The Catcher in the Rye - Reality vs Illusion & Red Hunter's Hat Symbolism

Categories: Illusion vs. Reality

Reality can be tough sometimes and thus some may want to hide in a better but false reality. This concept plays a huge part in the novel The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger. Holden Caulfield is sixteen and has just been kicked out of school and has other problems as well in this book. Throughout it all he runs from each problem as it presents itself. Instead of facing his problems head on and destroying them as they come he tries to find comfort in false places and things, which only make life more difficult.

Salinger uses Holden's desire to be the catcher in the rye and symbolism with the red hunting hat to portray the theme of reality vs. illusion; people should see reality as it is, instead of creating illusions to protect themselves from their problems.

Holden's one true desire is to be the catcher in the rye allowing him to stop innocence to be taken away from children, which he finds is a huge illusion.

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"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 an all"(Salinger 173). As great as it is that he wants to preserve their innocence, it's illogical. He can't stop it from happening. The same idea is present in the symbol of the carousel. "The thing with kids is, if they want to grab the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything.

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If they fall off, they fall off, but it's bad if you say anything to them"(Salinger 211). This quote describes the illusion that innocence can be kept. In reality it's just a part of growing up to lose it. No one can stop it from happening. Another thing about reality is that it never stays the same. "Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big cases and just leave them alone"(Salinger 148). Though this would be ideal for Holden, to be a catcher preserving kids in a field, it can't happen. The illusion may be nice, but that's the difference between reality, it's not logical or possible. The idea of being the catcher in the rye plays a big part in the novel, but the concept of it is only a fantasy.

Holden's red hunting hat is one of the main symbols Salinger uses. It acts as a shield for him. One can infer this hat has no actual power and doesn't actually defend him from the world, even though he wants it to. "I pulled the peak of my hunting hat around to the front all of a sudden, for a change. I was getting sort of nervous all of a sudden. I'm quite a nervous guy"(Salinger 34). Instead of facing whatever is making Holden nervous he uses the hat. The illusion of not facing things is blocking reality. Not only does he hide his thoughts and feelings, but his own self. "What I did was I pulled the old peak of my hunting hat around to the front, then pulled it way down over my eyes.."(Salinger 21). Even with the hat acting as a shield and a cover, he can't just wait for things to blow over. Eventually, reality dawns or pulls back our fantasy that's been built up. "My hunting hat really gave me quite a lot of protection in a way,but I got soaked anyway"(Salinger 213). Holden is starting to realize, in this part of the book that the red hunting hat won't save him, it will only delay the fall. He can believe it will as much as he wants, but the rain still gets him, just as reality will. In conclusion,any type of wall or shield someone uses, as comforting as it is seems, can't make reality go away.

Reality always changes, sometimes for the better or worse. Yet, when it gets worse, to just face it and persevere is the best choice. If people don't, then it'll just get worse and have a harder time correcting. Everyone has bad times and want to cringe from it at least once, some people more than others, but that's just being human. Still, whatever the trauma is, reality goes on whether we want it to or not, it's no good living in illusions.

Updated: May 03, 2023
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The Catcher in the Rye - Reality vs Illusion & Red Hunter's Hat Symbolism. (2022, Feb 04). Retrieved from

The Catcher in the Rye - Reality vs Illusion & Red Hunter's Hat Symbolism essay
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