J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview
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CLINTON W. TROWBRIDGE

The Symbolic Structure of The Catcher in the Rye

The symbolic content of Salinger's work has been hinted at, wildly and arbitrarily interpreted, overlooked, and even denied. In view of the fact that Salinger is the most self-conscious and deliberate of artists (it always surprises the undergraduate to learn that The Catcher in the Rye took ten years to write and was originally twice as long), as well as one whose interest in symbolism proclaims itself in the very title of his novel, it seems surprising that Salinger's use of symbolism has never been closely studied. In fiction, as in poetry, a symbol cannot be fully understood without discussing it in relation to the entire work. Yet it is just this that those critics who deal with Salinger's use of symbolism have failed to do. This lack has tended to make their remarks either tantalizing, absurd, or simply obtuse. For instance, the great significance that the Central Park ducks have for Holden Caulfield is hardly more than suggested in the following passage: "Like the Central Park ducks in winter, Holden is essentially homeless, frozen out." An example of the absurdities into which the arbitrary symbolmonger can be led is revealed in the following passage from Leslie Fiedler. Referring to The Catcher in the Rye, he writes: "It is the Orestes-Iphigenia story, we see there, that Salinger all along had been trying to rewrite, the account of a Fury-haunted brother redeemed by his priestess-sister; though Salinger demotes that sister in age, thus downgrading the tone of the legend from tragic to merely pathetic."

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From Sewanee Review 74, no. 3 ( July-September 1966). © 1966 The University of the South.

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