"The Catcher in the Rye" Meaning of the Title
Salinger uses the title ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ as a clear reference to the Robert Burns poem, ‘Comin thro’ the Rye’ to develop the idea that adulthood corrupts children into ‘phonies.’ To Holden, children represent purity and innocence, and he first sees ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ as a symbol of preserving childhood innocence, namely when he hears the boy walking in the street by his parents singing the song. The parents are described as having ‘paid no attention to him’ whilst he was ‘walking next to the curb.’ This demonstrates that Holden sees directly the line between childhood and adulthood. The boy is walking ‘next to’ the curb, which suggests he is apart from his parents and there is some border that separates them. Holden sees this border as adulthood, and therefore decides adulthood forces children to become ‘phony.’ Furthermore, Holden has misinterpreted the words of the poem. When having a conversation with Phoebe later in the book, he asks her if she knows the song ‘if a body catches a body comin’ thro the rye.’ However, Phoebe corrects him, saying ‘it’s if a body meets a body.’ Holden’s mistake allows the reader to recognise his desire to prevent the transition to adulthood, as the verb ‘meet’ is used to suggest that Jenny, the girl in the poem, has had a sexual encounter. His confusion surrounding the words may also replicate his confusion and internal conflict surrounding adulthood. Despite declaring that adulthood is ‘phony’ Holden often takes part in adult activities and seems to enjoy them, such as drinking and hiring a prostitute. Holden goes on to address Phoebe’s initial question of what he wants to do with his life by saying he wants to become the catcher in the rye. He describes how he sees this as children ‘playing some game’ in a field of rye, demonstrating children are seen by him as pure, and ‘nobody’s around – nobody big.’ The noun ‘game’ in the first quote illustrates that the children are carefree, with no need to worry about the problems of the adult world, a subject that Holden believes, if adults were around, would weigh on the children much more heavily. This could also be evidence to support Holden’s view of life as a ‘game’ and reinforce ideas suggested earlier in the novel, when Holden is told that ‘life is a game’ to which he thinks ‘if you get on the side where all the hot-shots are, then it's a game […] but if you get on the other side, where there aren't any hot-shots, then what's a game about it?’
This becomes evident through the way Holden is the only ‘big’ person around. The adjective
On the other hand, it is clear throughout the book that Holden isn’t seeing the world as he should as a result of his depression and trauma; all the children Holden interacts with are not shown as being ultimately innocent or pure. Phoebe speaks of when she
Altogether, the poem asks if it is acceptable to have casual sex with someone without making a commitment, a view which Holden disagrees strongly with.
This may also be why Salinger introduced the title, because he wants to make a point about the corruption of children and the flaws in the adult world. It may be a reference to times in his own life when he had issues with ‘phonies’ and the novel may be a direct address to society to change the way it is. Salinger has written in a way that allows the reader to empathise with Holden over the struggles of growing up.