The Catcher in the Rye | Study Guide

J. D. Salinger

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The Catcher in the Rye | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


In Chapter 1 of The Catcher in the Rye, what does Holden's withholding some personal information suggest about how he perceives his role in his own story?

Holden's refusal to provide the usual details about his birth, family, and childhood suggests how he perceives his role in his own story. First, it suggests that he wants to control the information readers have about him. Second, it tells readers that he does not see himself as a hero. Charles Dickens's character David Copperfield starts his story saying that he doesn't yet know whether he will be the hero of his story; Holden starts his story by implying that he is not the hero.

In Chapter 1 of The Catcher in the Rye, why does Holden object to Pencey Prep's motto?

Pencey Prep's motto reads: "Since 1888 we have been molding boys into splendid, clear-thinking young men." Holden's experience at Pencey has convinced him that this motto is a lie. The students he knows are not "splendid" or "clear-thinking," and the faculty isn't doing "any damn molding." The prestigious school's ads are shams, false representations designed, like the photo of the polo player, to create an attractive image and woo wealthy parents. Readers have to keep in mind that Holden is disgusted with his peers, disengaged from his classes, and worried about his expulsion, so his opinion of Pencey is not unbiased.

In Chapter 2 of The Catcher in the Rye, what does Holden's description of Spencer reveal about his own biases and fears?

On the one hand, Holden admires some things about Spencer and thinks Spencer actually cares about him. On the other hand, Holden has thought a lot about what it must be like to be so old and observes that Spencer's age gives him an excuse to lecture and scold and to refer to Holden, gratingly, as "boy." Holden tries to feel respect for "old Spencer" and sympathy for his illness, but the longer he must stay with his teacher, the more disgusted he becomes by the man's aged, ill body and cranky words.

In Chapter 3 of The Catcher in the Rye, how do interactions between Holden and Ackley develop readers' understanding of Holden as a character?

One characterization tool that authors use is to place characters together and let their interactions reveal traits and details. Readers learn the following: Holden is observant and able to guess at motivations. Ackley's handling Stradlater's things and putting them back not quite right tips Holden off to Ackley's jealous dislike of Stradlater. Holden, while he may be sarcastic, also has compassion. Holden is a peacemaker. He tries to persuade Ackley that Stradlater isn't so bad. Holden enjoys stirring the pot—that is, he likes to mess with people sometimes. He calls Ackley "Ackley kid" just to aggravate him.

In Chapter 4 of The Catcher in the Rye, what do Holden's behaviors as Stradlater prepares for his date suggest about the pair's roles in their relationship?

Holden's behaviors in this chapter place him firmly in the subservient role in his relationship with Stradlater. Holden performs an odd little tap-dance for Stradlater. Holden seems to crave Stradlater's approval, and he gets it. Stradlater presses Holden to write his English composition for him. Stradlater ignores most of what Holden says about Jane and listens just for details that might give him an advantage with Jane. It's not surprising that Stradlater dominates his roommate. Stradlater is two years older than Holden and far more experienced, sexually and academically. What is surprising, perhaps, is the extent to which Holden kowtows to Stradlater, whose faults he knows well.

In Holden's description of Allie in Chapter 5 of The Catcher in the Rye, in what ways is and isn't Allie a model of childhood?

Holden's description of Allie captures how an innocent, pure life should look: Allie was "terrifically intelligent." Allie was "the nicest" person in the family. Allie was inventive, figuring out how to keep from being bored at baseball games. Allie seemed to be near when Holden needed him. Allie's short life shatters Holden's vision of childhood because Allie dies. When Holden smashes the garage windows, he is basically unaware of his actions: "I hardly didn't even know I was doing it." Yet the action captures his reaction to the shattering of Holden's idea of childhood as a protected time. He may not grasp this fact yet.

In Chapter 6 of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden can't explain what happened after Stradlater's date. When else can't he explain something? What do the events have in common?

Holden apologizes that he was so worried that he can't explain what happened to cause the fight with Stradlater; in fact, he can't even remember what happened. In the previous chapter, he says that he was hardly aware of breaking the garage windows with his fist. In both events Holden has a sense that someone innocent and pure is being harmed and that he can't help or protect them. In both events Holden's reaction is violent and ends in his being bloodied and injured. His reaction to these events is so painful to Holden that afterward he can't remember his reactions clearly.

In Chapter 7 of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden asks Ackley what is involved in joining a monastery. What does this question suggest about Holden in this context?

The anxiety over Jane's sexual purity and vulnerability overwhelms Holden. To avoid sex and its intimidating consequences, he'd have to withdraw entirely from the world, as monks entering a monastery do. The idea of adult sexuality upsets Holden so profoundly that he fantasizes this escape. Part of his fury at Stradlater is that Stradlater won't tell him what happened (as a gentleman should not), both denying Holden's curiosity about sex and leaving him to imagine the worst. The sexless environment of a monastery provides him with a curious but fitting fantasy.

What are Holden's motivations and goals in Chapter 8 of The Catcher in the Rye when he converses with Mrs. Morrow on the train?

Holden adopts the persona of "Rudolf Schmidt" (the name of his dorm's janitor) with Mrs. Morrow. As readers already know, he enjoys making up stories on the fly. But his motivations go beyond keeping from getting caught leaving school early. Holden is trying out an adult sexual behavior in a safe environment. He flirts by flattering Mrs. Morrow in praising her son, whom he despises. He lights her cigarette and invites her for drinks. Mrs. Morrow asserts the appropriate relationship between them by inviting him to visit her son, not her, over the summer.

In Chapter 9 of The Catcher in the Rye, what are Holden's encounters and interactions when he visits the seedy section of the city around the Edmont Hotel?

Because Holden is a teenager playing at adult behavior rather than a teenager engaging with adults as himself, the encounters are unsuccessful and unsatisfactory. He keeps offering conversation ideas despite the cab driver's hostile responses. Holden next interacts with the bellboy, whose age, physical condition, and job depress Holden. Holden then watches adults in other rooms engaging in sexual play that he can't fathom but can't look away from. Holden also attempts to call a woman who might be willing to have sex. But the woman quickly makes excuses for why she can't meet him.

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