The Catcher in the Rye: Symbols

Table of Content

In the novel The Catcher in the Rye, J.D Salinger uses symbols to show Holden Caulfields view of the world and how it eventually changes. In literature, a symbol is something that stands for or represents a deeper meaning. In this novel, the museum, the cliff in the rye, and the carousel all represent deeper meanings. The museum depicts how Holden wants to preserve everything and keep people from being ruined by society. The cliff in the rye portrays Holdens dream of being the one who protects and catches everyone from falling off. The carousel has a deeper meaning in which it symbolizes life, and how Holdens views of the world eventually changes. These three symbols define Holdens feelings of protection and show how he eventually changes his views.

One symbol that shows Holdens views and feelings is the museum. He believes that all people are pure and good until they are turned phony by the doings of society. One person who is not tainted by society his Holdens sister Phoebe. Holden would like to protect and preserve her like in the Museum where everything stays the same. Holden talks about this when he mentions how Phoebe will be different every time she goes to the museum. Holden says, Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone (Salinger 122). Holden wants to keep Phoebe pure and innocent because she is still to young to sell out and become a phony. He does not want her to become a phony like his older brother D.B. He feels that since he could not save and preserve his brother he has to protect Phoebe and keep her innocence. However, his view of the museum being pure and not affected by society is changed when he sees obscenities in the museum. He realizes that he cannot protect Phoebe from society.

This essay could be plagiarized. Get your custom essay
“Dirty Pretty Things” Acts of Desperation: The State of Being Desperate
128 writers

ready to help you now

Get original paper

Without paying upfront

Another symbol that represents Holdens views is the cliff in the rye. Holden always dreams of being the catcher in the rye. He explains this; I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. And Im standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff. Id just be the catcher in the rye and all (Salinger 173). He wants to save all these young and innocent kids from falling off the cliff. To Holden, the cliff symbolizes adulthood and becoming tainted by society. He catches them from their downfall because he wants them to stay innocent, and not fall off like others he knows. He wishes he were there to catch his brother Allie, D.B. or James Castle from falling off the cliff. They all fell off and were ruined by the fall, society. To make up for it he wishes he could catch these kids from falling off the cliff. The last symbol that represents Holdens view is the carousel and its affect on Holden. The carousel is suppose to represent life and Phoebe is on it going around in circles or going through life. The carousel might be a childs ride but to Holden, it is realizing Phoebe is growing up. Holden says, I was sort of afraid shed fall off the goddam horse, but I didnt say anything or do anything. The thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off, they fall off, but its bad if you say anything to them (Salinger 211). In this quote, Holden shows how his views change on protecting Phoebe. Holden does not go on the carousel with Phoebe because he realizes that her going around grabbing for the gold ring symbolizes her going through life and he has to let her go by herself. When he talks about her falling off the horse, he learns that he can not protect her forever. He has to let her do it by herself and go on with life. He knows that you cannot say anything to her when she falls because she has to live and learn. The symbol of the carousel like the other two shows he wants to protect Phoebe, but he understands he has to let her go. Since Holden could not save D.B., Allie and other characters in the book he feels he needs to save Phoebe while he can. The museum represents Holdens view of wanting to keep everything preserved the way he wants it. The cliff portrays Holdens dream of catching everybody from falling into society. However, the carousel shows how Holdens views change and he realizes he cannot save people from inevitable growing up. Holdens views of are keeping everybody innocent and saving them from becoming phony. After all, he realizes he cannot protect everybody from growing up.


Cite this page

The Catcher in the Rye: Symbols. (2018, Dec 21). Retrieved from

Remember! This essay was written by a student

You can get a custom paper by one of our expert writers

Order custom paper Without paying upfront