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The Catcher in the Rye | Study Guide

J. D. Salinger

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The Catcher in the Rye | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


Consider Holden's behavior toward Sally during the cab ride to the theater in The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 17. In what way is this behavior hypocritical?

Not only does Holden use "phony" language during this scene, but he forces his physical affection on Sally against her wishes, as Stradlater did with Jane. Perhaps the difference is that Sally has dressed attractively for the date and that he considers her a "phony," while he suspects Stradlater was attacking an innocent Jane. However Holden might attempt to justify his behavior, it places him in the category with the young men he ranted about only moments earlier.

Compare the "cabin" fantasy Holden offers Sally in The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 17, to his "monastery" suggestion in Chapter 7. In both cases, what is Holden really seeking?

These fantasies are similar in that both take Holden far from the crowded city. But the cabin fantasy is more realistic than the monastery fantasy because it involves components of the usual adult world, while excluding the social settings that irritate and perplex Holden but delight Sally. What he is really seeking is the protection of isolation. Away from all or most people, he would be free of the burdensome need of parsing every word and action for phoniness. His existence would be more like that of the simple, innocent child Allie represents to him.

Review Holden's summary of the movie plot in The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 18. What objections does he raise? What does his detailed knowledge of the plot suggest?

Holden objects to the plot's contrived nature and the threat to the lovers, which is class-based, but then objects equally to the way the threat is resolved. At its core the movie is about the very things Holden is struggling with: identity and finding a place in the world.This may be why, despite claiming to want to puke and despite his irritation with the sobbing woman nearby, Holden stays to see how the movie will end. The plot might contain a hint about how he can find out who he is and what his place in the world is.

After the movie in The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 18, Holden thinks about war. What frightens him about the thought of going to war? How realistic are these fears?

Holden's fears about having to serve in the army are self-centered and focused not on his safety but on his discomfort with his peers and the adults he knows. Already he's fled Stradlater, Ackley, and others at Pencey, and he's fled Maurice and the "jerks" in bars. His idea of hell is being forced to interact with such people, not the possibility that he would have to kill or that he might die. He and D.B. disagree about A Farewell to Arms because D.B.'s experiences are realistic, while Holden's experiences are tightly restricted. He imagines war as a sort of long, drawn-out, boring scout campout; he doesn't understand what war really is.

What fear does Holden reveal as he waits for Carl Luce in The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 19? Thinking back to earlier chapters, what events hint at this fear?

At the Wicker Bar, Holden watches "flits," or gay men, and thinks about the sex talks that Luce gave younger students. Luce revealed that tough-guy Hollywood actors who played manly roles and were married were in fact gay, which was shocking enough, but Luce also frightened Holden by claiming that a boy who "had the traits" might one day wake up gay. Holden's sexual longings are still vague. He doesn't know yet how to sort out these thoughts and responses, so the presence of the gay men scares him, and he approaches the conversation with Luce to get more information.

Holden's conversation with Luce in The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 19, fails, yet one idea resonates deeply with Holden. What is that idea? What does it reveal about Holden?

Luce talks, reluctantly, about Eastern philosophy and its approach to sexuality. Luce won't discuss the matter, but Holden's outburst articulates the book's thematic disconnect between the models of sexual relations that he has gathered from culture and the relationship he really wants. The physical is an aspect of that relationship, but so is the deep spiritual connection between people. Through his minimal forays into sexuality, he has caught a glimpse of sex as an expression of spiritual intimacy with Jane, and he catches another glimpse in the conversation with Luce.

How does the fantasy Holden relates in the second paragraph in The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 20, reflect his reality?

Holden has both a strong need to be seen and known as a young man emerging into adulthood and a strong desire to keep his identity hidden and safe. As he sits at the Wicker Bar, he tries to catch the singer's eye, but she ignores him so he returns to his fantasy. In his fantasy, he hides the wound; in reality, he is depressed by those around him, rejected even by the phony Sally. Yet his one attempt, so far, to reveal something of his pain was met by Sally's rejection and only worsened the wound.

In Chapter 20 of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden sits by the slushy pond and thinks about funerals. What does this section reveal about the sources of Holden's depression?

Holden fantasizes about his own funeral, but readers quickly realize that Holden's thoughts are not about his own funeral but about Allie's funeral, which Holden missed, still hospitalized with his cut-up hand. He hates that people can visit a grave and then go out for dinner, as if the death hasn't changed anything. For Holden, Allie's death changed everything. The absent ducks, the pond that's neither liquid nor ice, all the world in transition around him, and his own internal struggle to mature—these contribute to his depression. But Allie's death from a cancer that reached into the protected zone of childhood is the blow that Holden can't recover from.

Describe the restorative effect that simply being home has on Holden in Chapter 21 of The Catcher in the Rye. What does it suggest about his family?

Holden, after fleeing his teachers and peers and failing to connect with an adult or peer in the city, is home, where he knows he is loved as he is. Holden has been avoiding his parents because he knows his expulsion will hurt them. However, he also knows that his family will not reject him and will be glad to have him home over the holidays. No other setting in the novel thus far has allowed him to relax and rest, and no other setting does.

In Chapter 21 of The Catcher in the Rye, readers finally encounter Phoebe, who, as Holden says, becomes emotional. What do her emotions reveal about who she is?

Phoebe is overjoyed to have Holden back, embracing him and trying to deliver all her news at once. When he explains that he was drunk and broke her record, rather than scolding him, she keeps the shards as if they're treasures, indicating that intent matters more to her than the actual record. Phoebe is also capable of anger. She quickly figures out why Holden is at the apartment, at which point she hits Holden's leg and shuns him, hiding under her pillow. Phoebe is bright and passionate; unlike Holden, she's not afraid to show who she is.

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