RE: The Catcher in the Rye home assignment
- Many readers observe that The Catcher in the Rye is a novel about grief. In what ways does Holden exhibit aspects of the grieving process? Does he reach any sort of closure or letting go? How do you know?
- In what ways is The Catcher in the Rye a novel of social protest? What aspects of society does Salinger critique? What alternatives does he offer?
- Holden, like each of us, faces living in a world he did not create. Nobody, not even Holden, can live in a culture without having some of it rub off on them. What faults of his society does Holden exhibit? How does Salinger reveal these faults to readers?
Holden, like each of us, faces living in a world he did not create. Nobody, not even Holden, can live in a culture without having some of it rub off on them. What faults of his society does Holden exhibit? How does Salinger reveal these faults to readers?
According to most analyses, The Catcher in the Rye is a bildungsroman, a novel about a young character’s growth into maturity. While it is appropriate to discuss the novel in such terms, Holden Caulfield is an unusual protagonist for a bildungsroman because his central goal is to resist the process of maturity itself. As his thoughts about the Museum of Natural History demonstrate, Holden fears change and is overwhelmed by complexity. He wants everything to be easily understandable and eternally fixed, like the statues of Eskimos and Indians in the museum. He is frightened because he is guilty of the sins he criticizes in others, and because he can’t understand everything around him. But he refuses to acknowledge this fear, expressing it only in a few instances—for example, when he talks about sex and admits that “[s]ex is something I just don’t understand. I swear to God I don’t” (Chapter 9).
Instead of acknowledging that adulthood scares and mystifies him, Holden invents a fantasy that adulthood is a world of superficiality and hypocrisy (“phoniness”), while childhood is a world of innocence, curiosity, and honesty. Nothing reveals his image of these two worlds better than his fantasy about the catcher in the rye: he imagines childhood as an idyllic field of rye in which children romp and play; adulthood, for the children of this world, is equivalent to death—a fatal fall over the edge of a cliff. His created understandings of childhood and adulthood allow Holden to cut himself off from the world by covering himself with a protective armor of cynicism. But as the book progresses, Holden’s experiences, particularly his encounters with Mr. Antolini and Phoebe, reveal the shallowness of his conceptions.