I didn’t want to know where the ducks went in the winter time. I wanted to know why Holden Caulfield was so obsessed with finding out where they went. I taught The Catcher in the Rye about seven or eight times, and each reading of the book gave me no answers. I even tired to Google it and apparently no one cared enough about Holden’s quest for an answer about the ducks enough to write about it.

Well, I am happy to report I finally have an answer. It was a combined effort really. I won’t take credit for the complete interpretation. The funny thing about this is it took a two second conversation I should have had years ago with this person to come up with the answer. I don’t blame this person; they were going through things and it kept them from being grounded. However, I would rather have the answer late than never.

So here is the combined effort interpretation of why Holden Caulfield is so obsessed with what happens to the ducks in the winter time.

Holden wants to save people from the world. More specifically, Holden wants to save children from the world. This is evident when he is walking to get Phoebe at school and he sees the curse words on the school steps. Holden get so angry the words are there because he doesn’t think kids should have to look at those words, let alone understand what those words mean. He doesn’t want kids growing up and having to deal with death and lost love. These are things Holden wrestles with and he wants to ensure kids don’t have to deal with stuff like that yet.

More evidence to support the claim that Holden wants to save the children comes from the poem by Robert Burns. Holden thinks the lines go, “’If a body catch a body comin’ through the rye’”(Salinger 224). Yet it is Phoebe who tells him the lines are actually, “’ If a body meet a body coming through the rye’” (224). Holden wants to be the person catching the bodies coming through the rye. Holden wants to be the one to save the kids from falling off the earth. But the truth is he can’t be because no one can save the kids. He can’t even save Phoebe from the adult content in the poem because she already knows it.

Holden couldn’t save Allie from dying. Holden can’t save Phoebe from the curse words on the steps of her school. He can’t save her from their parents and growing up. When Holden watches Phoebe circle round and round on the carousel, he cries because he knows he can’t save her. He hasn’t even bothered to save himself.

His obsession with ducks comes because here is another thing he can’t save. The ducks are part of the background noise of life. If you are lucky enough to sit down and watch them, the ducks can entertain you and relax you. In a sense, children are the same way. For the most part, children are background noise. As you are running off to your next appointment in your busy adult life, you may pass a park and pick up some of the giggles from children. You hear them but you don’t process them. However, if you just sat down and watched them for a bit, the children could make you laugh along with them.

Holden keeps asking everyone about the ducks because he can’t understand why no one else is interested in what happens to them in the winter. Just like most adults don’t really care about what happens to children. Adults will care about their own child; but an adult normally isn’t as invested in a child that doesn’t in some way belong to them.

In a way, I think if Holden could just figure out where the ducks go, he could then figure out himself. If he could understand why Allie died, he could understand himself and forgive himself. If Holden could stop the hurtful world from getting to Phoebe, he could stop the world from hurting him.

Holden wants to save all the things no one cares about. He feels like he is one of those things that no one cares about. So, in a very predictable manic-depressive way, if he can save all these other things, then he is worth something to someone and he will be worth saving.

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