Study Guide

The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye Analysis

The Catcher in the Rye (Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

The Work

Published in 1951, The Catcher in the Rye was an immediate best-seller and a Book- of-the-Month-Club selection. The controversy surrounding it began almost simultaneously with its publication. The complaints against this book have been steady throughout the years, beginning in 1954 in California’s Los Angeles and Marin counties. Surveys taken in the early 1960’s indicated that the book was one of the most often banned selections, as well as one of the most frequently taught books in schools. Two decades later its rankings in both categories remained essentially unchanged. The book has been a target of censorship by critics who have found its central character, Holden Caulfield, a poor “role model” who uses foul language, among other things. Those who defend the book, however, maintain that its multidimensional qualities justify teaching it in literature courses at all educational levels.

The Storyline

As the narrator of The Catcher in the Rye, Caulfield describes the two days that he spends roaming New York City because his “nerves were shot.” He uses this trip as a temporary escape before his parents learn that he has been expelled from yet another prep school. During this adventure, Caulfield makes both an actual and symbolic journey. In New York, he not only finds diversion from the problems he is having at school, but he immerses himself in the place that he finds most confusing—the adult world. As he wanders the city, he visits bars, encounters a prostitute, calls an old girlfriend, helps several nuns, and sneaks home for a brief visit with his kid sister, Phoebe, whom he dearly loves.

Caulfield discloses both the concrete details of his excursion to New York and the intimate details of his inner self. As an antihero, Caulfield finds it difficult to function in a system where nothing seems to be done for its own sake. Instead he sees people behaving primarily to satisfy others’ expectations. Although he strives for a sense of normalcy, he knows that he will never attain it. He remains a tortured adolescent; unable to understand life, he dismisses all adults as “phonies” and regards life as an unevenly matched game.

Procensorship Arguments

Caulfield’s poor attitude about life is only a minor point for those who have tried to censor this book. A 1991-1992 study by the People for the American Way found that this novel was among those most likely to be censored on the grounds that it is “anti- Christian,” or opposed to a censor’s religious convictions. Throughout the United States, parents have objected to the teaching of the book to their children in the public classroom because of its sexual content, references to drinking, rebellion, profanity, vulgarity, and prostitution. Other charges leveled against teaching the book have included its portrayal of an allegedly immoral figure who is a poor role model for youths, its negative depictions of adults, and its lack of literary value. Some who have fought to censor this novel have taken a middle ground, claiming that the book should not be read by high- school-age students because it contains primarily adult themes. In 1991, for example, an organization called Concerned Citizens of Florida wanted to remove the book from a high school library, charging that its content was “immoral” and had “no literary merit.”

The language that Caulfield uses to tell his story is another broad basis of contention for censors. Some parents who have formally complained about the teaching of the book have counted hundreds of “vulgarities,” such as “damn,” “Chrissakes,” “horny,” “hell,” “crap,” and “bastard.”

Anticensorship Arguments

Those who have taught The Catcher in the Rye, or have advocated teaching the book, have generally emphasized its literary value and have objected to the idea of censorship in general. Supporters have argued that if the book were removed from classrooms or libraries because of the objections of a few parents, all children would be harmed by such censorship. Those who have taught the book point out that it is much more than the tale of a misfit teenager. In using the antihero device, Salinger created a character with whom young readers can easily identify. However, this is exactly what has alarmed those who have wished to censor the book. Supporters of the book argue that those who call Caulfield a poor role model forget that he does want to become a hero to children. Indeed, the title of the book derives from a dream in which he stands in a rye field next to a cliff. As children run toward him, he catches them before they fall over the edge of the cliff. Symbolically, Caulfield is saving these children from becoming adults. He does not want himself or any children to fall into the adult world. For those who teach the novel, this is why they teach it—its thought-provoking theme of passing from a child’s to an adult’s world without hope of turning back. For those against it, this represents just another negative characterization of adults, and that when coupled with the foul language and suggestive scenes also in the novel, it is inappropriate material to be taught in schools.


