The Catcher in the Rye Questions and Answers
by J. D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye book cover
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Express how important the theme of innocence is and what the author is trying to say about it through the motifs of the museum, the "Catcher in the rye" song, and Holden's red hunting hat.

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The theme of innocence is extremely important in this novel. Holden is an adolescent struggling to come to terms with the realities of the adult world and filled with an almost overwhelming longing to retreat into a world of childlike innocence, while at the same time knowing this is impossible.

These realities coalesce around the death of Holden's brother, Allie, a traumatic event in his life that Holden has yet to come to grips with. He deals with it through rejecting much of how his peers live as "phony," acting out—such as breaking all the windows in his family's garage or leaving Pencey (from which he has been expelled) for a New York City binge. But he also deals with it by longing and trying to return to a state of childhood innocence. The hunting cap that he buys for a dollar and wears backward symbolizes his desire to return to a childlike state. So does his trip to the Natural History Museum.

At the Natural History Museum, Holden opens up to reader with a long series of musings about the exhibits. The dioramas bring him back to the secure world of his childhood (because they never change). Not only was the same field trip to the museum repeated every year in his childhood—including viewing the same film on Christopher Columbus—the few changes that occurred in his own life from field trip to field trip were superficial. Small things like clothing might change, but the fundamental ground of his life remained stable. He longs to be back in that innocent world, part of everything the cocoon of the museum represents.

Finally, as he struggles to retain his own innocence while he matures, he wants to help the children of the world stay secure. He doesn't want them to fall off a cliff, as he metaphorically did when Allie died. Therefore, he dreams of becoming the catcher in the rye, the person who stands at the edge of the green where children are playing and saves them before they tumble off. It may be impossible to save all the innocents of the world, but this is Holden's deep desire.

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