) Best/Sis


Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

Gypsy Rose Lee 4 years ago from Riga, Latvia

Voted up and interesting. Thanks for this fascinating and informative hub on Catcher in the Rye. Wish I knew all of this when I had to read it in high school and I didn't have a clue as to what I was reading. Now I'll have to grab on to another copy with your hub beside me.


Andrea333 profile image

Andrea333 4 years ago

thanks PDX! Makes me want to dog ear a copy of my own! :-)


xstatic profile image

xstatic 4 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

Salinger's estate should pay you for this, because everyone who reads it will want to go back and read or reread the book. I think I have a copy on my shelf. Great writing!

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