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


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.
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