The Symbolic Meaning of the Record in Catcher in the Rye

6 June 2016

A symbol is defined as an object that represents something abstract by association, resemblance, or convention. In J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger uses a vinyl record to represent Holden Caulfield’s belief of childhood innocence.

Throughout the novel, Holden maintains the belief that adults are evil and “phony”, while young children are immaculate. In chapter 16, Holden purchases an LP record for his younger sister, Phoebe. Holden describes the artist, Estelle Fletcher as being “very Dixieland and whorehouse” and not “mushy” or “cute as hell”. Why does Holden buy his little sister a record that sounds so provocative, especially when he is mostly concerned with children being corrupted by adults and what he deems inappropriate behavior, such as “sex stuff”? Because this is symbolic of Holden’s attempt at trying to avoid being phony. The record’s cover is described as featuring a little girl who’s embarrassed that she has lost her front teeth; obviously meant to be a record for children. Holden believes that most singers would “cheese up” a record intended for children.

In chapter 20, Holden drunkenly travels through the park when he falls and breaks the record. Since the record represents Phoebe’s virtue, Holden’s breaking of the record symbolizes that he is the one who ruins the innocence of the children. Later on in the novel, it becomes apparent that Holden is indirectly forcing Phoebe to mature when he is trying to run away. By doing so, Holden is blind to the fact he is stripping Phoebe of her innocence and turning her into a “phony”.

In conclusion, Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye uses symbolism to portray the novel’s main theme of innocence lost.

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