Words have a lot of meaning and power, which is why authors put great thought into their titles. Titles are the first introduction to the reader about the book. Written by Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire, is the play of a southern belle, Blanche DuBois, who, after encountering a series of personal losses, leaves her aristocratic background seeking refuge with her sister and brother-in-law in a dilapidated New Orleans tenement. On the other hand Catcher in the Rye, written by J.D Salinger, is a first-person narrative told from the perspective of Holden Caulfield, an angsty teenager, and his escapades over a weekend in New York City. Both of these novels titles represent the theme that is echoed throughout the pages. In A Streetcar Named Desire Blanche’s fears and desires are represented in the title and Catcher in the Rye shows Holden’s reminiscence of the innocence of his youth.
Picture this, it’s 1947 in New Orleans in the middle of a blue-collar neighborhood where men do manual labor all day long only looking forward to the bear and poker at home. Blanche DuBois, an aging Southern debutante, arrives at her sister’s home hoping to start a new life after losing everything back in her hometown of Laurel, Mississippi. Blanche’s brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski, is a macho working-class guy whose sexism and resentment for the wealthy led him to try and crush any character left in Blanche’s soul.
From the moment Blanche is introduced in the play during the first scene, she mentions the title of the play saying, “They told me to take a street-car named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at—Elysian Fields”. This journey sets the motion for the rest of the events in the play, without her taking this trip there would be no plot. Not only this but metaphorically speaking this journey represents the events of Blanche’s life. In Greek mythology, the Elysian Fields are the land of the dead. This shows Blanche’s lifelong pursuit of her desires, these have led her down paths of sexual promiscuity and alcoholism. By coming to stay with the Kowalskis when everything began to slip out of her grasp, she has reached the end of the line, her final destination.
In Blanche’s own life sex causes destruction and devastation. Back when Blanche was living in Belle Reve she was married but once finding out about her husband’s homosexuality she disapproves of it vehemently, leading him to eventually commit suicide. She can not even process these events though and instead is hypocritical in nature when telling Stella that she married beneath her. She believes that Stella could have done better than Stanley yet Blache herself can’t even hold down a relationship. Once finding out about her husband’s death she tries to find comfort in other places, including the arms of a student she was teaching. The deaths of her ancestors loom over Blanche’s head which leads to her blaming their death on their “epic fornications.” But it was Blanche’s own epic fornications that led her good reputation to come to an end. What really secured Blanche’s mental and social downfall was Stanley’s rape, this killed what little was left of her sanity. Both the sexual desire of herself and others led her down a road of misery and suffering.
In The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield has flunked out of prep school, something that is all too common to him. He tells his story from a psychiatric hospital in California. He retells how he decided that a few days before winter break he would leave Pencey Prep to explore the vast New York City. Holden struggles with his depression and searches for a meaningful connection with another person during his three-day exploration of New York City. In the end, he spends time with his sister, who is the only person he finds true companionship with.
The title itself of The Catcher in the Rye represents Holden’s confusion about the transition between his childhood and adulthood. While he was out wandering in New York City, Holden discusses the differences he saw between the innocence of childhood compared to the superficiality of adulthood. Being seen as a phony is one of his biggest fears and considers almost every adult he meets to be a phony. In that same breath, children are the pinnacle of innocence in his eyes, this desire to return to the innocence of his own childhood is the underlying cause for all of his erratic behavior throughout the novel.
The title is physically taken out of the Robert Burns poem, “Comin’ Thro the Rye,” which in the novel Holden envisions a literal rye field while on the edge of a cliff. When Phoebe, his sister, asks Holden what he wants to be when he grows up, he answers “the catcher in the rye”. To Holden “the catcher in the rye” is a person who is responsible for catching the children in this field before they can fall over the cliff. This field represents Holden’s own personal utopia that has no restrictions on personal identity and uniqueness. In Holden’s eyes by “catching” these children before the fall, he stops them from falling into the trap that is adulthood which is riddled with deceitfulness and lust.
But like most of Holden’s views on the world, his outlook is narrow and skewed. His fantasy of becoming this messiah of innocence for children before they fall from headfirst into looming adulthood is based on a misunderstanding. His sister has to explain to him that the poem actually reads “if a body meets a body coming through the rye.” Which in Alamance terms means there is no catcher in the rye, it’s merely another one of Holden’s fantasies. By only selecting a portion of the lyrics Holden’s fantasy turns out to be just that, a fantasy. This emphasizes Holden’s limited outlook on life, he only wants to see what he wants to see. Meaning there may not be any place of true innocence, which is Holden’s own personal reason for living, to hopefully one day achieve true innocence once again. Once this fantasy shatters, Holden now does not have any explanation for his actions.
Holden’s misinterpretation of Burns’s poem represents his tendency to idolize the innocence of children. He misinterpreted this even further though and his belief that the young people in the novel are innocent, they are actually in most cases the opposite. A lot of children in this novel caused and faced a lot of trauma and suffering. Allie, Holden’s eleven-year-old brother, died from cancer. Allie’s innocence was taken from him the moment he was diagnosed with cancer, he had to face the idea of death and mortality at an age where your only worry should be who is going to push you on the swing. While Allie himself may have lost his innocent some of the characters in the novel were the victims of the cruelty of children. The maid that Holden’s family has is deaf in one of her ears after an attack by her brother that happened during her youth. Holden willfully blinds himself to the reality that childhood is rarely entirely idyllic.
Titles are the first introduction to the reader about the book. In A Streetcar Named Desire Blanche deals with both the sexual desire of herself and others which leads her down a road of misery and suffering. On the other hand in Catcher in the Rye upon first glance Holden seems like a pretentious narcissist who creates his own issues, he is really at the heart of it a naive child that craves authentic love and attention. The title Catcher in the Rye captures this nativity while Holden is struggling with the reality of life in the big city. In A Streetcar Named Desire Blanche’s fears and desires are represented in the title and Catcher in the Rye shows Holden’s reminiscence of the innocence of his youth.