The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger is a roller coaster ride through the mind of an angry, frustrated and confused teenager named Holden Caulfield. After getting expelled from Pencey, Holden takes a trip to New York City where Holden keeps asking the cab drivers where all the ducks in the lagoon near the Central Park South go in the winter. This lagoon and the animals in it are constantly are used by J.D. Salinger to show Holden's rejection for adulthood.
Holden's curiosity about the ducks in Central Park relates to his own adulthood insecurities. Just as the ducks face the hard times of winter, Holden is at the peak of his teen-aged years, just about to go on to the hard times of adulthood. Holden asks the taxi driver about the ducks: "I mean does someone come around in a truck or something and take them away, or do they fly away by themselves-go south or something"(82).
Holden's questions of what the ducks do in the winter foreshadow Holden's own plans. Holden wants to know if they either fly away to the south to escape the coldness and the hardships of winter like the way Holden wants to move to the west to get away from the phonies and escape the hardships of adulthood. Or if they are dependent on a parental figure such as the truck that comes to their rescue and takes them away similar to the way Holden wants to stay a child and dependent. Also the idea that the ducks are saved by a truck suggests Holden wanting to be the Catcher in the Rye, saving children from the hardship of adulthood. The ducks, in whatever way, avoid the coldness and hardships of winter and are nowhere to be found during this time. This symbolizes Holden wanting to avoid adulthood and go away to some place where he won't have to face the problems of being an adult.
Holden's interpretation of adulthood is symbolically criticized as his conversation with the taxi cab driver takes a turn and the fish that live in the lagoon is brought up. When Holden asks the taxi driver where the fish go when winter comes and the pond becomes a solid block of ice, he responds: "They live right in the goddamn ice. It's their nature, for Chrissake. They get frozen right in one position for the whole winter"(82). This symbolizes a person becoming an adult in the perspective of a person from the world of experience. During spring and summer, the fishes swim around the pond. This is similar to child who is allowed play and has a lot of freedom. But as fall and winter comes around and the pond begins to freeze, and the fishes lose more and more space to swim around in, similar to the way that a child loses more and more of his freedom as he grows up. From the perspective of a person from the world of experience such as the taxi driver, it is the fish's "nature" to live right in the ice which suggests that a person's "nature" is to grow up and become an adult. However, throughout the whole conversation, Holden never seems to agree with anything that the taxi driver says. This is because Holden rejects adulthood. He doesn't want to believe that it is a person's nature to become an adult. Holden goes on to ask the taxi driver how the fish eats when the entire lagoon is frozen, and he responds that the fish take in the "nutrition and all, right through the goddam seaweed and crap that's in the ice"(83) by having "their pores open all the time"(83). Holden responds with a single "oh" and let's it drop. After Holden gets to his destination, the taxi driver ends their conversation by saying: "If you were a fish, Mother Nature would take care of you, wouldn't she? Right? You don't think them fish just die when it gets to be winter, do ya?"(83). Holden replies, "No,but-"(83). The taxi driver believes that even an adult will be protected similar to the way fish are protected by Mother Nature even when winter rolls around. He believes that like the fish who gets their food right through his pores from the ice, adults aren't entirely independent but dependent on the society and the people around him. But Holden never agrees to the taxi driver's theory and he continues to reject adulthood.
The fish isn't the only thing that Holden and the taxi driver have a trouble agreeing upon. Holden also has a hard time agreeing with the fact that when the lagoon freezes, the fish live right in the ice. When Holden asks the taxi driver where the fish goes, he responds: "What the hell-aya mean what do they do? They stay right where they are, for Chrissake"(82). However, Holden has a hard time understanding what the taxi driver is saying. He's response to the taxi driver's comments is, "They can't just ignore the ice. They can't just ignore it"(82), to which the taxi responds by saying, "Who's ignoring it? Nobody's ignoring it!"(82). For most teenagers, the transition into adulthood, represented by the ice, is generally smooth or even highly desired which is why the taxi driver states that the fish stay right in the ice. Nobody "ignores" ice because this transition is not seen as anything bad but rather good and everyone wants it. But for Holden, adulthood is something he can't just ignore because he doesn't want it. When he takes a look at adulthood, he sees nothing but phonies. Holden can't accept the taxi driver's theory because he rejects adulthood.
Holden Caulfield lives a life of fear trying to run away from something he can't run away from. Although Holden may sound like a wacko to some people, we can't blame him for disliking someone that he feels are phony because, after all, a part of him is created by us.