I live in New York, and I was thinking about the lagoon in Central Park, down near Central Park South. I was wondering if it would be frozen over when I got home, and if it was, where did the ducks go? I was wondering where the ducks went when the lagoon got all icy and frozen over. I wondered if some guy came in a truck and took them away to a zoo or something. Or if they just flew away.

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– J. D. Salinger


The Catcher in the Rye. Holden Caulfield in Chapter 2. The ducks are symbolic of Holden. He wonders what happens to them the same way as he worries about what will happen to him when he grows up and becomes an adult.
The Catcher in the Rye. Holden Caulfield in Chapter 10. Holden doesn’t mind being young, until he is refused alcohol by a waiter. That’s the trouble with growing up, you lose some things – like innocence, but gain others – like the privilege of ordering a scotch and soda.
The Catcher in the Rye. Holden in Chapter 9. He finds it hard to deal with a big paradox in his life – he wants to share intimacy with a girl but sees sex as dirty and feels guilty about his sexual fantasies. While he likes sex and is obsessed with it, he is also a prude and fights to remain innocent. Any sex act is “crumby” to Holden. This leaves him with a big identity problem, as he tries to put himself in situations where he can have sex but pulls back from exactly those kind of situations. So he often sabotages his chances to have sex, like when he is with the prostitute.

“Hey, how old are you, anyways?” “Me? Twenty-two.” “Like fun you are.” It was a funny thing to say. It sounded like a real kid. You’d think a prostitute and all would say “Like hell you are” or “Cut the crap” instead of “Like fun you are.”

– J. D. Salinger


The Catcher in the Rye. Chapter 7. A prostitute who won’t use profanities! Holden recognizes a kind of innocence in Sunny. Which means he can’t have sex with her – “I felt more depressed than sexy, if you want to know the truth.”

She came in and took her coat off right away and sort of chucked it on the bed. She had on a green dress underneath. Then she sort of sat down sideways on the chair that went with the desk in the room and started jiggling her foot up and down. She crossed her legs and started jiggling this one foot up and down. She was very nervous, for a prostitute. She really was. I think it was because she was young as hell. She was around my age. I sat down in the big chair, next to her, and offered her a cigarette. “I don’t smoke,” she said. She had a tiny little wheeny-whiny voice. You could hardly hear her. She never said thank you, either, when you offered her something. She just didn’t know any better. “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Jim Steele,” I said. “Ya got a watch on ya?” she said. She didn’t care what the hell my name was, naturally. “Hey, how old are you, anyways?” “Me? Twenty-two.” “Like fun you are.” It was a funny thing to say. It sounded like a real kid. You’d think a prostitute and all would say “Like hell you are” or “Cut the crap” instead of “Like fun you are.”

– J. D. Salinger


The Catcher in the Rye. Chapter 7. Holden recognizes the innocence in Sunny. Although she is a prostitute, she still avoids vulgarities.

Most guys at Pencey just talked about having sexual intercourse with girls all the time – like Ackley, for instance – but old Stradlater really did it. I was personally acquainted with at least two girls he gave the time to. That’s the truth.

– J. D. Salinger


The Catcher in the Rye. Chapter 7. This shows Holden’s innocence. He knows about sex, but when it comes to it he is just an innocent boy. Uncomfortable with his own sexuality, he is fascinated but a bit grossed out by a guy who is experienced with women.

If you want to know the truth, I’m a virgin. I really am. I’ve had quite a few opportunities to lose my virginity and all, but I’ve never got around to it yet. Something always happens.

– J. D. Salinger


The Catcher in the Rye. Holden in Chapter 13. Holden’s virginity represents his ties to the innocence of childhood.

New York’s terrible when somebody laughs on the street very late at night. You can hear it for miles. It makes you feel so lonesome and depressed. I kept wishing I could go home and shoot the bull for a while with old Phoebe.

– J. D. Salinger


The Catcher in the Rye. Chapter 12. Holden is experiencing a sense of isolation and longs for human connection. He misses a time when he was not so depressed. His sister Phoebe is one of the non-phonies that helps him keep his fragile connection with the world.

