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Wednesday, January 26, 2005 

I don't get it...

I don’t get literary symbolism. I don’t get beyond the story. My friend, who is a high school English teacher, was very surprised when I told her this. She thought I’d get MORE of the symbolism because I knew the Bible. I don’t.

I know that there’s something about Catcher in the Rye that I’m supposed to get. I know that there’s something about it that makes it a good focal point for the movie Conspiracy Theory (which taught me that presidential assassins like it). I just don’t get it.

All I see is the story.

Holden’s reactions to things are what interest me the most. As I see it, he’s got a few emotions that surface repeatedly. There’s disgust. There’s pity. There’s admiration.

He is disgusted by the “phonies.” He disgusted by morons. He was often disgusted by himself, as well, though. Maybe he thought that he was a phony some of the time. I think he was. He pretended to like people he didn’t really like just to avoid loneliness, after all. He faked being older to impress the ladies. I think that he tried to fool himself, most of the time, into thinking that he wasn’t exactly like the people that he was disgusted by.

There is so much in the story that deserves pity, but Holden pretty much monopolizes it for other people. The way he talks down about almost everyone and about how sad they make him indicates that we ought to be feeling quite that sorry for the poor guy who can’t figure things out.

He does admire people, though. He admires the hell out of them… until they do something that makes him lose faith in them. Everyone that he speaks well of, he ultimately speaks poorly of.

What I think is that the way Holden feels about other people is the way he really feels about himself. I think this is true for a lot of people. The people who love other people outwardly and openly love themselves, too. The junior high kids I deal with constantly disparage others because they feel terrible about themselves.

Maybe this is only true of the immature. Maybe it is only true for some people. Maybe it isn’t true at all.

What do I know… I don’t get symbolism.

Holden never speaks ill of his little sister, though, and I think that is key to the symbolism of the book. (You probably understand it more than you think!) I think this was very intentional by JD Salinger (aka "Jerry") to drive home the point that the only people who are not "phoney" are children. The problem with Holden is that he is RIGHT in the MIDDLE between childhood and adulthood and he's trying to make sense of it all...and there is simply no sense to be made. Or maybe there is?...  

Posted by Suzie Petunia

He does sort of speak ill of her, though, when she tries to run away with him. He says he hates ber... because she doesn't want to be in that play.  

Posted by Kaycee

Nicely done Kaycee. Even if you did miss the glaring sacrifice reference on page 129 (kidding of course). You touched on something I hadn’t really thought too much about, but it is oh so true, especially with Holden.

I think Phoebe is such an interesting character in the book. She doesn’t buy into Holden’s view of the world, she is his six years younger then him, but so much more mature. She corrects his catcher in the rye reference and sees through it’s simplicity. I find this a bit ironic considering that Holden views her as the ultimate representation of the type of child he would like to catch before going off the cliff in the field of rye.

Phoebe sees that Holden is his biggest enemy... as do you Kaycee. Symbolism lost on you? Clearly not!

Posted by Rebecca

I really don't think the symbolism is lost on you...I really don't. I thought it was lost on me too...but as I started really thinking about it, I changed my mind. I love the points you bring to the open...

Especially this one:
"What I think is that the way Holden feels about other people is the way he really feels about himself...The people who love other people outwardly and openly love themselves, too."

Well said, my friend.  

Posted by JP

Ok....on my way to amazon now...I MUST read this. I really like your take on it though and as someone who never seems to "get it" I really appreciate your point of view. 

Posted by EJ

Kaycee I have two words for you: Cliff Notes. ;) 

Posted by Sarah Marinara

You have such a valuable perspective on puberty and the woes of growing up because you are surrounded by it everyday. I am always wanting to know what your students think about things. But I love to know what YOU think about things. Do you see Holden in any of your students?


Posted by Carrie Ann

I hate to say that I don't see, or don't want to see the symbols in this book. I just see exactly what you see, the reactions he makes to the situations.


Posted by Cameron

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This Week's Topic:

  • The Sabbath Day

Various Authors

  • Monday:
    Kaycee opted out of Mormondom 4 years ago. She calls herself agnostic.
  • Tuesday:
    Sarah is not your average Gospel Doctrine Teacher.
  • Wednesday:
    Carrie Ann comes from pioneer stock, and lives in Provo, but is open minded and fair.
  • Thursday:
    Ned Flanders hasn't been to church in a while, but maintains an interest in all things Mormon.
  • Friday:
    John C. is an academic with a sense of humor and a testimony.
  • Saturday:
    JP's not going to church and feeling okay about it.

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