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Why the Catcher in the Rye?
"Comin' Thro the Rye" by Robert Burns
- Comin Thro' The Rye by Robert Burns Classic Famous Poet - All Poetry.
The name comes from a poem by Robert Burns called Comin’ Thro’ the Rye. Read that poem here (as you’re reading the poem, note that the word “gin” means “should”:
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... 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?
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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