The Catcher in the Rye

by: J. D. Salinger

Five Key Questions

1) What is a catcher in the rye and why does Holden want to be one?

In the midst of his own difficulties with transitioning to young adulthood, Holden imagines himself as a kind of savior who can protect younger kids from the pains of growing up. Holden feels deeply drawn to children. When he sees a young boy walking in the street and singing to himself, the sight immediately cheers Holden up: “It made me feel better. It made me feel not so depressed anymore.” The boy is singing “if a body catch a body coming through the rye,” a song which inspires Holden’s fantasy of standing in a rye field where children are playing, keeping them from falling off a cliff. However, later, Phoebe corrects Holden that the song’s actual lyrics are, “if a body meet a body coming through the rye.” When Holden fantasizes about becoming “the catcher in the rye,” he imagines himself preserving the innocence of childhood. Holden may also wish to save others because he’s failed to save Allie and he’s failing to save himself. The power of Holden’s guilt and of his drive for self-preservation help explain the strength of his attachment to the catcher imagery.