What Holden most wants to be in life is someone who stands on the edge of a cliff in a rye field catching children before they fall. The image is symbolic of Holden's desire to save both himself and other children from having to grow up into an adult world he sees as "phony." The image is even more symbolic because it is based on Holden mishearing a song based on Robert Burns (1759-1796) poem "Coming Thro the Rye," which is about two bodies meeting in the rye to have sex. Holden's misinterpretation underscores both his desire to shield children from the adult world, and his misunderstanding about just how innocent the world of children is.
The Catcher in the Rye Quotes in The Catcher in the Rye
The The Catcher in the Rye quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Catcher in the Rye. 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: Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Little, Brown edition of The Catcher in the Rye published in 2001.).
Chapter 16 Quotes
I got up close so I could hear what he was singing. He was singing that song, "If a body catch a body coming through the rye." He had a pretty little voice, too. He was just singing for the hell of it, you could tell. The cars zoomed by, brakes screeched all over the place, his parents paid no attention to him, and he kept on walking next to the curb and singing "If a body catch a body coming through the rye." It made me feel better. It made me feel not so depressed any more.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker)
Page Number and Citation:
Chapter 22 Quotes
Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around — nobody big, I mean — except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff — I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all.
Chapter 25 Quotes
All the kids kept trying to grab for the gold ring, and so was old Phoebe, and I was sort of afraid she'd fall off the goddam horse, but I didn't say anything or do anything. The thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off, they fall off, but it's bad if you say anything to them.
The Catcher in the Rye Symbol Timeline in The Catcher in the Rye
The timeline below shows where the symbol The Catcher in the Rye appears in The Catcher in the Rye. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.