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Significance of Catcher in the Rye’s Title
The Catcher in the Rye is Salinger’s greatest work, a tale of growing up in a shallow world obsessed with the superficial. Wherever he looks Holden Caulfield sees corruption, vulgarity, and superficiality in adults. It is only in children he sees traits he admires such as innocence kindness and the ability to be true to themselves. It is in regard to these things that we see the importance of the title the Catcher in the Rye. Holden believes children’s innocence is ruined by adults, and states that he wants to help them maintain their innocence. The only thing Holden can see himself being is a catcher in the rye, someone that assists children in maintaining their innocence from the dangers of adulthood
The first clue we have to the meaning of the novels title is in chapter 16, were holden listens to a child singing to himself "If a body catch a body coming through the
rye," (Page 115). The little boy is described by Holden in gentle caring terms: "The kid was swell. He was walking in the street, instead of on the sidewalk, but right next
to the curb. He was making out like he was walking a very straight line, the
way kids do, and the whole time he kept singing and humming." (Page 115).
Holden also remarks the child’s parents are paying no attention to him.. To Holden this
child represents innocence and youth unspoiled by adult immorality. Listening to the boy sing makes Holden feel less depressed.
The thing is, As Phoebe points out, the kid has the lyrics wrong. He thinks the line is “If a body catch a body comin’ through the rye,” but the actual lyric is “If a body meet a body, coming through the rye. (According to Wikipidea) The song “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye” asks if it is wrong for two people to have a romantic encounter out in the fields, away from the public eye, even if they don’t plan to have a commitment to one another. The song is asking if casual sex is okay. Holden's not so sure about sex in general, since he thinks that to “get sexy “with a girl is to degrade her. Therefore, he can't get sexy with someone he cares about. Casual sex is then his only option, but he's not so comfortable with that, either as proven by his encounter with the prostitute. To Holden then, it seems sex is confusing and best avoided altogether. The ironic thing is, this song makes Holden think the opposite of what is being asked. It inspires him to be the catcher in the rye and prevent children from entering into the cruel and ugly adult world including knowledge of sex.
The Next time the title is mentioned is in chapter 22. Holden is speaking to phoebe who asks him what he would like to be. He says: " I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around - nobody big, I mean - except me. And I'm 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 - I mean if
they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from
somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher
in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really
like to be. I know it's crazy." (Page 173) Rye is a tall plant. A child in a field of rye would not be able to see where it is going and fall off a cliff. This cliff is symbolic for a progression into the adult world that surrounds Holden. He wants to be the savior of children, to preserve their innocence and dignity. What is destroying Holden, is that he realizes that he cannot eliminate the adult world’s corruption, and he cant prevent children from growing up. The novel ends with Holden realizing he must shift his good intentions to something he can affect.
Holden is stuck in the middle of these worlds, he is not playing in the rye, but he is also full of contempt for the adult world. Holden is torn between the desire on the one hand to grow up and on the other hand to try and regain his childhood innocence. He sees adulthood as unenviable, characterized by vulgarity perversity and betrayal, so Holden tries to evade it by dreaming of escaping society and living in the woods, or even killing himself. In chapter twenty five, when Holden allows Phoebe to risk herself by reaching
for the gold ring, (a symbol that confused me, It turns out carousels used to have a gold ring you could reach for and if you got it you got a free ride.), it signals his coming to terms with his inner conflict. Through Phoebe, he begins to accept that life contains both happiness and sorrow, and realizes risks must be taken if you want to grow: "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 it's bad if you say anything to them." (Page 211).
In the end, Holden gives Phoebe his red hunting hat to symbolize he no longer needs to be the catcher and is happy for the first time in the novel. He realizes though that he cannot change the world, and redefines his purpose to something more approachable. He now understands that maybe "falling" isn't that bad after all, and that one must take risks to grow, thereby affirming his own transition to maturity.