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The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger

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In The Catcher in the Rye, what does Holden misplacing the foils signify?

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At the beginning of the story, Holden has fallen down on his responsibilities by losing the fencing team's foils, meaning they can't compete in a tournament. This is important because it is a sign from the start that he isn't focusing on Pencey—even extracurriculars—and is in his own, detached world. It's as if he signaling he doesn't want to fight anymore and doesn't want to be part of the "team," whatever that team might be. He's already checked out of the world of his peers. He notes the loss, which must have made the entire team angry, as well as being costly, in a dissociated, emotionless way.

As if to seal the act of setting himself apart, he buys his red hunting cap after losing the foils. This gives him the red "hair" or head of Allie and Phoebe. He wears it backwards, saying the cap looks better on him that way, but that gesture also represents that he will now be heading in a different direction, going his own way. It is a way, like losing the foils, of separating himself from his peers.

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In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden loses the fencing foils and keeps the team from competing.  The significance of Holden losing the foils is two-fold.  First, Holden does not seem to want to move on from his life as it is.  He is afraid of graduating, hence his repetitive removal from schools.  The foils represent responsibility and Holden fears responsibility.  The loss of the foils shows that Holden refuses to fully accept the responsibilities that are given to him.  Secondly, Holden replaces the missing foils with a red hunting hat. Holden states that he bought the hat immediately after he realized the foils were missing. This replacement of the foils with the hat represents Holden's inability to accept his place in the world.  The hat represents Holden's compulsiveness, not his responsibility.  Therefore, Holden's replacement of the foils with the hat solidifies his inability to be responsible.

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