The Catcher in the Rye | Study Guide

J. D. Salinger

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The Catcher in the Rye | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


Why is Phoebe worried about Holden in The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 22—beyond his most recent expulsion, that is? What does her concern suggest about her perceptive mind?

Holden explains his objections to Pencey, but Phoebe grasps that Pencey is not the problem. Holden's current psychological state is. Now Holden feels more depressed because he knows she's right; he can't name anything he likes. Twice he complains that he "couldn't concentrate" on an answer as his mind connects the nuns, a student who killed himself, and Allie. Phoebe is so worried about Holden's happiness that he must convince her that talking with her, which makes him happy, matters and that it's enough for now. She accepts this answer but scolds him for using profanity.

In Chapter 22 of The Catcher in the Rye, why does Holden object to becoming a lawyer like his father? What do his objections suggest about his developing identity?

Holden continues to think of himself as a heroic figure, a protector and defender of the innocent. He can admire lawyers who save the lives of innocent people, but the lawyers he knows make money, have drinks, and polish their image. In other words, they're phony. And if he were a lawyer and did save innocent lives, he'd never know whether he did so for selfless motivations or to receive praise and admiration. So many of Holden's attitudes are self-centered, but he seems to have a genuine desire to serve others, not merely to serve himself.

In The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 22, Holden tells Phoebe that he wants to be "the catcher in the rye." What does he mean, and why does she object?

Holden bases this job on his misunderstanding of Robert Burns's poem "Comin' Thro' the Rye" and imagines a field of rye, bounded by a cliff and full of happily playing children. No other older people are there, and he must watch for and catch each child who strays near the cliff. That is, he wishes he could protect the innocent, happy childhood years. If Phoebe disapproved of Holden's motivation, she would say so, but all she says is, "Daddy's going to kill you," suggesting that she knows that Holden's plan isn't realistic. Childhood is not a closed, protected time. It is vulnerable to pain, disappointment, and death, just as any age is. Phoebe is wiser than Holden in her understanding of this fact.

In Chapter 23 of The Catcher in the Rye, how do Holden and Phoebe demonstrate their affection?

Holden and Phoebe dance, and he praises the progress she's made. Then he indulges Phoebe's belief that she can will herself to feel feverish by yanking his hand away from her forehead. After their mother goes to bed, Holden sobs as he parts from Phoebe, so much that he thought he would choke and that he frightened her. Finally, he leaves her his red hunting hat, which has become associated with his emerging adult identity, to comfort her. The hat is a surrogate for his presence. To accept it, Phoebe has to let Holden leave.

In Chapter 23 of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden "almost wished" that his parents had caught him. What does this suggest about his state and his relationship to his parents?

It suggests that Holden, who has worked hard and risked a lot going home before the semester ends, has come to the end of his resources, physically and mentally. Holden may be more vulnerable than ever, readers sense, as he tries to make it until Tuesday before coming home. Yet it also suggests that he knows that he can come home. His father is not going to "kill" him, as Phoebe says. In fact, given the caring exchange between Phoebe and their mother, it's more likely that his parents will see his fragile condition and take care of him.

Based on Chapter 24 of The Catcher in the Rye and on Holden's earlier comments, why does Holden trust Mr. Antolini, to whom he turns as a last resort?

Readers have already learned that Mr. Antolini is not much older than D.B., which helps Holden relate to him, and that Mr. Antolini was the teacher who carried James Castle's broken body to the infirmary. Now readers see Mr. Antolini greet Holden warmly; meet his immediate needs for shelter, coffee, and food; and listen to Holden's complaints, apologizing when he interrupts a question about Holden's grades. He, in fact, meets both Holden's immediate physical and mental needs. This is one reason Holden reacts violently when he thinks his trust has been betrayed.

In Chapter 24 of The Catcher in the Rye, what specifics does Mr. Antolini include that may persuade Holden to continue with his education?

Mr. Antolini describes creative people as deeply interested in human experience, observant, and concerned, as Holden is. He says that these people are willing to follow their ideas "through to the end" and record their thoughts to share them, which is in a sense what Holden does in his long monologue. But most importantly, Mr. Antolini says that these people also tend to be more humble because of their education, not less. They are less phony, he implies, because they keep learning. These traits may well persuade Holden to reconsider the idea that school can be meaningful.

Describe the crisis Holden experiences as he walks down Fifth Avenue in Chapter 25 of The Catcher in the Rye. Why does he respond to the experience as he does?

Holden experiences what seems to be a panic attack. He sweats and cannot get his breath. Under the delusion that, as he steps off the curb into the street, he will sink and disappear, Holden begs Allie, his protector in distress, to keep him from falling. In essence he pleads with Allie to be his catcher—appropriately, since Allie's talisman is a catcher's glove. Holden's reaction to this nightmarish experience is to flee everything that has brought him to this state; he takes comfort in his fantasy about living out West as a deaf-mute.

In Chapter 25 of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden says that someone sneaked into the school to write obscene graffiti. Why must Holden cling to this unlikely story?

Holden has constructed an ideal of childhood that protects him from some of the pain he feels over Allie. Sexual innocence and purity are central to his ideal, so to acknowledge that a student at Phoebe's school wrote the graffiti would collapse this protection. Holden objects to the graffiti's presence so strongly that his fantasy turns violently bloody; he imagines that he would smash the writer's head against the stairs. His desire to shield Phoebe adds to his frantic, grieving, but admittedly unrealistic response to the words.

What breakthrough realization does Holden have at the end of Chapter 25 of The Catcher in the Rye? How does it affect his decision about going out West?

As Holden watches the kids trying to reach the gold ring, he comments that "you have to let them do it, and not say anything." They may fall, but he should not try to stop them. They choose to take the risk. His explanation suggests that there can't really be a catcher in the rye who keeps the children safe in the field. Childhood has risks. Holden's change of mind about the cabin out West seems to arise from this realization. He has to step off the cliff, let go of his idealized childhood, and face his future.

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