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THE CATCHER IN THE RYE The title of the novel The Catcher In The Rye, by JD Salinger, has a substantial connection to the story. This title greatly explains the main character, Holden Caulfield, and his feelings towards life and human nature. In society he has found enormous corruption, vulgarity, harm and havoc. He knows that the children of the world are ruined by the corruption of adults around them and, he states later in the novel, his new purpose in life will be to help save the children from this vulgarity.
Holden wants to be a “Catcher in the Rye.” We first hear the title of the novel being used in chapter 16, and in chapter 22 we have the full explanation of this title. Human dignity is vital to Holden’s existence and the only way to guarantee this on a long term basis is to assist children in maintaining their innocence from the dangers of adulthood.
In chapter 16 we have the first reference to the meaning of the novel’s title, The Catcher in the Rye. Holden hears a little boy singing to himself a verse which makes Holden very happy: “If a body catch a body coming through the rye,” (Page 115). It is difficult to understand why Holden is made happy by the little boy’s singing unless one has an idea of what the song means to Holden.
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 notes that the child’s parents pay no attention to him. To Holden this child represents innocence and youth unspoiled by adult immorality. Holden wishes to serve humanity by safeguarding the innocence and purity of children, by protecting them from the evils of life. His little sister, Phoebe, asks him what he would like to be and he answers: ” 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) From this quotation one can see that his role is completely selfless and humane : the beneficiary of his good deeds would be society at large, not Holden Caulfield. He sees himself as the savior of children, of innocence and basic human dignity. What ultimately drives Holden mad is the realization that he cannot single-handedly eliminate the corruption and vulgarity of the world. When he understands that he must redefine his purpose in life and shift the focus of his good intentions to those areas where he can accomplish good, he is able to pull himself out of the despair and set forth a new path in life. Holden is torn between the desire on the one hand to grow up and to “adjust” and on the other hand to stay a child, living in a world of security and innocence. He has perceived adulthood as a fallen condition characterized by evil, falsity and betrayal and so has tried to evade it by dreaming of retreating to the woods, living in isolation – even dreaming of dying. However in chapter 25, when Holden rejects his desire to prevent Phoebe from reaching for the gold ring, it signals his coming to terms with his inner conflict. Through the example of Phoebe, he begins to be restored to a belief in life – to accept that living connects both pain and joy, beauty and ugliness. Holden realizes that risks must be taken if one is 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). Throughout the novel, The Catcher In The Rye, and with the information stated above, one can clearly see that the title is relevant to the story. Holden Caulfield wants to be a “Catcher in the Rye.” He feels a need to save all children from the corruption and immorality that is found within society. He wishes to aid mankind by protecting the innocence and purity of children. Holden tries to do this by protecting children from the evils of life, as symbolized by the cliff. He believes that if he could save the children and their purity of heart then he would be helping society enormously. He realizes though that he cannot solely do this, 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 if one is to grow. When he makes this decision he rejects the role of catcher and in addition affirms his own acceptance of his evolving maturity.
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