“The ducks. Do you know, by any chance? I mean does somebody come around in a truck or something and take them away, or do they fly away by themselves – go south or something?” Old Horwitz turned all the way around and looked at me. He was a very impatient-type guy. He wasn’t a bad guy, though. “How the hell should I know?” he said. “How the hell should I know a stupid thing like that?” “Well, don’t get sore about it,” I said. He was sore about it or something. “Who’s sore? Nobody’s sore.” I stopped having a conversation with him, if he was going to get so damn touchy about it. But he started it up again himself. He turned all the way around again, and said, “The fish don’t go no place. They stay right where they are, the fish. Right in the goddam lake.” <…> “Listen,” he said. “If you was a fish, Mother Nature’d take care of you, wouldn’t she? Right? You don’t think them fish just die when it gets to be winter, do ya?” “No, but – ” “You’re goddam right they don’t,” Horwitz said, and drove off like a bat out of hell. He was about the touchiest guy I ever met. Everything you said made him sore.

– J. D. Salinger


The Catcher in the Rye. Chapter 12. Holden finds someone else willing to discuss his interest in the ducks in Central Park. He is terrified of change, but the ducks represent a change that is not permanent. They leave in the winter, but they return again in the spring. He wants to understand this to help him deal with the painfulness of growing up.

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 thousand 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.

– J. D. Salinger


The Catcher in the Rye. Chapter 17, Holden visits the Museum of Natural History with his sister Phoebe. This is one of his favorite places to visit because no matter what he knows that it will always be the same and history will not have changed. Holden is fighting to hold onto his childhood in fear of growing up.

God, I love it when a kid’s nice and polite when you tighten their skate for them or something. Most kids are. They really are.

– J. D. Salinger


The Catcher in the Rye. Chapter 16. This quote depicts how Holden is attached to childhood. He does not want to grow up, he likes children. Since he believes that all adults are phonies, children are the only people he can rely on. He wants to remain a kid because they are the only people that are truly nice.

Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone. I know that’s impossible, but it’s too bad anyway.

– J. D. Salinger


The Catcher in the Rye. Chapter 16, Holden is walking through Central Park and strikes up a conversation with a little girl, who suggests that he look at the Museum of Natural History with the Indians in it. He sets off in that direction, thinking of the field trips he took there as a kid, when everything was sweet and innocent, and the museum never seemed to change. Holden simply hates growing up. Part of his depression is the knowledge that his desire to keep things the way they are is impossible.

If you do something too good, then, after a while, if you don’t watch it, you start showing off. And then you’re not as good any more.

– J. D. Salinger


The Catcher in the Rye. Chapter 17. Holden’s dislike for fake adults comes out in this quote, and his liking for children because of how innocent they are.

While I was sitting down, I saw something that drove me crazy. Somebody’d written “Fuck you” on the wall. It drove me damn near crazy. I thought how Phoebe and all the other little kids would see it, and how they’d wonder what the hell it meant, and then finally some dirty kid would tell them – all cockeyed, naturally – what it meant, and how they’d all think about it and maybe even worry about it for a couple of days. I kept wanting to kill whoever’d written it. I figured it was some perverty bum that’d sneaked in the school late at night to take a leak or something and then wrote it on the wall. I kept picturing myself catching him at it, and how I’d smash his head on the stone steps till he was good and goddam dead and bloody. But I knew, too, I wouldn’t have the guts to do it. I knew that. That made me even more depressed.

– J. D. Salinger


The Catcher in the Rye. Chapter 25. Holden has a tough time understanding that everyone has to grow up. He does not want children to grow up because he feels that adults are corrupt. Here he tries to take away bad words from the walls of an elementary school where his sister Phoebe attended.

Then I took my hunting hat out of my coat pocket and gave it to her. She likes those kind of crazy hats. She didn’t want to take it, but I made her. I’ll bet she slept with it on. She really likes those kind of hats.

