What is an important place in J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, and why is that place important?

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emilyknight7 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The setting in The Catcher in the Rye can be analyzed on a number of levels. The time period in which the book takes place, New York City and Eastern prep schools, and the time of year — December right before Christmas — are all significant. If you are looking at a specific place, though, one of the most significant moments in which place is important is in Chapter 25, when Holden watches his little sister Phoebe ride the carousel at the zoo.

This scene is important for a few reasons. For one, this is the first time Holden has been happy during the entire book. He says he is "damn near bawling" from happiness. This is because he reaches a realization at this moment, summed up with the symbol of the carousel itself. As Phoebe rides, she reaches out to grab at these rings that carousels had at that time. A slot released them sporadically, and if you reached out at the right moment, and far enough, you could grab one and get a prize. As Holden watches her, he thinks,

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.

Despite Holden's informal and devil-may-care way of communicating, he is getting at a deeper point here. The carousel is a symbol of childhood, that beautiful, elusive thing that Holden both craves (for himself and for all the other children in the world) and is curious about leaving, for the frightening, more sexual, world of adulthood. As a "catcher in the rye," he wants to save children from falling off the cliff and losing their innocence, just as he fears Phoebe will fall off the carousel as she reaches for the rings. Still, he recognizes that if a kid wants to reach for the rings (or reach for adulthood), he has to let them, even if they lose their innocence in the process. Growing up is something everyone has to do eventually, and maybe it isn't even as bad as Holden always thought it was.

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The Catcher in the Rye

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