In Chapter two, when Holden is “shooting the bull” with his history teacher, Mr. Spencer, his mind drifts off and he begins to think of the ducks whose habitat is the lagoon in Central Park South. The ducks are a very important symbol in the novel, because they represent Holden in a way.
Holden first begins to wonder about the ducks at the beginning of the novel, when you see him begin his journey outside of Pencey. While talking to Mr. Spencer, he daydreams about where the ducks in Central Park South go when the lagoon freezes. This is a clear symbol of his uncertainty regarding what his options are after being kicked out of Pencey Prep. He, like the ducks, is being kicked out of his “habitat,” and has nowhere to go for a while. This event foreshadows his crossing of the threshold (thanks middle school), and beginning his journey in the real world.
Later on in the novel, Holden is still very curious about the ducks, so he asks cab drivers if they know where they go in the wintertime. The first one he asks (chapter 9) thinks that Holden is a “madman” and disregards the question completely. The other one he asks, Horwitz, (chapter 12) is very touchy about the topic and Holden says that he gets very sore about it. Horwitz thinks that the question Holden asks is moronic, and that the fish have it tougher in the wintertime. When Holden asks Horwitz what he thinks the fish do in the wintertime, Horwitz responds that they “just stay there,” and that for food, mother nature takes care of them. Again we have the theme of staying the same and changing. Holden is represented by the ducks, because he is being forced to move; however, he would rather be like the fish: stay where he is and be provided for.
In chapter 20, this motif appears again. It is near the climax of the novel and Holden is nearly at the worst of his troubles. Drunk, he walks to Central Park to see the ducks and if they are there. They are not, and this represents the stage in his journey that Holden is in. He has left the lagoon. At this point in the novel, he can no longer stay in his surroundings and be provided for by mother nature; but he is being forced to “migrate” and mature a little more.
The ducks in Central Park South are an important motif in The Catcher in the Rye. They represent Holden and his changing environs. If the ducks appeared at the end of the novel, I think they would return to the lake, but maybe with a different coat.