Levels of Meaning in The Catcher in the Rye
Protected by a cocoon of naiveté, Holden Caulfield, the principal character in the novel, The Catcher in the Rye, therapeutically relates his lonely 24 hour stay in downtown New York city, experiencing the "phony" adult world while dealing with the death of his innocent younger brother. Through this well-developed teenage character, JD Salinger, uses simple language and dialogue to outline many of the complex underlying problems haunting adolescents. With a unique beginning and ending, and an original look at our new society, The Catcher in the Rye is understood and appreciated on multiple levels of comprehension. The book provides new insights and a fresh view of the world in which adolescents live.
One way for readers to measure their level of comprehension in this story, is to explore the meaning of the title, it's effect on the book's theme and how it provides a deep look into Holden's character. Being an attention demanding tool, the title also can provide a mystery to which the reader can understand by pulling together the clues, hidden in the text. To an experienced reader, who may be familiar with the book, imagery of a catcher in the rye is apparent throughout the story. However, for a new reader the journey begins past the middle of the book.
While analyzing the city around him, Holden sees a kid walking in the street "singing and humming." As Holden nears he realizes the child is signing that song, "If a body catch a body coming through the rye" in a very pretty voice, making traffic come to a screeching halt, and making Holden feel "not so depressed."(116)
So far, the title's words are just a catchy song, though their repetition, at a key moment in the book, demand a closer look. Holden, who has had a terrible past, immediate and long term, is questioned by his innocent, ten year old sister Phoebe, who wants to know what Holden wants to be when he gets older. He says,
Anyway, I kept picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around - nobody big, I mean - except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going. I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be "The Catcher in the Rye" and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be. (173)
By saying this, Holden exposes his deepest...