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J. D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye", published in 1951, is his best piece of work. The story is about a sixteen-year old young man by the name of Holden Caulfield. Holden is being expelled from Pency Prep and decides to leave three days early. He chooses to not go home, enabling his parents to receive the letter that his head master at Pency Prep wrote to his parents about his expulsion. He chooses to hang around in New York until Wednesday, when he is going to be able to return home. Throughout the three days, Holden is having a difficult time finding out who he is.
Throughout the novel, the reader is presented with many different symbols. The symbols are clearly seen by Holden's constant repetition of their importance. The symbols are so important and their symbolism is directly related to the major themes of the novel.
Allie, Holden's young brother who died several years earlier, was a major symbol throughout the story. When Holden remembers incidents from his past involving Allie, his attitude changes, such as when he writes the composition about Allie's baseball glove or when Holden broke his hand after punching all of the windows after Allie died. "I slept in the garage the night he died, and I broke all the goddam windows with my fist, just for the hell of it". (39) He feels that Allie was one of the few people who were not phony in a world full of phonies. More importantly, Allie represents the innocence and childhood that Holden strives to find throughout his three-day journey. In Holden's opinion, Allie represents the purity that Holden looks for in the world. Holden admits that he admires Allie more than he admires Jesus, and even prays to Allie at one point, rather than Jesus. Allie is Holden's role model, whom he judges the rest of the world according to. When Allie dies, it creates turbulence in Holden's life.
At several points during the course of the novel, Holden asks as to what happens to the ducks who are normally on a pond in Central Park, when winter comes and the water freezes. On page 60, Holden asks, "You know those ducks in that lagoon right near Central Park South? That little lake? By any chance, do you happen to know where they go, the ducks, when it gets all frozen over?
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While walking through New York City, Holden arrives at the Museum of Natural History. He remarks about the museum that he likes the glass cases that the museum officials place all of their exhibits in. He wishes he could place parts of his life in glass cases because they won't change. In the end, he decides not to go into the museum. He likes the museum because he used to go there in his younger years every Saturday with his teacher, Miss Aigletinger, a time that he remembers with happiness. Since the glass cases inside the museum don't allow anyone to change anything, it would be the one place for Holden to go if he wanted everything to be as it was during his childhood. However, he chooses to remain outside because he is afraid that there is a chance that the museum might have changed. Jane Gallagher changed since his childhood and Holden thought that was unbelievable, so if Jane could change, perhaps the museum could change, as well. Jane was a friend of Holden's. When they would play checkers, she would always keep all of her kings in the back row for some odd reason. Holden knows that if the museum does not remain the same, it could hurt him, so he makes a conscious decision not to enter, even if his reasons are subconscious.
Catcher in the Rye was a very powerful and symbolic book written from the position of a troubled teenager. The themes are clearly illustrated through the symbols, which Holden makes sure the reader recognizes.
Salinger, J. D. The Catcher in the Rye, New York: Bantam Books, Inc. 1951