Bloom, Harold, ed. Holden Caulfield. New York: Chelsea House, 1990.

Grunwald, Henry Anatole, ed. Salinger: A Critical and Personal Portrait. New York: Har-per & Row, 1962. Contains two important articles on The Catcher in the Rye. One deals with Holden Caulfield as an heir of Huck Finn; the other is a study of the novel’s language.

Laser, Marvin, and Norman Fruman, eds. Studies in J. D. Salinger: Reviews, Essays, and Critiques of “The Catcher in the Rye” and Other Fiction. New York: Odyssey Press, 1963. Includes an intriguing essay by a German, Hans Bungert, another by a Russian writer, and one of the best structural interpretations of the novel, by Carl F. Strauch.

Marsden, Malcolm M., ed. If You Really Want to Know: A “Catcher” Casebook. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman, 1963. Contains reviews of the original publication of the novel. Examines Holden from opposing points of view, as “saint or psychotic.”

Pinsker, Sanford. “The Catcher in the Rye”: Innocence Under Pressure. Boston: Twayne, 1993. A sustained study of the novel. Contains a helpful section on the body of critical literature on the novel.

Salzberg, Joel, ed. Critical Essays on Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye.” Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990.

Salzman, Jack, ed. New Essays on “The Catcher in the Rye.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Provides an unusual sociological reading of the novel as well as an essay that firmly places the novel in American literary history.

Steinle, Pamela Hunt. “The Catcher in the Rye” Censorship Controversies and Postwar American Character. A study of the impact of the novel on its release during a nervous period in American social history.

The Catcher in the Rye Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*New York City

*New York City. Primary setting for most of Salinger’s writings. Salinger knew the city well; while he grants New York the “big-city” aura for which it is famous, he also paints a picture of the city’s darker side. Instead of having Holden attend fancy cocktail parties, Salinger has him staying at the seedy Edmont Hotel and sleeping in Grand Central Station. According to Salinger, New York is a place that brings out the worst in people.

*Upper East Side

*Upper East Side. Manhattan neighborhood in which Holden’s family lives. While his parents are away, he visits with his sister Phoebe in the family apartment. For Holden, Phoebe is the only person who is not a phony, and Salinger paints a portrait of her as pure innocence. Everything in her room is neat and orderly, including her schoolbooks. The whole apartment suggests normalcy and structure, the two things Holden needs more than anything else.

Edmont Hotel

Edmont Hotel. Rundown hotel in which Holden stays. The building represents the uglier side of New York City, and its ugliness is reinforced in a scene involving a prostitute named Sunny and one in which Holden makes unsuccessful sexual advances toward two women at a nightclub.

*Rockefeller Center

*Rockefeller Center. New York City landmark with a public ice skating rink to which Holden takes Sally Hayes on a date. While ice-skating should be a happy endeavor, Holden cannot get over the feeling that there are phonies all around them. Holden’s feelings are so overwhelming that they begin to spill over into his relationships with others, including Sally.

Pencey Prep

Pencey Prep. Residential military school in Agerstown, Pennsylvania, that Holden attends. Salinger based the school on Valley Forge Military Academy, his old military school in Pennsylvania. Although these students are in military school, Salinger shows them to be like other children; for example, Ackley’s room is as much a mess as Ackley himself. Nevertheless, Holden is impelled to rebel against the school’s attempts at military discipline.


Taxicabs. On his way to the Edmont Hotel, Holden asks the cabdriver what happens to the ducks in the wintertime. On his way to Ernie’s nightclub, he asks another cabdriver the same question. This suggests that, like the ducks, Holden feels the urge to leave in the wintertime but does not know where to go for safety and shelter.

*Museum of Natural History

*Museum of Natural History. New York science museum that Holden visits while searching for Phoebe. There he experiences one of the few places in which he feels truly happy. What he finds there are walls covered with graffiti; no matter how desperately he wishes to hold on to the innocence of childhood, the sight of the graffiti reminds him that he cannot.

