In The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger there are many insights about Holden Caulfield revealed by symbols, which would otherwise remain unclear. School, the checkerboard, the museum, and cigarettes and alcohol are all symbolic of Holden. These symbols tell us things about Holden that he doesn’t tell us straight out. This essay will discuss many symbols in the book and what they tell us about Holden. The checkerboard is referred to a lot when Holden is thinking of his old friend Jane Gallagher. The checkerboard is symbolic of Holden’s obsessiveness with Jane.
Holden is always asking people and wondering if Jane still keeps her kings in the back row. In checkers, if you keep your kings in the back row, it’s like a security. You can’t lose if you play that way. This is why Holden is so curious about Jane and if she still keeps her kings in the back row. What he really wants to know is if Jane has lost her security and let someone besides Holden in. This is why when Stradlater returns from a date with Jane, Holden repeatedly asks Stradlater, “Did you ask her if she still keeps all her kings in the back row?
Holden is actually asking if Jane let down her guard and let go of her innocence to Stradlater. Holden ponders a lot about if Jane keeps her kings in the back row over the period of the book. This just shows that Holden is totally obsessed with Jane’s innocence and if she still has any innocence left. School is also a symbol that tells us about Holden. It actually tells us about what will probably happen to Holden in his life. School is a structured system with many steps that must be completed in order to pass. It is a lot like life where there are many obstacles and challenges one must overcome in order to succeed.
Holden had already failed a number of schools before he failed Pencey. Holden doesn’t even care if he fails school because his parents don’t care. Holden tells people about how he failed so many schools like it’s something to be proud of. He tells us about how he failed Whooton School, Elkton Hills, and Pencey like it’s no big deal and he’s proud to talk about it. It’s obvious he even care about his future. When Mr. Spencer asked Holden, “Do you feel absolutely no concern for your future, boy”, Holden responded, “Oh, I feel some concern for my future, all right.
Sure. Sure, I do. I thought about it for a minute. But not too much, I guess. Not too much, I guess. ” This shows that Holden hasn’t really thought about his future and what failing school will do to it. If Holden fails school it basically means that he will fail life, which is pretty much what happens to him at the end of the book. Holden also likes to drink liquor and smoke cigarettes. He does this because he feels it makes him look older and more mature. Most of the time he smokes or drinks when he is outside so people can see him.
Holden even tells us, “I must a smoked a couple packs today. ” He is simply saying this to brag about how “cool” he is. The cigarettes and alcohol are of a symbol of age and maturity, but Holden tells us a few times, “I ordered a Scotch and soda”, and then says that the waiter wouldn’t bring it because Holden looked too young. This is like Holden is trying to fit in with the more mature people but they keep denying him because he is so immature and not ready to be an adult. Holden needs to stop and think about what’s going on right now instead of trying to grow up so fast.
One of the most important symbols about Holden is the Museum in Central Park. Everything in the museum hasn’t changed at all, while Holden has changed a great deal since his childhood. Holden walks all the way through Central Park to the museum, then decides not to go in. “All of a sudden, I wouldn’t have gone inside for a million bucks. If Phoebe had been there, I probably would have, but she wasn’t. ” (Page 122). He doesn’t want to face his past alone. He wants someone to be there to help, but doesn’t share his past with anyone, except for one occasion.
This was when, while Holden was attending Pencey, he wrote about Allie’s baseball mitt. The mitt brought back a lot of emotions because Allie had died. When Stradlater read the paper about the mitt, he criticized Holden and the paper. Holden got uncomfortable and tore up the paper. This event made him very cautious about going into his past again. The museum shows us about Holden’s cautious side. He always does whatever he feels like. He fails school, drinks, smokes, and gets in fights, but he just can’t relive his past. It is one of his largest obstacles.