The Catcher in the Rye is a strange title, but Salinger explains it in the book. Holden Caulfield tells his younger sister, Phoebe, that he often imagines himself stepping from fields of rye to heroically catch small children before they fall over an adjoining cliff, an idea he got from a line of a song.
As I recollect, he sings her the line, and she corrects him. “No, no. It goes, ‘If a body meets a body—not catch a body —comin’ through the rye.’”
Very cleaver. I see it as metaphor for Holden’s idealism based on adolescent confusion. For some, it is a metaphor for his fear of adulthood, and both could be right.
I am now re-reading Franny and Zooey that came out in book form in 1961 that many of us are more familiar with. I can still picture my old paperback version, but, of course, it has long been converted into silverfish poop. The book was first published in its entirety in the New Yorker in two installments, the first titled Franny, in 1955, and the second, Zooey (Franny’s brother, whose real name is Zachary), not until 1957, and that is where I am reading it. I suspect Zooey was an afterthought. The two are very different in style. The longer Zooey section talks mostly about Franny’s religious breakdown and the influence of their revered older brother, Seymour, who committed suicide in another short story, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” published in the New Yorker in 1948. Salinger seems to go back and elaborate on characters introduced in earlier stories.
To give you a timeline reference, according to the issue that published Zooey in 1957 you could see a very young Jonnie Ray at the Waldorf Astoria, see Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews on Broadway in My Fair Lady, and, as described in an advertisement, you could actually buy FDR’s Campobello summer home for $50,000, all 23 rooms on 15 acres of waterfront property with original furnishings, including FDR’s cabinet meeting chair and childhood drawings.
I am getting far more out of Franny and Zooey this time around, partly because he uses a lot of religious references that I am now familiar with, such as Meister Eckhart, the Upanishads, Mahayana Buddhism, Kaliyuga, Lao Tzu. But more importantly, I am now a much more patient reader. I am more inclined to mull over the meaning of passages that earlier I would have impatiently skimmed over as extraneous to the plot. The story follows Salinger’s general theme of the bliss of childhood ruined by adulthood. Franny and Zooey are two of seven gifted, arrogant siblings, all of whom had once been child stars on a version of the “Quiz Kids” radio show. But that was then. Now as adults they all have problems, except for Seymour.
The whole book is worth reading, if, for no other reason, the last page or two. Both Franny and Zooey as children occasionally balked at following Seymour’s directions and were told to do it “for the Fat Lady.” Who the Fat Lady actually is surprised me, but I understand.
P.S. Notice I did not mention the snow. At this point, there is nothing good to say about it. It broke the record, so it is more than anything we remember.