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Catcher in the Rye Essay: Levels of Meaning

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Levels of Meaning in The Catcher in the Rye


Protected by a cocoon of naiveté, Holden Caulfield, the principal character in the novel, The Catcher in the Rye, therapeutically relates his lonely 24 hour stay in downtown New York city, experiencing the "phony" adult world while dealing with the death of his innocent younger brother.  Through this well-developed teenage character, JD Salinger, uses simple language and dialogue to outline many of the complex underlying problems haunting adolescents.  With a unique beginning and ending, and an original look at our new society, The Catcher in the Rye is understood and appreciated on multiple levels of comprehension. The book provides new insights and a fresh view of the world in which adolescents live.

One way for readers to measure their level of comprehension in this story, is to explore the meaning of the title, it's effect on the book's theme and how it provides a deep look into Holden's character. Being an attention demanding tool, the title also can provide a mystery to which the reader can understand by pulling together the clues, hidden in the text. To an experienced reader, who may be familiar with the book, imagery of a catcher in the rye is apparent throughout the story. However, for a new reader the journey begins past the middle of the book.

While analyzing the city around him, Holden sees a kid walking in the street "singing and humming." As Holden nears he realizes the child is signing that song, "If a body catch a body coming through the rye" in a very pretty voice, making traffic come to a screeching halt, and making Holden feel "not so depressed."(116)

So far, the title's words are just a catchy song, though their repetition, at a key mo...

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...ginal tune, by Robert Burns, has the line "If a body meet a body comin thro' the rye," not "If a body catch a body comin thro' the rye." This is not the first time Holden has distorted something, though this lie has meaning. The original poem talks of the love of two people meeting each other, while Holden's image is that of falling children being caught. Love is replaced by Holden protecting children, who are facing a death-like situation, a change showing how much of an impact Allie's death made on Holden's life. One might also see that Holden himself is falling out of innocence and needs a Catcher in the Rye himself, the book's central paradox.

In the end any reader could say that "The Catcher in the Rye" is Holden Caulfield, though this title opens up a door into understanding his deep personality, the books theme, while exploring the central paradox.


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