The Catcher in the Rye

J. D. Salinger
Quotes

The Museum of Natural History

Quotes The Museum of Natural History
Even though it was Sunday and Phoebe wouldn’t be there with her class or anything, and even though it was so damp and lousy out, I walked all the way through the park over to the Museum of Natural History. I knew that was the museum the kid with the skate key meant. I knew that whole museum routine like a book. Phoebe went to the same school I went to when I was a kid, and we used to go there all the time.

While Holden waits to meet up with Sally Hayes on a Sunday in New York City, he decides to look for his sister, Phoebe, to kill time. After looking in Central Park, he decides to walk to the Museum of Natural History despite knowing “Phoebe wouldn’t be there,” describing how he “knew the whole museum routine” because they “used to go there all the time.” Holden’s desire to visit the Museum of Natural History symbolizes his yearning to return to childhood, something known and familiar, something that doesn’t change and maintains “routine.” Holden sees comfort in what he knows and in the innocence and consistency of childhood, something Phoebe still holds.

I get very happy when I think about it. Even now. I remember after we looked at all the Indian stuff, usually we went to see some movie in this big auditorium. . . . Nobody gave too much of a damn about old Columbus, but you always had a lot of candy and gum and stuff with you, and the inside of that auditorium had such a nice smell. It always smelled like it was raining outside, even if it wasn’t, and you were in the only nice, dry, cosy place in the world.

Here, Holden describes his happy memories of his school’s visits to the Museum of Natural History. Through his very detailed sensory description, Holden reveals how much he treasures these childhood moments, from the way the museum always “smelled like it was raining outside” to how it was always a “nice, dry, cosy place.” Holden’s reminiscing about the museum symbolizes his deeply rooted appreciation for youthfulness and his ultimate longing to hold onto the simplicity of childhood and avoid adulthood. Holden’s descriptions show how he finds comfort and solace in the museum’s connection to his childhood.

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.

Here, Holden continues to narrate his feelings about the Museum of Natural History, explaining that his favorite part of the museum is the fact that “everything always stayed right where it was.” Holden focuses his description on specific exhibits at the museum that he could count on to be exactly the same every time he visited. Holden’s admiration of the unchanging museum symbolizes his desire to avoid change and his preference of childhood’s simplicity over adulthood’s unpredictability.

Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you. Not that you’d be so much older or anything. It wouldn’t be that, exactly. You’d just be different, that’s all.

After Holden raves about the Museum of Natural History’s unchanging qualities, he notes that the only thing to change during each visit “would be you,” or the person visiting the museum and looking at the exhibits. He tries to explain further by giving examples of how someone might be different each time they visit the museum but that it didn’t matter because the museum would still stay the same. Even though Holden struggles to explain exactly what he means, he seems to be saying that no matter what he faces or how his life changes, the Museum of Natural History will always symbolize a comforting, unchanging environment where he feels secure in its stability.

I kept walking and walking, and I kept thinking about old Phoebe going to that museum on Saturdays the way I used to. I thought how she’d see the same stuff I used to see, and how she’d be different every time she saw it. It didn’t exactly depress me to think about it, but it didn’t make me feel gay as hell, either. 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.

Holden summarizes his feelings toward the museum, how they connect to his sister, Phoebe, and how it all symbolizes his negative feelings about getting older and life changing. Even though Holden walks to the museum on a Sunday when Phoebe is not even there with her school, it reminds him of a childhood time when he was her age and would regularly visit the museum. Holden admires Phoebe for a lot of reasons, but the fact that she still represents innocence and childhood is something Holden envies. While he loves the fact that Phoebe gets to experience exactly the same things at the museum that he experienced, the realization that he is no longer in that world and that Phoebe will not remain there either also “depresses” him, and he declares, “Certain things they should stay the way they are.” Holden’s connections to the Museum of Natural History clearly symbolize his preference for youthful innocence and a desire for an unchanging stability that he is unable to grasp in his current mental state.