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Symbolism of Salinger’s Cover of Catcher in the Rye

I received word that the editors of the Little Brown and Company are considering changing the cover of JD Salinger’s novel, The Catcher in the Rye. I strongly recommend that the cover be left alone. The book has been commended on its exemplary literary meaning for the past fifty years; the present cover is a visual representation of this meaning. The blank cover expresses the overriding theme of controlling one’s own fate, similar to John Locke’s idea of the tabula rasa (blank slate). Indirectly, the blank cover also expresses the fundamental conflict in the novel that is Holden Caufield’s inability to “come of age.”

Salinger’s development of Holden’s character extensively indicates his childish behaviour. As a little kid, the monologues he gives to his audience are simply rambling thoughts that flow through his mind. At the beginning of the book, for example, Holden starts introduces his story and keeps skipping around to numerous topics:

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If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me… but I don’t want to go into it…I’m not going to tell you the whole autobiography or anything. I’ll just tell you about the madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas…and had to come out here and take it easy. I mean that’s all I told D.B about, and he’s my brother…now he’s out in Hollywood, D.B, being a prostitute. (1-2)

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Holden starts by touching on his childhood, continues on about his parents, and culminates by calling his brother a Hollywood prostitute. As a child, Holden’s attention span is minute and he cannot extensively talk about a particular subject. The childish qualities that Holden possesses do not only stop with his rambling but also include his interesting interpretations. When he’s sitting in Central Park waiting to see his sister Pheobe, he expresses what he feels will happen to him because of sitting out in the cold, “I thought I’d probably get pneumonia and die. I started to picture millions of jerks coming to my funeral and all…I thought about the whole bunch on them sticking me in a goddamn cemetery and all” (154-5). Only an immature child would analyze a cold atmosphere to such a serious extent. A rational adult would never think about death because they are sitting out in the cold. Although Holden is sixteen, over six feet tall, and tries to act like an adult, he has a tough time breaking away from the immature childish mould.

The inability to mature inevitably leads Holden to be unable to control his own fate. When he gets off at Penn Station while leaving from Pency Prep, his immaturity keeps him from making a decision on what to do: “I’m so damn absent-minded, I gave the driver my regular address, just out of habit and all-I mean I completely forgot I was going to shack up in a hotel for a couple of days and not go home till vacation started” (60). A mature adult would have exact plans on what to do each step of the way if he/she were in Holden’s position. Holden instead contemplates what to do once he gets off the train and quickly forgets his plan of checking into a hotel. If Holden were more mature his smart decisions would lead him to better fates. If Holden were mature enough to make smart decisions, he could have had an excellent academic career. Old Spencer explains his view on Holden’s academics, “’ I’d like to put some sense in that head of yours, boy. I’m trying to help you. I’m trying to help you if I can’” (14). Holden has the potential to be a high-achieving student. However, his immaturity leads him to be unable to stay concentrated on a goal. Holden’s immaturity doesn’t allow him to control his own destiny and fate. He is like a young, disoriented child walking through life without any plans or goals.

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Holden’s internal conflict of immaturity is the most prominent thread in the novel. The cover of a book should express this prominent thread. Holden’s perspective of the world is very simplistic, like a child. A child’s mind is uncluttered and innocent. It is a blank slate- the tabula rasa. Thus the blank cover expresses the entire theme of the novel. For the past fifty years, JD Salinger’s book has been world-famous. Why change a good thing? I feel that further illustrating the cover would give a drastic blow to much of the symbolical meaning that The Catcher in the Rye currently possesses. I ask you to strongly consider my request and keep the cover of the world-famous novel as it is.

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Symbolism of Salinger's Cover of Catcher in the Rye. (2021, Feb 27). Retrieved February 7, 2023, from