Sutton Place

Sutton Place. Home of Mr. Antolini, a former teacher, that Holden tries to crash after leaving his parent’s apartment. Even here he sees the dark side of life, as he interprets Antolini’s behavior as a sexual advance. Even here in the home of a trusted friend, he finds no escape from the predators of the world. He flees to Grand Central Station, convinced that he is the only person who understands what the world is really like.

Wicker Bar

Wicker Bar. Posh setting in which Holden meets one of his former schoolmates, Carl Luce, to discuss Eastern philosophy. Holden tries to behave like one of the phonies he despises and eventually finds himself drinking alone, disgusted with himself for his posturing. The bar and the people in it are posh and well-to-do, something Holden is not, and his attempt to fit in fails.

*Central Park

*Central Park. Large public park in central Manhattan in which Holden wanders around, looking for Phoebe, before meeting Luce. The children playing happily at the park are, for Holden, a picture of innocence.


*California. The novel is framed by a narrative that begins and ends with Holden speaking to a psychiatrist somewhere in California. Before leaving New York, Holden says good-bye to his sister, telling her that he plans to head westward.

The Catcher in the Rye Historical Context

Typical 1950s office in New York City Published by Gale Cengage

Postwar Prosperity
The events in The Catcher in the Rye take place in 1946, only a year after the end of World...

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The Catcher in the Rye Setting

The plot of this novel, set soon after the end of World War II, is relatively spare. Holden Caulfield has been expelled from a private prep...

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The Catcher in the Rye Quizzes

Chapter 1 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Who is Holden Caulfield?

2. Who is D.B., and why is Holden somewhat contemptuous of him?

3. What is the reality of Pencey Prep in contrast to the advertisements, as seen by Holden?

4. Why does Holden watch the game from the hill?

5. Who is Selma Thurmer, and why did Holden like her?

6. Who is Mr. Spencer, and why was Holden going to visit him?

7. Why was Holden trying to “feel” some kind of good-bye?

8. What does Holden think about the other students who attend Pencey?

9. How popular was the sport of polo at Pencey Prep?

10. Does Holden blame others for his flunking out of...

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Chapter 2 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What had Mr. Spencer bought and shown the boys when they were visiting him one Sunday?

2. What advice did Dr. Thurmer give to Holden?

3. Did Holden agree with Dr. Thurmer’s description of life as a game? Explain your answer.

4. Was Pencey Prep really the fourth school from which Holden was asked to leave? Explain your answer.

5. What did Holden think about Mr. Spencer’s description of his parents as “grand people”?

6. Why did Holden write Mr. Spencer a note at the end of his examination paper?

7. What was Holden thinking about while he said the following: “I told him I was a real moron, and all that stuff. I...

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Chapter 3 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Who is Ossenburger?

2. What was the substance of Ossenburger’s speech?

3. Who are Holden’s favorite authors?

4. How does Holden determine whether a book is outstanding?

5. What does Ackley usually do when he comes to visit Holden?

6. What is it about Ackley that Holden finds annoying?

7. Give an example of something which Ackley considered very funny.

8. Why does Ackley not like Stradlater?

9. What does Holden say in defense of Stradlater?

10. What did Stradlater want to borrow from Holden?

1. Ossenburger is the wealthy undertaker for...

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Chapter 4 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. According to Holden, Ackley and Stradlater are both slobs. In what way are they different as slobs?

2. What favor does Stradlater ask of Holden?

3. According to Stradlater, what constitutes a good composition?

4. According to Ackley, what was it about Howie Coyle which made him a good basketball player?

5. What does Holden have to say about Stradlater’s sense of humor?

6. What was unique about the way in which Jane Gallagher played checkers?

7. What does Holden say about Jane Gallagher’s home life that piqued Stradlater’s curiosity?

8. How does Holden know that Stradlater would not tell Jane Gallagher...

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Chapter 5 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. In Holden’s opinion why does Pencey Prep serve steak on Saturday night?

