In "The Catcher in the Rye" by J. D. Salinger, there are two topics that, in my opinion, are metaphors.

The first topic is the one of the ducks in the pond and where they go in winter. Looking on the web, it seems that there is some consensus on considering the ducks as an alter ego for Holden and its problems with his adolescence.

The second one, is the figure of the catcher in the rye. In this Wikipedia page, it says that:

This "catcher in the rye" is an analogy for Holden, who admires in children attributes that he struggles to find in adults, like innocence, kindness, spontaneity, and generosity. Falling off the cliff could be a progression into the adult world that surrounds him and that he strongly criticizes. Later, Phoebe and Holden exchange roles as the "catcher" and the "fallen"; he gives her his hunting hat, the catcher's symbol, and becomes the fallen as Phoebe becomes the catcher.

I have my own interpretations of these two topics.

  1. In my opinion (just as a reader, since my education background is in STEM), the ducks are all the boys and girls, like Holden, that have a particular sensitivity and predisposition for investigating and questioning the world around them. For them, it is more difficult to accept the adult's world when they are growing up (in the metaphor, to remain in the pond when the winter is coming). From this comes the question that Holden cannot solve: how can these particularly sensitive individuals survive to adolescence? When he asks to the taxi driver, the only answer he receives is about fishes. Obviously, fishes are different from ducks and they can survive the whole winter in the frozen pond. In this metaphor, fishes are like those children that seem to be better dealing with the problem of growing up because they do not question themselves about the adult's world: they accept it as it is without raising any problem, since for them it is totally natural. Moreover, during the night that Holden spend in the park, he looks for other ducks in the grass near the pond (therefore, just outside the society where other human beings live). He does not find any duck, he only risks to hurt himself falling in the pond. In my opinion, this means that individuals with this particular sensitivity are completely isolated from the society, for them it is hard to find people similar to them. Therefore, society seems to not understand the problem since it is not a common problem.

  2. Again, my interpretation of the catcher is different from the proposed one. In my opinion, the cliff at the end of the field represents the possibility of mental illness during adolescence. Children are playing in the field during the childhood, but growing up they can have to face problems that can put at risk their own life. In this case, the catcher is not somebody that prevents the children from growing, but it is a person (maybe an adult?) that is fundamental in the development of the adolescent for surviving a period of struggle.

The question are: are these interpretations consistent with the whole novel? Is there an "official" interpretation? Is it different from mine and, if yes, how and why?

  • 2
    Is there an "official" interpretation? Generally in literary analysis, no, never. What matters is more to find an interpretation that makes sense and can be supported by evidence. If you've done that, great!
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 17:18
  • 1
    @Rand al'Thor: There are common interpretations though. It would be very far-fetched to say its about the political situation in Somalia, for instance. Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 17:22
  • There's also the danger of over-interpretation. Holden is a teenager and not an 'it'; maybe that's where the problems begin from? Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 17:28
  • @Randal'Thor I did not mean to ask for a universal interpretation of this book, since I think that it is clearly impossible. What I was meaning by "official" was an interpretation that raised some consensus among critics and experts. Or maybe an explanation by the author, but I think it hard to find, considering Salinger's personality.
    – JackI
    Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 22:26
  • @MoziburUllah Could you please further develop what you mean? I do not understand what is the origin of the problems of Holden that you are proposing.
    – JackI
    Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 22:28

1 Answer 1


I find it extremely difficult to accept most of these types of interpretations. A brief background on myself: I have read the book twice—once as a high school student, and again as an adult in my mid 40s. As a student, I saw things completely different, and in a way much aligned with this form of interpretation. As an adult...not so much. I am a different person, undoubtedly, after serving well over 20 years in the military, and through 3 different wars. In many ways I feel I can relate to Salinger. But it seems to me the more “credentials” someone has, the further into it they seem to read. This may seem like a stereotypical comment to most, I know, but this is not at all what it says to me.

To me, this entire book, from start to finish, absolutely screams “death”. Not only death, but that Holden may even be institutionalized for having killed these people himself. I could also see how it may suggest Holden himself is dead, or imagining his own death and how people may react to that. Additionally the “visits” he has with many others somehow in his life could easily be interpreted as them visiting him at his own grave. The way things are written, things like Mr. and Mrs. Spencer “having separate rooms” and while with Mr. Spencer and sitting on his bed which was at one point “hard as a rock” and later sitting back down on his “cement bed”. He references “getting the ax(e)”, “madman stuff” (several times), “supposed to commit suicide if Pencey didn’t win”, and being in a place “not too far from Hollywood”, but getting out when “D.B. was going to drive (him) home next month, maybe”. The phrase “molding boys into splendid, clear-thinking young men” can easily be interpreted as his way of comparing that to the mummification process used by the Egyptians.

Possibilities are endless, but I believe the meaning is right there in plain sight. The emotions he most often exhibits are not the sort that come from someone rationalizing the child to adult transformation. As I said, I can easily relate to Salinger, and given the fact it was written over a ten year span and in close proximity to combat, I can see much of the same transition in the book as I experienced in my own life. I believe he is somehow fixated on death, being dead, or how to reach it. That part only he could could say with certainty. Facing death on a daily basis cannot truly be explained by anyone who has not been there, and I do not care how many pieces of paper hang on the wall behind your desk. Without a shadow of doubt, though it was not understood at the time the book was written and largely dismissed until recent years, this man was suffering from PTSD.

  • My apologies, but the examples of the Spencers and others perhaps, were meant to suggest he may have been visiting others in their graves
    – C Bailey
    Commented Sep 28, 2019 at 9:58
  • Thank you for your answer, it is interesting to hear a different viewpoint on this book. I'll try to read it again keeping these ideas in mind
    – JackI
    Commented Sep 28, 2019 at 10:32

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