Explain the title of the novel The Catcher in the Rye.

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The title of J. D. Salinger's novel is probably intended to characterize the hero Holden Caulfield as a naive, idealistic, kind-hearted youth who is encountering all the ugliness of reality for the first time in his life and is becoming painfully disillusioned. In a late chapter in the book he has a conversation with his little sister, who loves him and is concerned about him because he can't be like other people and keeps getting into trouble in school. She asks him what he thinks will happen to him if he keeps his nonconformist attitude, and she particularly wants to know what sort of a vocation he could have in the future. Here he tells her that he imagines himself having a job as a sort of protector of little children who are playing in a field of rye wheat and are sometimes in danger of falling off a nearby cliff. He would be there to "catch" these children before they fell. This is the only time he tells anybody that he would like to be a catcher in the rye. He has gotten the words of one of Robert Burns's poems confused in his mind. He thinks the words go: "If a body catch a body coming through the Rye." Actually, the Rye is a river and not a field of rye wheat, and the poem begins with "If a body meet a body coming through the Rye." His little sister explains that to him in the chapter where they are conversing in her bedroom. Holden is obviously totally impractical as well as kind and idealistic.

Salinger wrote a number of short stories involving children, showing his own caring nature. These stories are to be found in his Nine Stories and also in his Franny and Zooey. Two of the best stories in Nine Stories are "For Esme, with Love and Squalor" and "A Perfect Day for Bananafish."


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