2. What is Ackley’s characteristic response whenever he is asked to go somewhere with the other boys?

3. Why do Holden, Brossard, and Ackley not go to the movies after all?

4. Why does Holden not like to sit next to Brossard and Ackley at the movies?

5. What card game does Brossard enjoy most of all?

6. What does Holden write about for Stradlater’s composition?

7. Why did Allie have writing on his baseball mitt?

8. How did Allie die?

9. How did Holden react to Allie’s death?

10. Does Holden express dislike...

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Chapter 6 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Why is Holden so interested in what happened on Stradlater’s date?

2. Why does Stradlater not like the composition which Holden wrote for him?

3. Why does Holden smoke in bed?

4. Where did Stradlater go on his date with Jane Gallagher?

5. How would you describe Holden’s attitude toward athletes?

6. Why does Holden punch Stradlater?

7. According to Holden, how can you identify a moron?

8. Why is Stradlater nervous after hitting Holden?

9. What does Holden do before looking in the mirror?

10. What is Holden’s reaction to all the blood?


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Chapter 7 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Why does Ackley not want to play canasta?

2. Why does Holden become angry with Ackley?

3. When Ackley insists on hearing the reasons for the fight, how does Holden answer him?

4. What does Holden think about as he lies in Ely’s bed?

5. What is it about Stradlater that makes him so dangerous on a date?

6. What makes Holden so lonely that he wakes up Ackley?

7. What is it that really upsets Ackley?

8. What does Holden decide when he leaves Ackley’s room?

9. Why does packing his ice skates make Holden sad?

10. How does Holden feel as he is about to leave Pencey Prep?


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Chapter 8 Questions and Answers

Study Quesstions
1. Why does Holden walk to the train station?

2. What does Holden say when asked whether he likes Pencey Prep?

3. Why is Mrs. Morrow concerned about Ernest?

4. Because Holden likes Mrs. Morrow, what does he tell her about Ernest?

5. According to Holden, why was Ernest Morrow not elected president of the class?

6. What does Mrs. Morrow suspect is the reason for Holden’s going home late on a Saturday night?

7. What is Holden’s explanation for going home on Saturday?

8. Why does Mrs. Morrow keep calling Holden by the name Rudolf?

9. Where does Mrs. Morrow invite Holden to visit Ernest in the...

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Chapter 9 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What does Holden do when he reaches Penn Station?

2. What does Holden discuss with the cab driver on the way to the Edmont Hotel?

3. What is Holden’s opinion of the Edmont Hotel?

4. How does Holden describe the bellman at the Edmont Hotel?

5. How does Holden feel about “necking” with girls whom he does not really care about?

6. What type of rules does Holden have difficulty observing?

7. What excuse has Holden planned to use in order to get through to Jane Gallagher on the telephone after-hours?

8. Why does Holden not call Jane Gallagher?

9. From whom did Holden get Faith Cavendish’s...

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Chapter 10 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Why does Holden decide not to call Phoebe?

2. How does Holden feel about Phoebe?

3. How much does Holden think it will cost him to get a prime table in the Lavender Room?

4. How does Holden know that the three girls at the next table are not from New York City?

5. How do the girls react when Holden asks them whether anyone wants to dance?

6. What does Bernice say that betrays how shallow she is?

7. Does Bernice enjoy dancing with Holden?

8. How does Holden overstep the bounds of propriety with Bernice?

9. Do the girls invite Holden to sit down at their table?

10. How does Holden...

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Chapter 11 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Does Holden think that Stradlater seduced Jane Gallagher?

2. What sports does Jane Gallagher enjoy playing?

3. How did Jane Gallagher and Holden get to be friends?

4. What kind of books did Jane Gallagher like to read?

5. Is Jane Gallagher pretty?

6. What was it that made Jane Gallagher cry when she and Holden were playing checkers?

7. How important was necking in Holden’s relationship with Jane Gallagher?

8. How does Holden know about Ernie’s in Greenwich Village?

9. Who is Ernie?

10. What does Holden find especially irritating about Ernie?


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Chapter 12 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What is the main theme of the first paragraph?

