“You know that song ‘If a body catch a body comin’ through the rye’? I’d like – ”
“It’s ‘If a body meet a body coming through the rye’!” old Phoebe said. “It’s a poem. By Robert Burns.”
“I know it’s a poem by Robert Burns.”
She was right, though. It is “If a body meet a body coming through the rye.” I didn’t know it then, though.
“I thought it was ‘If a body catch a body,'” I said. “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’d 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. I know it’s crazy.”
This quote from Catcher in the Rye not only demonstrates Holden’s desire to save every child he can from falling off the cliff while they are playing (this need that stems from one, losing his brother Allie– whom Holden calls ’the better of the two’ and always saw him as the smartest, happiest kid alive; and two, his inability to save himself from the crudeness of the world) starting with Phoebe, first and foremost. Ironically, this poem by Robert Burns is about a girl that goes out into the Rye field to meet someone for a “kiss” and then has to return to her judgmental Puritanical society, with her underwear wet, and ready to be castigated for being ‘easy.’ In other words, the poem is about casual sex (and in Catcher in the Rye it arises the question of how J.D. Salinger is romanticizing Caulfield’s fantasy about protecting little kids, as well as how he is addressing whether casual sex is okay or not through Holden Caulfield. If by being thrown off the cliff means one comes into adulthood (and by extension, exploration of one’s sexuality) does that mean tragedy, or is it just the natural cycle of life?
This conflicts deeply with Holden’s own sexuality because throughout the book one sees him not being able to come to terms with it. This is quite possibly largely due to the fact that he suffered trauma from Allie’s passing at such a young age, and then lashed out and turned into a rebel. However, he seems to find himself in a weird medium (like many of us do in our adolescence) where he wants to fight for innocence, but he’s corrupted himself too much to have his own so when he goes to explore his sexuality, he can only do so by objectifying the person he is exploring himself with.
Salinger, J.D. “Chapter 22.” Catcher in the Rye. New York City: Little, Brown, 1946. 51-55. Print.
Birch, Michael R. “Robert Burns: Modern English Translations and Original Poems, Songs, Quotes and Epigrams.” Robert Burns: Modern English Translations and Original Poems, Songs, Quotes and Epigrams. Web. 7 Sept. 2015.