The Catcher in the Rye home assignment
- Consider Holden’s ideas about childhood and adulthood. Are childhood and adulthood are as separate as Holden thinks they are? If so, which category would he fit in?
- The Catcher in The Rye is written with a cyclical plot where we do not fully understand Holden’s situation until we reach the end and reevaluate the beginning. In a well-written essay, discuss how Holden reveals himself. Be sure to explain the clues he gives as the story unfolds.
- How does Salinger tend to end chapters? What do these endings have in common? How do they work to set the tone of the novel?
- The Catcher in the Rye centers on a young man—can women relate to this novel, too? What about Holden is gender-specific, and what is common to all teenagers?
Consider Holden’s ideas about childhood and adulthood. Are childhood and adulthood are as
separate as Holden thinks they are? If so, which category would he fit in?
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.
How does Salinger tend to end chapters? What do these endings have in common? How do they work to set the tone of the novel?
In this novel, the chapters tend to end with a general reflection on some aspect of life by the narrator, Holden. For instance, chapter 12 concludes with the glum observation: People are always ruining things for you. Chapter 15 ends with a similarly sweeping and downbeat remark about money: Goddam money. It always ends up making you blue as hell.
In both these quotes it can be seen that Holden uses the second person form of narration. Holden in this way directly addresses the reader and indeed seems to assume that the reader shares all his generally negative experiences and ideas about life.
These chapter endings help to set the reflective, conversational, and indeed confessional tone of the book. Holden openly invites the reader to share all his thoughts, feelings, doubts and perplexities throughout. At the very end of the novel he is still doing this as he admonishes his audience to never ‘tell anybody anything. If you do, you end up missing everybody’ (chapter 26).
Holden has told us everything, and yet warns us off from doing the same. He leaves us with a lasting impression of a character rich in contradictions, alienated from other people and yet always reaching out to them in one form or another – and nowhere more so than in the intimate sense of connection which he attempts to forge with his readers.
The Catcher in The Rye is written with a cyclical plot where we do not fully understand Holden’s situation until we reach the end and reevaluate the beginning. In a well-written essay, discuss how Holden reveals himself. Be sure to explain the clues he gives as the story unfolds.
Holden Caulfield’s character is, as a narrator as well as a main character, ambiguous. His narrative is disjointed, unreliable, and involves lengthy digressions that seemingly jump from one topic to the next with very few rational links. It is, however, important to remember that J.D. Salinger is an excellent author and that he has created the narrative in this way to emphasise the workings (or lack thereof) of Holden’s mind. What is truly astonishing is that on a closer look at the structure of The Catcher in the Rye we can see that Salinger has, despite the outward appearance, structured the novel in an extremely logical and rational manner. By examining this, you might be able to, more coherently, pull together a novel that often seems overwhelmingly complex and erratic.
The point of any author is to express particular things about the main character. In most novels authors use other characters to highlight and emphasise characteristics of the main character. The Catcher in the Rye is no different, except for the fact that the other characters are more important than usual because the narrator is so unreliable. Holden tells us himself that he is ‘The most terrific liar you ever saw in your life’ (p14), he narrates from a mental institution and his commentary is erratic and overly cynical. For this reason the minor characters in The Catcher in the Rye, are a very important reference point through which the reader can better understand Holden. Focus on Mr Spencer, Maurice and Sunny, Ackley and Stradlater, Sally Hayes, Carl Luce, Phoebe and Mr Antolini.
The Catcher in the Rye centers on a young man—can women relate to this novel, too? What about Holden is gender-specific, and what is common to all teenagers?
In my opinion it doesn’t matter is it young man or young lady, they both can resents the adult world and resists entry into it, but they have little choice. Society and their own bodies are telling them that it is time for them to change. They are attracted to the trappings of adulthood: booze, cigarettes, the idea of sex, and a kind of independence. But they both despise the compromises, loss of innocence, absence of integrity, and loss of authenticity in the grown-up world. This novel presents a coming-of-age story, but with a twist. The usual pattern in this genre of fiction is for the protagonist to begin in turmoil, struggle toward maturity, face various obstacles that initially defeat him but that he can overcome through virtue and perseverance, and eventually triumph. On the place of Holden can be any teenagers, not depending of nationality, gender and status of his or her family.