In this world, symbols are everywhere.
Whether it be a company logo, a crucifix, or a person, humans see symbols on a day to day basis. However, they often lack the understanding of the meaning behind these symbols. Throughout history, symbols such as a crucifix or religious text have sparked major conflict in groups. In a way, these symbols can represent conflict, and in some cases, even cause conflict. Much like many ideas in this world, wherever there is good, there is also a bad.
Symbols work in the same way. In The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, The three symbols that explain Holden’s feelings and conflicts about growing up are Holden’s red hunting hat, Allie’s baseball mitt, and the ducks in Central Park. The Red Hunting Hat is always talked about by Holden throughout The Catcher in the Rye. Holden buys a red hunting hat that he saw in a window of a sports store when he got out of the subway and says, “I put on this hat that I’d bought in New York that morning. It was this red hunting hat, with one of those very, very long peaks” (Salinger 17).
Holden thinks the hat fits him well, so he naturally feels better when he wears the hat. This is contrary to many of the feelings Holden goes through in the book. The hat is supposed to be for hunting, but Holden is wearing it for self esteem reasons since he wants to feel positive about himself. Holden does not want to be like the “normal” person in society because he thinks that they are phonies.
They are living a fake life in the eyes of Holden. However, Holden is not completely attached to the red hunting hat, so he takes the hat off in the Edmont hotel and tells the reader, “I took the hat off before I checked in. I didn’t want to look like a screwball or something” (Salinger 61). Holden may want to be unique, but, to some degree, he wants to look like everybody else. The color of the hat also symbolizes Holden’s deceased brother and his living sister as well. Allie and Phoebe were both redheads, much like the color of his hat, so when Holden puts it on, he is a redhead too.
Since Holden cared a lot about them, the hat probably reminds him of them. Later on in the story, when Holden plans to run away from home and go out west, he gives Phoebe his precious hat. Holden gave it to Phoebe most likely so she can remember him. He also feels that the hat offers a sense of comfort, and he wants Phoebe to be protected from the society that will take away her innocence.
Phoebe is also sporting it when she asks if she can go with Holden. The hat makes Holden feel special, isolated from the world and protected from adult life. Holden might want to belong, but he does not know how to fit in.
The second symbol that is important to Holden is his brother Allie’s baseball mitt. Holden had a younger brother named Allie who “died of leukemia when he was eleven” (Salinger 38). Allie was a major factor in Holden’s life and development as a person in general.
In a way, Allie is still alive in Holden and his actions. When Holden felt that he was going to disappear whenever he crossed the street, he says, “Every time I came to the end of a block I’d make believe I was talking to my brother Allie. I’d say to him,’Allie, don’t let me disappear. Please, Allie'” (Salinger 198). Holden keeps Allie’s baseball mitt because he loves Allie so much, but his brother is also a source of protection for Holden. Holden attempts to find strength to overcome his fears through Allie, and is successful in this instance. When Holden first found out about Allie’s death, he recalls, “I was only thirteen, and they were going to have me psychoanalyzed and all, because I broke all the windows in the garage.
I don’t blame them. I really don’t. 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. I even tried to break all the windows on the station wagon we had that summer, but my hand was already broken and everything by that time, and I couldn’t do it.
It was a very stupid thing to do, I’ll admit, but I hardly didn’t even know I was doing it, and you didn’t know Allie. My hand still hurts me once in a while when it rains and all, and I can’t make a real fist any more – not a tight one, I mean – but outside of that I don’t care much. I mean I’m not going to be a goddam surgeon or a violinist or anything anyway” (Salinger 57). Holden’s sorrow and despair over Allie’s death is one of the most important themes in the novel and is essential to comprehend his unstable emotional state of being. A lot of Holden’s character can be traced back to Allie and the rage he felt about his death. This is a pivotal moment in Holden’s development as a character. It is so special to him, that the only person he ever showed it to is a girl named Jane Gallagher. Holden says, “I held hands with her all the time, for instance.
That doesn’t sound like much, but she was terrific to hold hands with” (Salinger 79). Throughout the entire book, Holden is always debating on whether or not to call this girl of his dreams, Jane Gallagher. This points to the fact that she was very important to him and that he trusted her, so he showed her the baseball mitt, one of his most prized possessions. The third example of the use of symbolism in The Catcher in the Rye is how Holden is so interested in the ducks in Central Park.
Before he leaves Pencey, Holden mentions the ducks to his teacher, Mr. Spencer, for the first time. He says, “I live in New York, and I was thinking about the lagoon in Central Park, down near Central Park South. I was wondering if it would be frozen over when I got home, and if it was, where did the ducks go. I was wondering where the ducks went when the lagoon got all icy and frozen over. I wondered if some guy came in a truck and took them away to a zoo or something. Or if they just flew away” (Salinger 13) .
Holden’s concern over the ducks is symbolic of his own situation. He, like the ducks, wants to know where to go; where to be lead. Holden feels lost in not only the world, but within himself as well. Holden asks a cab driver’s opinion about the ducks, but the cab driver gets annoyed with Holden and even asks, “How the heck would I know where the darn ducks go” (Salinger 60). Holden is very confused here, for the cab driver got irate with him. In a way, it shows Holden’s innocence and naiveness to adult situations. Later on in the book, Holden discusses the ducks with another cab driver (Salinger 81).
Since Holden is relatively smart, it is odd that he asks these childish questions. These questions can be drawn back to the fact that Holden himself does not know where to go. The symbolism in Holden’s red hunting hat, Allie’s baseball mitt, and the ducks in Central Park are the key in understanding important parts of The Catcher in the Rye.
They help us to better understand Holden’s thoughts and feelings. Much like the symbols in society, they are important to many people and have different effects on them. This idea of giving meaning to tangible objects and an intellectual representation is amazing, but it can also have a negative backlash not only on an individual, but on societies. Often times we see people torn apart by religious conflicts and pride for a country.
Symbols may cause inspiration, but they can also cause events that lead to desperation.