The Catcher In The Rye: Connection to the Title


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."