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The Catcher in the Rye, written by J.D. Salinger, is seen throughout the narrative repeatedly asking the simple question, ³Where do ducks go in the winter?² The simplicity of this question reflects upon a predicament for Holden that remains of the utmost importance and significance throughout the novel. Although a complex character, Holden many times acts analogous to a childish figure that indulges in simplicity, questioning and answering his own quandaries in a simplified, juvenile manner. His fascination with this question can only be looked upon as the unadulterated, more youthful side to his character. Furthermore, finding the answer to the outlandish question remains a persistent top priority for a character that otherwise gives up on various unambiguous opportunities, events, and positive prospects of his life.
The first time Holden asks about the ducks is on his way to the Edmont hotel. He curiously asks the cab driver that is driving him to the hotel his opinion on where the ducks go during the winter. The query is uncharacteristically off-topic, yet Holden insists with much verve that his question is a genuine one, and hassles the cab driver for a bona fide response. The question can be described as random and unsystematic, analogous to his existence. Because the ducks and their whereabouts represent the unknown, Holden can greatly relate to them. At a time in his life where he is moving onward into an unfamiliar existence, the main character connects with the ducks because he has finished an important period in his life and is moving on into another phase. However, unlike the ducks, Holden does not know where in his life he is going. He feels that his ³pond,² which represents his life up until his leave from school, is freezing over as well, and he must therefore find a comfortable, secure safe-haven with his newly found independence. Like many other parts of the narrative, Holden can only connect his independence and curiosity in a bizarre manner, and likens them with ducks in a pond. Before visiting the pond himself, Holden once again asks a taxi driver advice on the situation at hand. Taxi driver’s vehicle consequently comes to symbolize a comfortable place for Holden, a safe haven where he can inquire about the ducks. Because the cab drivers are much older then most of the characters that Holden interacts with throughout the book, they are most likely viewed as wiser. Moreover, they possess a keen sense of direction because of what they do for a living, and Holden may possibly consider that they, of all people, might know which way the ducks head during the winter months.
Later in the book, the conversation turns to ducks and fish. Holden insists, however, that although the fish mean nothing to him, he emphatically desires to comprehend the ducks¹ situation. The fish could very well be, in a figurative sense, children, still under the protective barrier of the frozen shell of the pond, seemingly very limited to move about freely. The ducks, in turn, seem to be the independent, free adults of the world, at first relying on the pond for support, but then flying away to where the sky¹s the limit with potential and possibilities. In turn, Holden constantly finds himself in situations where he does not know whether to he is more akin to a child or an adult. It is apparent that Holden desires childhood because of his fond, warm memories of youth, but senses that he is being forcefully pushed into adulthood and independence because of his newly established freedom away from a structured, methodical world.
Observably, Holden is exceptionally alarmed by the idea of change and disappearance. Because of his abrupt independence, Holden explains in only a way that he can, his life¹s experiences he has accumulated thus far into the novel. Drawing from past encounters and occurrences, Holden can usually muster up an explanation for just about everything. However, when it comes to the ducks in the pond, Holden finds himself in total uncertainty, and at first seems more detached then related to the creatures in the pond. When Holden finally visits the pond for himself, he finds no ducks, and the water is more slushy than frozen over. Immediately Holden thinks about his own death, and what it may be like. This accounts for his feelings of eptiness when, instead of finding the ducks, as he had hoped, the character finds nothing. A feeling of isolation and remoteness fills Holden, and the reflection of death naturally occurs. The slushy water in the lagoon implies that although Holden is an individual now, the transition into complete adulthood is still not finished, and supplementary development will need to continue until the pond completely freezes over, so to speak.
At the end of the novel, Holden is indeed able to answer his own question. Visiting the pond himself shows Holden that he has conclusively found what he was in search of. It also suggests that he can understand his life situation sufficiently more then he had at the beginning of the novel. Now he is able to understand that there is indeed a transition period in life, and knows everybody must make the crucial change from childhood into maturity. Since change is inevitable, Holden eventually learns to deal with the radical alterations in his life, and his responsibilities for them. The conclusion that Holden holds is one of much sorrow, yet wonderment. Though Holden still holds a defensively cynical, skeptic tone at the end of the book, the ending is hardly tragic. Although Holden still has much growing up to do, he has learned the indispensable and perpetual lesson of where ducks go in the winter.
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