2. How does Holden describe Horwitz’s personality?

3. What does Holden discuss with Horwitz?

4. How does Holden characterize the patrons at Ernie’s?

5. What is it that Holden objects to about the crowd at Ernie’s?

6. Why does Holden feel sorry for Ernie?

7. Describe the conversations going on at tables next to Holden.

8. Who is Lillian Simmons?

9. From Lillian Simmons’ point of view, what is most impressive about D.B.?

10. How does Holden feel about such social amenities as saying to someone, “Glad to have met you?”


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Chapter 13 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Why does Holden walk back to the hotel rather than take a cab?

2. What does Holden think about as he walks back to the hotel?

3. What kind of a drinker does Holden think he is?

4. How does Holden feel when he arrives back at the hotel?

5. What excuse does Holden give for agreeing to meet with the prostitute?

6. What does Holden think about a girl’s ability to control herself in the heat of passion?

7. Does Holden look forward to meeting with the prostitute?

8. How does Holden feel when the prostitute takes off her dress?

9. When does Holden begin to feel sorry for Sunny?

10. What...

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Chapter 14 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. After Sunny leaves Holden’s room, whom does he begin talking to?

2. What is it that Holden finds disturbing about Jesus’ disciples?

3. How does Holden’s belief about Judas differ from that of his friend Arthur Childs?

4. How does Holden say that Jesus chose his disciples?

5. How does Holden know who is knocking on his door even before opening it?

6. Why do Maurice and Sunny return to Holden’s room?

7. What is it about ministers that Holden does not like?

8. How does Maurice respond when Holden says that he is going to scream his head off if Maurice roughs him up?

9. What religion are the...

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Chapter 15 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. When Holden awakens on Sunday morning, he thinks about the time of his last meal. When was that?

2. Whom does Holden think about calling when he awakens?

3. Where is Sally supposed to meet Holden?

4. Why does Holden not want to tell his mother that he was expelled again?

5. Why did Dick Slagle take Holden’s suitcases out from under the bed and put them out where they could be seen?

6. What was Dick Slagle’s favorite word?

7. Why did Holden miss Dick Slagle after they were given different roommates?

8. What subjects do the two nuns teach?

9. What does Holden find annoying about Catholics?...

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Chapter 16 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What makes Holden sad when he thinks about the nuns?

2. How did the little boy walking with his family lift Holden’s spirits?

3. What kind of shows does Sally Hayes like to see?

4. Although Holden is getting low on cash, he takes a cab to the park instead of the subway. Why?

5. What is it about Phoebe’s liking to skate near the bandstand that Holden thinks is funny?

6. Why is the young girl in the park having trouble tightening her skate?

7. How does Holden feel while he thinks about Miss Aigletinger taking his class to the museum?

8. What is it about Gertrude Levine, his partner at the museum, that...

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Chapter 17 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Why is Holden depressed when he is sitting in the lobby of the Biltmore?

2. Name two outstanding characteristics of Harris Macklin.

3. What is the best thing Holden can say about bores?

4. After Sally tells Holden that she loves him, how does she want to change him?

5. Holden says that the Lunts do not act like people or actors. What does he say they act like?

6. Why does Sally not talk much during the intermission?

7. What article of clothing does Holden associate with “Ivy League types?”

8. Why does Holden think that Sally really wants to go skating?

9. How do Holden and Sally’s skating...

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Chapter 18 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. After Holden leaves the skating rink, where does he go?

2. In Holden’s opinion, how do girls defend a boy they like if someone criticizes him by calling him mean or conceited?

3. Why did Bob Robinson have an inferiority complex?

4. Why does Holden go to Radio City after he leaves the drugstore?

5. According to Holden, what is there about the show at Radio City that Jesus would really like?

6. In the movie, what happens to Alec that causes him to regain his memory?

7. Why is Holden so critical of the lady who sits next to him in the movie?

8. What kind of job did D.B. have when he was overseas in the army?...

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Chapter 19 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Describe the entertainment at the Wicker Bar.

