Questions for study with ideas for answers
Question: Interpret the novel’s metaphoric title ‘The Catcher in the Rye’. Who is he and what is his role?
Ideas : The catcher in the rye is Holden. The field of tall rye
borders a cliff that marks the boundary between childhood and adulthood.
Because the rye is tall, the children who play there cannot see the cliff.
Holden would like to see himself as the ‘catcher’ who prevents the children from falling down to the adult world, which is full of ugliness and hypocrisy.
He has made that journey alone, and suffers from the pain of that fall and
wishes to protect other children from the same fate.
He has a great admiration for children due to their innocence and honesty,
two traits that are missing in his adult world.
Holden was forced to make the transition due to his burgeoning sexuality.
Many of the most stressful encounters, which Holden has with the adult
world, the blow-up with the prostitute Sunny, and the argument with his date Sally, for instance, are occasioned by his sexuality.
Question : Holden always sees
the worst in people. Choose characters from the book and indicate how Holden views them in a negative fashion.
Ideas : D.B. Caulfield – Holden considers his brother as having sold-out to
Hollywood rather than pursuing a promising career in short story writing. He feels that his brother is leading a phony life, and not realizing his full potential.
Ward Stradlater – Holden considers him to be vain and a boorish womanizer
with questionably hygiene habits, e.g. his dirty razor. He also feels him to be very self-centered. Perhaps because he is dating Holden’s ex girlfriend this may tarnish his view of Stradlater.
Sally Hayes – Holden sees her to be a shallow, hypocrite lacking in feelings
for others. He was only attracted to her good looks and the fact that she was a socialite attending a well-established girls’ school. He considers that her main motivation is to be attractive and
popular, at which she is very successful.
Robert Ackley – Holden shows signs of caring for his fellow student of
Pencey Prep due to Ackley’s insecurity, but he finds fault in his terrible dental hygiene and acne problems. He sees through the elaborate lies, which Ackley makes up regarding his sexual conquests.
Remember that the views given about the other characters in the book are
from a narrator’s perspective, which is cynical and pessimistic.
Question : Although the narrator never actually refers to his own psychological breakdown directly, it is clear he is suffering from the onset of a nervous breakdown by the bizarre events, which take place during his story. Give examples of these episodes in chronological order.
Ideas : Loss of fencing team’s equipment on subway.
Agreeing to write an essay for Stradlater on a highly personal topic.
Yelling abuse at fellow students on leaving the dorm for the final time.
Making up absurd lies concerning a fellow student and his own health.
Wearing a strange hat.
Talking aloud to his deceased brother.
Suggesting running away with Sally.
These are just a few of the many indicators regarding Holden’s
Question : Many of the events in ‘Catcher in the Rye’ are similar to Salinger’s early life. Please give examples.
Ideas : Both Holden and Salinger moved from Prep school to Prep school.
Both were threatened with attending Military School.
Both knew an older Columbian student.
The novel combines details of Salinger’s early life with the post war world
in which it was written. This story was published in 1951
Salinger is famous for being reclusive, and Holden had problems in relating
to adults thereby leaving him isolated from his peers.
Both have become icons.
Question : Comment on Holden’s narration of the events concerning his breakdown.
Ideas : A narrator of a story would normally be expected to provide accurate
information concerning the events and characters in the book. In this respect, clearly Holden fails because we obtain a warped view of the characters and the locations described in the book. It is from
this aspect that we actually obtain a very good insight into Holden’s state of mind.
Therefore, the lack of accuracy regarding the characters does not in fact affect the quality of the story, but rather enhances it, thus making it appealing to the reader. We do, however, obtain a good impression regarding Holden’s younger siblings, which are viewed on as having no adverse characteristics. Again, would this be totally accurate? In conclusion, therefore, the adults in the tale are all bad to a lesser or greater degree, and the children are all good.