Symbols and Themes
The Hunting Hat—One of the biggest symbols in the story is the hunting hat that Holden has just purchased at the beginning of the novel. It serves many purposes but is mainly used to illustrate a sense of absurdity and contradiction. For example, Holden wears it even though he is not hunting deer—which is when Ackley says it should be worn. In fact, he wears it simply to be different—simply because he is not hunting deer. He calls it, instead, a people hunting hat, implying of course that it will allow him to gage people by their reactions to his hat. Tom Wolfe, the author of novels like Bonfire of the Vanities and I am Charlotte Simmons, had a similar reason for wearing an all-white suit: it brought people out of themselves and allowed them to let down their guard so that he could see them as they truly were.
However, when Holden gives the hat to Phoebe, it loses its absurdity and becomes a symbol of love. She wears it when coming to meet him, not because it is absurd, but because it was his and he gave it to her; it reminds of him. When he offends her, she throws it in his face. When he wins back her love, she puts it on her head and tells him that he can wear it —and to some extent it protects him from the rain at the conclusion of the story.
Innocence—The theme of innocence is symbolized throughout the novel in different ways. Holden has a protective instinct toward the innocent. Jane Gallagher, to a big extent, represents his idea of innocence. That is why he becomes violent with Stradlater when he learns that Stradlater sat with her in a parked car: he could not stand the thought of someone stealing away Jane’s innocence.
Jane’s actions, as Holden remembers them, are also symbolic of innocence that has not yet been lost. When they used to play checkers, she insisted on all her kings being in the back row. She does this because they look nice lined up like that—but it also prevents her from losing any of them. The risk, of course, is that...
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