What are some examples of imagery in The Catcher in the Rye?

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Imagery is language that describes using the five senses of touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell.

Through Holden, Salinger uses vivid imagery that makes the story, and Holden, come alive. For example, what sticks in many readers' minds as a symbol of Holden himself is his red hunting cap. Early...

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Imagery is language that describes using the five senses of touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell.

Through Holden, Salinger uses vivid imagery that makes the story, and Holden, come alive. For example, what sticks in many readers' minds as a symbol of Holden himself is his red hunting cap. Early on, he offers a description of it, how he wears it, and where he bought it:

It was this red hunting hat, with one of those very, very long peaks. I saw it in the window of this sports store when we got out of the subway, just after I noticed I'd lost all the goddam foils. It only cost me a buck. The way I wore it, I swung the old peak way around to the back—very corny, I'll admit, but I liked it that way.

This not only describes the hat, but tells us something about Holden, such as that he is a person who bucks convention by wearing the hat backwards. We can picture this goofy, red, Robin Hood-like cap on his head and also picture Holden seeing it the window of the sports good store.

Holden also offers a visual description of the nuns' suitcases in the little place in New York City where he is having breakfast:

While I was eating my eggs, these two nuns with suitcases and all—I guessed they were moving to another convent or something and were waiting for a train—came in and sat down next to me at the counter. They didn't seem to know what the hell to do with their suitcases, so I gave them a hand. They were these very inexpensive-looking suitcases—the ones that aren't genuine leather or anything.

We can imagine him eating his eggs as the nuns come in with their cheap suitcases. Holden goes onto say he hates cheap suitcases—the image of the nuns with them triggers this thought—and we find out this is because he feels sorry for people who are poor. He will also use imagery to compare his huge breakfast with the meager fare the nuns eat. This motivates him to give the nuns ten dollars. Throughout the novel, we see the back and forth between imagery and Holden's reaction to it.

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Imagery is descriptive language to produce mental images. Using imagery is one of the best tools an author can use to engage readers in stories. One way to identify imagery is to look for when an author uses one or more of the five senses to create those mental pictures. Taste, touch, smell, sight, and the sense of hearing are tools most everyone can use to relate to a situation or a character. If a reader understands how it feels to walk through a snowstorm, for example, then when a character does the same thing, that reader can pull from his/her own experiences and become more engrossed in the story. Since The Catcher in the Rye is written from a 16 year-old's perspective, many of the imagery is laced with profanity; but, that also gives the story more authenticity. The following are a few lines that use the sense of sight and similes to help describe snow falling:

"There were about three inches of snow on the ground, and it was still coming down like a madman. It looked pretty as hell, and we started throwing snowballs and horsing around all over the place" (35).

One might have to stop and think for a minute to realize what Holden means by comparing a madman to the snow falling because they are two very dissimilar things, but it works. He also uses contradictions suchs as "pretty as hell" which make the reader stop and notice the image. The next quote uses sound in an fun, adolescent way:

"I mean I can't remember exactly what I was doing when I heard his goddam stupid footsteps coming down the corridor" (40).

How footsteps can be "stupid" might be unrealistic, but the wording is hilarious! Another good image is one that uses sight as he describes how the prostitute enters the hotel room:

"She came in and took her coat off right away and sort of chucked it on the bed. She had on a green dress underneath. Then she sort of sat down sideways on the chair that went with the desk in the room and started jiggling her foot up and down. She crossed her legs and started jiggling this one foot up and down. She was very nervous, for a prostitute" (94).

The quote above chronicles the girl's movements, the color of her dress, the coat and the bed, the chair and the desk, as well as how nervous she was. The reader can picture perfectly how the scene moves from one point to the next because the descriptions are precise for the sense of sight.

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The title image of “the catcher in the rye” is central to the novel, but it is not explained until near the end. Although Holden insists, in a conversation with his sister Phoebe, that he knows the phrase is from a poem by Robert Burns, he has remembered it incorrectly. He offers Phoebe his interpretation, which is a very clear image but differs significantly from the original in several ways. Burns’s phrase, “if a body meet a body,” refers to a casual interaction, and “comin’ through the rye” places them in an agricultural field. Holden’s idea that one individual is “the catcher” and that the rye-field is on a cliff neatly encapsulates his idealized mission to help innocent children, but also reveals his desire to hold onto innocence, as embodied in Phoebe.

Another image, in this case one that recurs, is the association of the baseball mitt with his brother Allie, who died from leukemia. Allie stands both for innocence lost and for Holden’s guilt over not saving him. It is not incidental that the item he associates with Allie is something used for catching, which Holden was unable to do for Allie. Every time Holden picks up or thinks about the glove, he thinks of Allie, which in turn stirs up his feelings of guilt.

In addition, while Phoebe does actually ride the carousel in Central Park near the novel’s end, the image of her grabbing for the brass ring shows a change in Holden. Again, this is something that can be caught. While Holden worries that she will fall off the horse she rides, he also realizes that he needs not to intervene:

The thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it.

The carousel’s path is circular, and does not lead to resolution. On Phoebe’s second ride, watching her, Holden experiences a happiness so deep he wants to cry.

I felt so damned happy all of a sudden, the way old Phoebe kept going around and around.

He sees that Phoebe is safely ensconced on this wheel, nowhere near a cliff and thus will not need saving; Holden cannot let her down but also realizes it is not his responsibility.

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An image uses one or more of the five senses—sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch—to describe a scene. Holden uses the image of the catcher in the rye to show his desire to protect innocent children, like his sister Phoebe, from the dangers of the world.

He says to her:

"Anyway, 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.

In picturing thousands of innocent children playing happily in a field of rye with a cliff nearby, Holden is communicating how dangerous he thinks the world is. Rye is a grain that grows tall and thick: children could be playing in it as it waves in the wind, taller than they are, and be completely unaware that they are so close to a cliff. This offers us a picture of Holden's view of how precarious childhood innocence is. Life can change in a second, as a fall from a cliff suggests.

Holden also notes that nobody "big"—or more knowing, more aware—is around, showing that he believes that not enough adults are protecting children from life's dangers. He would be the one to save the children by catching them before they could be killed. This imagery shows that he cares about the vulnerable, but also that he has unrealistic notions about saving the world, as one person is not likely to be able to protect thousands.

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Near the end of the novel, Holden goes to visit Phoebe, and he takes her to Central Park.  There he watches while she rides the carousel.  The horses of the carousel are described as looking wild with their mouths open as they go around the circle.  Phoebe, however, is not afraid and she chooses a horse to ride.  Holden thinks that this image suggests children taking risks and thus learning through experience.  So, the imagery in this scene complicates the typical sense of innocence that surrounds children's carousels and merry-go-rounds--the element of experience is present.  Through this image of Phoebe taking on a risk, Holden's views about the disillusionment of adulthood are challenged.

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