2. What types of people frequent the Wicker Bar?

3. Why does Holden not like the bartender at the Wicker Bar?

4. What was the relationship between Luce and Holden when they were at Whooton together?

5. What word does Luce use frequently?

6. How old is Luce’s current girl friend?

7. Give one reason why Luce prefers Eastern philosophy to Western philosophy.

8. What is one of the annoying things about Luce, according to Holden?

9. What advice did Luce give to Holden?

10. What is the one positive thing Holden says about Luce at the end of...

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Chapter 20 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. After Valencia sings, what does Holden ask the headwaiter to do?

2. When Holden leaves the Wicker Bar, why is he holding his stomach?

3. After Holden talks to Sally Hayes on the telephone, how does he picture her at home that evening?

4. While in the restroom, what advice does Holden give the piano player at the Wicker Bar?

5. What excuse does the lady in the hat-check room give Holden for not going on a date with him?

6. Because it is dark and spooky, what does Holden say he would do if he happened to see someone in Central Park?

7. What does Holden say he wants done with his body when he dies?

8. Why was...

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Chapter 21 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. When Holden gets on the elevator, whom does he tell the operator he is going to visit?

2. Holden is very skillful at opening the door quietly. What profession does he say he should have gone into?

3. When Holden enters the family apartment, how does he know for sure that he is in the right apartment?

4. How does Holden describe his mother’s hearing ability?

5. Why does Phoebe not like her own room?

6. During the first few moments that he is in Phoebe’s room, Holden says something he has not said for many chapters. What is it?

7. Holden’s mother has outstanding tastes in what area?

8. What kind of...

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Chapter 22 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. To what does Holden compare Phoebe’s behavior when she finds out that he was expelled from Pencey?

2. Where does Holden say that his father will send him when he learns that Holden has been expelled?

3. Even though Holden likes Mr. Spencer, why does he consider him a phony?

4. What was the Pencey alumnus looking for when he came to Holden and Stradlater’s dorm?

5. When Holden thinks about the nuns, what does he picture them doing?

6. Why did James Castle commit suicide?

7. What was the topic of the only conversation that Holden remembers having with James Castle?

8. What habit of Holden’s does Phoebe...

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Chapter 23 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. How does Mr. Antolini respond to Holden’s telephone call?

2. Who taught Phoebe to dance?

3. How does Holden feel after he dances with Phoebe?

4. What behavior of Charlene, the maid, does Phoebe object to?

5. Where does Phoebe say her prayers before she goes to bed that evening?

6. Why does Holden say that he has to leave the house?

7. Why does Phoebe not want Holden to go away?

8. Where does Holden plan to stay until Wednesday?

9. How does Phoebe try to comfort Holden when he is crying?

10. What does Holden do with the hunting hat?

1. Mr....

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Chapter 24 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. How did Mr. Antolini feel about D.B. going to Hollywood?

2. Why does Mrs. Antolini not want Holden to look at her when she enters the room with the coffee and cake?

3. What criteria does Holden say one must meet in order to get a good grade in Oral Expression?

4. Why does Holden like Richard Kinsella’s speeches better than anyone else’s?

5. Holden admits that there were times when he hated both Stradlater and Ackley. What else does Holden say about them?

6. What is the sense of the quote from Wilhelm Stekel which Mr. Antolini writes down for Holden?

7. What does Mr. Antolini say that Holden will do once he decides...

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Chapter 25 and 26 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Where does Holden spend the rest of the night after he leaves Mr. Antolini’s apartment?

2. What does Holden worry about as he tries to stop thinking about the scene with Mr. Antolini?

3. Whom does Holden think about calling before he meets Phoebe?

4. What rule would Holden require all visitors at his cabin to observe?

5. How does Holden recognize Phoebe from a distance at the museum?

6. Why does Phoebe have a suitcase with her?

7. What does Phoebe say to Holden that he says sounds worse than swearing?

8. How does Holden feel as he stands in the rain watching Phoebe ride the carousel?

9. From...

(The entire section is 265 words.)