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"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." (22.51-55)
Even more nobly, Holden doesn't just want to "save guys' lives," he wants to save kids' lives. As we discuss in lengthy detail in "What's Up With the Title?" the irony is that this song is actually about sex—and casual sex, at that. What Holden is attempting, then, is made futile.
"You don't like a million things. You don't.
[…] Name one thing."
"I like Allie."
"Allie's dead – You always say that! If somebody's dead and everything, and in Heaven, then it isn't really–"
"I know he's dead! Don't you think I know that? I can still like him, though, can't I? Just because somebody's dead, you don't just stop liking them, for God's sake – especially if they were about a thousand times nicer than the people you know that're alive and all." (22.22-38)
Again, we see that Holden glorifies his dead brother. We don't doubt that Allie was a great person, but Holden, in his dissatisfaction with the existing world, can idealize his brother, instill in him all the values he feels are missing from reality. This, of course, only drives him further into isolation and anger at the people around him.
There was this one boy at Elkton Hills, named James Castle, that wouldn't take back something he said about this very conceited boy, Phil Stabile. […] Stabile, with about six other dirty bastards, went down to James Castle's room and went in and locked the goddam door and tried to make him take back what he said, but he wouldn't do it. I won't even tell you what they did to him – it's too repulsive. […] Finally, what he did, instead of taking back what he said, he jumped out the window. I was in the shower and all, and even I could hear him land outside. […] There was old James Castle laying right on the stone steps and all. He was dead, and his teeth, and blood, were all over the place. […] He had on this turtleneck sweater I'd lent him. (22.30)
Ouch. Talk about dying for an ignoble cause. Our question: is there a suggestion that Holden understands this attitude—that rather than give in and take back something he knows is true, the kid would kill himself? Isn’t this kind of what Holden is doing—refusing to live peacefully in a phony world?