– J. D. Salinger


The Catcher in the Rye. Chapter 23. Holden gives Phoebe his prized hunting hat, the symbol of his uniqueness and innocence and desire to be separate from everybody else. Having spent some time with the one person he really connects with, his sacrifice of the hat is a sign of his recognition that he does have ties and relationships are important to him.
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In Kids

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 do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.

– J. D. Salinger


The Catcher in the Rye. Holden Caulfield in Chapter 22. The most famous passage in Salinger’s novel, which gives it its title. It speaks of Holden’s wish and his fantasy to be the rescuer of all the children who might suffer in their lives.

When the light was on and all, I sort of looked at her for a while. She was laying there asleep, with her face sort of on the side of the pillow. She had her mouth way open. It’s funny. You take adults, they look lousy when they’re asleep and they have their mouths way open, but kids don’t. Kids look all right. They can even have spit all over the pillow and they still look all right.

– J. D. Salinger


The Catcher in the Rye. Chapter 21, when Holden sneaks back into the family home to visit his sister Phoebe. She looks funny to Holden sleeping with her mouth open, whereas adults in that position look “lousy.” Phoebe represents the innocence of all children to Holden.

“Lawyers are all right, I guess – but it doesn’t appeal to me,” I said. “I mean they’re all right if they go around saving innocent guys’ lives all the time, and like that, but you don’t do that kind of stuff if you’re a lawyer. All you do is make a lot of dough and play golf and play bridge and buy cars and drink Martinis and look like a hot-shot. And besides. Even if you did go around saving guys’ lives and all, how would you know if you did it because you really wanted to save guys’ lives, or because you did it because what you really wanted to do was be a terrific lawyer, with everybody slapping you on the back and congratulating you in court when the goddam trial was over, the reporters and everybody, the way it is in the dirty movies? How would you know you weren’t being a phony? The trouble is, you wouldn’t.

– J. D. Salinger


The Catcher in the Rye. Holden Caulfield in Chapter 20. He believes lawyers are just people who flaunt their money in people’s faces, rather than go round saving innocent people’s lives.

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.

– J. D. Salinger


The Catcher in the Rye. Holden in Chapter 25. The gold ring on the carousel in a symbol of the worldly success most of us try to reach for. Holden is saying here that you have let children make their own mistakes and not try to correct them. He has previously said that he wants to be a catcher in the rye, protecting little kids from harm. He now realizes that it is a futile job.

“I said I’m not going back to school. You can do what you want to do, but I’m not going back to school,” she said. “So shut up.” It was the first time she ever told me to shut up. It sounded terrible. God, it sounded terrible.

– J. D. Salinger


The Catcher in the Rye. Chapter 25, Phoebe utters these defiant words to Holden as he refuses to let her leave town with him. He is upset that he has pushed Phoebe to the point of telling him to shut up, a form of profanity. Children’s innocence should be protected, he believes, and he has failed to do this with Phoebe, which troubles him greatly.

That’s the whole trouble. You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write ‘F*** you’ right under your nose. I think, even, if I ever die, and they stick me in a cemetery, and I have a tombstone and all, it’ll say ‘Holden Caulfield’ on it, and then what year I was born and what year I died, and then right under that it’ll say ‘F*** you.’ I’m positive, in fact.

– J. D. Salinger


The Catcher in the Rye. Chapter 25, Holden is at rock bottom. At Phoebe’s school he sees ‘F*** you’ written in two places, and at the museum sees the profanity written for a third time. The quote speaks to Holden’s quest to save innocence and make the world a more attractive place. He realizes with a sadness he does not fully understand that he cannot find a place of innocence in an imperfect world.

If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn’t rub out even half the ‘F*** you’ signs in the world. It’s impossible.

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– J. D. Salinger


The Catcher in the Rye. Holden Caulfield in Chapter 25. It’s just not possible to wipe out the phoniness and filth in the world, so you either have to learn to live with the fact that the world is not innocent – or not.