The Catcher in the Rye written by J.D Salinger is a Bildungsroman about a teenage boy named Holden Caulfield who is having difficulties accepting and blending in with the adult world. Holden throughout the novel encounters awkward situations where he feels left out and alienated prior to the fact which he cannot make any real friends except for Phoebe his younger sister and Jane Gallagher which he now has lost contact with. Holden’s incapability of becoming an adult keeps him constantly confused about society in general. Every time Holden has a decent conversation with another adult he constantly feels neglected or insulted. Throughout the novel, the red hunting hat, the museum, and the ducks in the lagoon are three symbolic events that establish Holden’s alienation from society.
Holden first bought his red hunting hat in the beginning of the novel, just after he had left the fencing team because he had left all the equipment on the subway leading him to feel publicly humiliated. Every time Holden felt lonely or depressed his red hunting hat was what he used for self-protection. Holden likes the red hunting hat “with the peak around to the back” (27) because it makes him unique, and different from everyone else in society. One might recognize this constant use of the red hunting hat when Holden realizes that Jane Gallagher went out with Stradlater; Holden’s roommate. Holden always cared for and respected Jane Gallagher since she was a close friend of him before.
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But when Holden finds out Stradlater, a jock who wouldn’t appreciate Jane’s beauty, he goes into a fight with him. This leads Holden to become really depressed and lonely not only because of Jane but also because he had lost the fight. Holden then seeking a friend goes to see Ackley. Ackley then again, disappoints Holden because Ackley had not given him the attention and moral support he really needed. This leads again for Holden to put “his red hunting hat on” and turn “the peak around to the back” the way he liked it (52).
A museum is a place Holden always enjoyed going to since childhood. “The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move… Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you” (121). Holden goes to the museum two times in the novel. The first time he walks all the way through the central park but does not enter the museum. When Holden arrives he is too afraid to enter because something might have changed in the museum. Holden feels left behind because everyone is doing something, going somewhere or becoming someone when he’s just staying the same.
Holden feels that the museum is the only thing that he can hold on to when everything else is moving on. Holden explains that “certain things should stay the way they are” and that “you ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone (122).” This means that Holden just wants everything in the museum (or in his life) to just be left alone, alienated from everything else. The museum shows Holden’s alienation from society because when Holden just arrives to the museum he does not enter so his fantasies of a world of simplicity do not encounter the reality of change.
Holden throughout the novel has a curiosity about where the ducks in the lagoon of Central Park go during the winter. The ducks and the lagoon are both symbols of Holden’s alienation. Holden questions why and where the ducks disappear the same way he questions why people change and alienate Holden. The lagoon symbolizes Holden’s ideal world where everything is “frozen” and simple and how the ducks (society) abandon Holden. Holden then “walked all around the whole damn lake” but doesn’t see a single duck (154). This leads Holden again to feel depressed and alone.
The three main symbolic events which describe Holden’s alienation from society are the red hunting hat, the museum and the ducks in the lagoon. Holden is a misunderstood teenage boy who is confused about society and their way of living. Holden is stuck between two lifestyles, either becoming a child or an adult. Holden tries being either one but he constantly fails at this and it results in him feeling alienated and lonely.
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