The Catcher in the Rye | Study Guide

J. D. Salinger

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The Catcher in the Rye | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


In Chapter 10 of The Catcher in the Rye, how is Holden's treatment of the tourists in the Lavender Room contrary to his own standards of "phoniness"?

Holden has complained about the "phoniness" of the adult world. It's worth noting that he treats Bernice, Marty, and Laverne in "phony" ways. Holden behaves in a sexist way toward the women, insisting on dancing provocatively with Bernice. Holden is clueless that the women don't find him as enticing as he thinks they should. But where Holden really gets into the phony behavior is his assumptions about the women. He comes to nearly despise the women for their behavior in "his" city. However, the tourists play Holden for their purposes, too, sticking him with the check as they leave.

Readers never see or hear Jane in The Catcher in the Rye, yet Holden thinks of her often, as he does in Chapter 11. What does Jane mean to Holden?

Jane is a girl to whom Holden connected during one summer in a genuine way. He recalls how Jane appreciated Allie's glove and that she is something of a damsel in distress that, he thinks, may have to do with her father trying to "get wise" with her but that might have to do, readers deduce, with the pain her father causes her mother. Holden felt at ease and natural with Jane. Jane is frozen in Holden's memory as the sweet young girl with a secret sorrow; he's still trying to protect that girl.

Holden observes couples at Ernie's in Chapter 12 of The Catcher in the Rye. What models do they present him for male-female relationships, and how does he react to them?

The adults at Ernie's strike Holden as "phony," though his reactions to and comments about them also reveal his own biases and immaturity. He watches a young man recite a football game to a girl and sees that the girl is bored, but she listens. Holden also watches a slightly drunk couple. What the man says and what he does seem incongruous to Holden.The other couple Holden observes is Lillian and Commander Blop. They seem nearly disconnected. In each case the couple Holden observes enjoy no intimacy of interests. Holden finds these models of adult relationships dissatisfying.

Review Holden's comments on being "yellow" in The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 13, and analyze his fantasy about killing Maurice in Chapter 14 in light of these comments.

Holden's stolen gloves get him thinking about his own courage and cowardice and reveal his lack of self-confidence and ability to assert his needs. He plays out a confrontation in which he loses thoroughly. Holden doesn't like to hit with his fists because that act forces him to look at the person's face. This suggests that, when Holden looks at a person, he no longer wants to harm that person. This he takes to be cowardice, but in fact, it could be his humanity and basic decency. Regardless, Holden's musings on being "yellow" help readers understand how his disgust over the thought of touching Maurice keeps him from striking back, other than in words. His fantasy of shooting Maurice in his big belly is deeply satisfying; the imagined gun and bullets carry out the action that Holden can't bring himself to take.

Review Holden's explanation of why he always "stops" with girls in Chapter 13 of The Catcher in the Rye. What does it reveal about how Holden views female sexuality?

Holden summarizes sexual encounters between boys and girls in these steps: They start "necking." The girl says, "Stop." Do they really want him to stop? Are they scared? He doesn't know. He stops, but "most guys" don't. Girls "los[e] their brains" around guys. Later, he's sorry he stopped. Holden says that he pities girls, because when a girl gets "passionate, she just hasn't any brains." This explanation is in keeping with Holden's inability to think of Jane as a maturing woman with sexual desires. It fits in with his sense that girls, like children, must be protected against corruption by the adult world.

In Chapter 14 of The Catcher in the Rye, doubts keep Holden from praying. To whom does he speak instead? What does this choice suggest about when Holden feels safe?

Holden speaks to Allie. He recalls a time in Maine when he and a friend chose not to take Allie with them to the lake because he was too young. Holden tells Allie to get his bike and join them, rectifying after Allie's death a wrong for which he can't forgive himself. This suggests that Holden, when distressed or sad, returns in memory to a time and place he felt safe. Of course it was not; no place is. Readers begin to grasp what a chasm Allie's death has opened in Holden's mind.

Why do the nuns' suitcases sadden Holden in The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 15?

The nuns have cheap suitcases, which makes him think of a former roommate who was ashamed of his own suitcases. Holden showed, at that time, mature sensitivity to Dick Slagle's embarrassment, stowing his own good luggage out of sight. Instead, Slagle tried to gain status by showing off Holden's suitcases as his own. The suitcases represent, to Holden, class barriers. Yet Holden's grasp of class barriers is limited, as readers see when he describes his spending habits. Still, he is generous, a trait he has in common with his father, who keeps investing in Broadway flops.

Describe the kid Holden hears singing in The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 16. What does Holden like about the child? How does the kid fit Holden's notion of childhood?

The kid Holden hears singing is imaginative—he walks along, "making out like he was walking a very straight line." He is also independent, walking apart from his parents, and happy, singing for nobody but himself. Finally, he is resolute: he pays no attention to street noises but goes on walking and singing. After Holden's horrid interactions with Maurice and Sunny, Holden can reenter the pleasant world of childhood. The presence of the kid and the thought of how happy the record he has bought will make Phoebe give Holden a few moments of respite from his worries.

Explain the Museum of Natural History's importance to Holden in The Catcher in the Rye. What does his decision, as Chapter 16 ends, not to enter the museum suggest?

The Museum of Natural History is a place closely connected to Holden's memories of a simple and innocent childhood. He can recall in great detail school trips to the museum, especially the sameness of the exhibits. Things outside the museum change, but in the museum static exhibits bring troubling life to a stop. Holden realizes that he has had many pleasurable moments with Allie, Phoebe, and D.B. that he would like to preserve forever like the exhibits in the museum. At the same time, he understands that trying to freeze these moments is futile and unrealistic. When he gets to the museum, he changes his mind about going in. It's likely that Holden senses that, if he goes in, some exhibits might have changed. It may be also that Holden himself has changed, so the museum might not have the familiar comforting effect.

Holden opens Chapter 17 of The Catcher in the Rye with a rant about "guys." Describe the kind of adult relationships Holden rejects in this chapter.

Holden's rant is prompted by the sight of girls waiting for their dates. He wants to save them all from the vision of male adulthood he has created. Guys are: more interested in cars than their wives sore losers very mean not interested in books boring dopey While there surely are examples of such men, Holden's tendency is to generalize. He may be describing his own fears that he will end up trapped in such a marriage rather than his fears for the girls he watches.

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