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The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye


by J. D. Salinger

The Little Shirley Beans Record

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

(Click the symbolism infographic to download.)

When Holden talks about the singer, Estelle Fletcher, he describes her singing it as "very Dixieland and whorehouse [… not] all mushy, [… not] cute as hell," as he thinks a white girl would have done (16.2).

Okay. Weird. Why is Holden into a record that sounds Dixieland and whorish, especially since he's buying it for his little sister and is troubled by the thought of sexuality invading the world of children?

We think this is about avoiding phoniness. The record is obviously intended for children—it features a little kid that's embarrassed about having lost her front teeth. (Also, it's called "Little Shirley Beans," which is sort of a dead giveaway in that it sounds a lot like Shirley Temple. We’re not positive Salinger is drawing on those associations here, but it seems likely.) Anyway, Holden figures that most people would cheese up a records for kids, because they think that's what little kids are into.

So, what does it mean when Holden drops and breaks this record during his drunken stumbling around New York? Could it—ahem—have anything to do with lost innocence? And what does it mean that Phoebe wants to keep the broken pieces of the record?

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