The Catcher in the Rye

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The Museum of Natural History Symbol Icon
Holden loves the permanence of the exhibits at the Museum of Natural History because, unlike people, the displays never change. This constancy satisfies Holden's desire to stop time and remain in childhood.

The Museum of Natural History Quotes in The Catcher in the Rye

The The Catcher in the Rye quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Museum of Natural History. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Phoniness Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Little, Brown edition of The Catcher in the Rye published in 2001.
Chapter 16 Quotes
The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody'd move. You could go there a hundred times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole, with their pretty antlers and their pretty, skinny legs, and that squaw with the naked bosom would still be weaving that same blanket. Nobody'd be different. The only thing that would be different would be you.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Museum of Natural History
Page Number: 157-158
Explanation and Analysis:

As he considers visiting the Museum of Natural History, Holden contemplates the value of the permanent exhibits. He is comforted that they stay the same in the face of his own ever-shifting personality and experiences.

This passage brings up the question of aging and adolescence within the novel: the reader must wonder why Holden would find it meaningful that “everything always stayed right where it was.” His references to “Nobody” in “Nobody’d move” and “Nobody’d be different” indicate that Holden identifies actual people in his life with the inanimate exhibits before him. (Otherwise he would say “Nothing” instead of “Nobody.”) Thus the Museum of Natural History becomes a site of permanence and consistency, both things that Holden values and would likely juxtapose with the ever-changing adult society he has repeatedly deemed “phony.”

In addition to representing stability, the museum also serves as a way for Holden to visualize his own identity formation. In saying “The only thing that would be different would be you,” Holden implies that he values understanding the specificities of this difference. That is to say, a museum becomes a useful thought experiment in assessing one’s maturation and development. Salinger thus shows Holden to have, despite his tendency for rashness, a desire for both stability and introspection.

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The Museum of Natural History Symbol Timeline in The Catcher in the Rye

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Museum of Natural History appears in The Catcher in the Rye. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 16
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
...where Phoebe often roller-skates on Sundays. He meets a girl who thinks Phoebe's at the Museum of Natural History with her class. Though it soon becomes clear that the class trip was Saturday, Holden... (full context)