A tale of alienation in conformist post–World War II America, The Catcher in the Rye tells the story of a few days in the life of Holden Caulfield, an emotionally unstable, highly intelligent, old-for-his-years but lonely sixteen-year-old boy who belongs to the Manhattan elite. Post-war America was a period of great prosperity. The GI Bill sent millions of veterans to college, the country was suddenly awash in money, and many more people suddenly had access to the American dream of home ownership. Politically, it was a conservative period. People were recovering from the trials of war, concerned about Communism and weary of the Atomic Bomb. It was a time of great wealth, but one when any deviation from traditional societal norms was considered suspect.
In this context, Holden Caulfield became a controversial literary icon: the troubled anti-hero struggling to maintain his individuality in the face of overwhelming pressure to conform from all the adults around him. The emotionally volatile young Holden wants only to escape the repressive expectations that his parents have set out for him—something that many adolescents are likely to relate to. In fact, many of the elements of his story are universal: the pain and confusion of growing up, loss of innocence, the inevitability of change, the swings between bravado and insecurity, sexual questioning, recognizing issues of class and privilege, questions of identity, the shifting sands of adolescence, the contradictory, emotional complexity of becoming an adult. However, other elements are specific to Holden and his time and place: He has endured a great deal of turmoil as a child despite the superficial trappings of privilege, and he is fighting against the societal norms of a specific era. The reader observes his gradual emotional breakdown over the course of the novel, which begins and ends with Holden in a mental institution of some kind.
Salinger’s unflinchingly frank portrait of Holden generated both controversy and great acclaim. Some communities banned the book for its sexual content, its abundant use of obscenities, and its rebellious tone, going so far as to dub it anti-American in sentiment. However, many others embraced it for its raw honesty. Only three weeks after its publication in 1951, The Catcher in the Rye topped The New York Times bestseller list, where it remained for the next thirty weeks. This journey into the brain of a troubled boy has since become one of the classics of American literature. Holden is perhaps the defining symbol of adolescent disaffection, alienation, and defiance. The Catcher in the Rye was the first book to address teen angst, and its influence on generations of youth cannot be overstated.
The novel is also an excellent example of first-person narration. From the opening sentence, Holden Caulfield’s caustic, cynical voice is one of the most distinctive features of the story. For all that Holden draws us in, he is also an unstable and evasive storyteller, and it is up to us, as readers, to piece together his story and make sense of his past. Holden’s unreliability as a narrator is one of the most revealing and memorable elements of this novel.
Finally, it’s worth noting that Salinger’s own upbringing was similar to Holden’s: he enjoyed a privileged upbringing in Manhattan and attended several boarding schools. Although he wrote several other books of short stories, The Catcher in the Rye is his only full-length novel. As the book’s popularity increased, Salinger became increasingly reclusive. Although Salinger himself made every effort to remain out of the public eye, his work continues to appeal to new generations of adolescents even decades after publication.
By the end of the unit the student will be able to:
1. Explain how the narrator changes throughout the course of the novel.
2. Compare and contrast the characters Holden labels as phony with those he considers to be authentic.
3. Explain the significance of the phrase “the catcher in the rye” as it relates to Holden.
4. Identify examples of what Holden considers “mature” behavior and describe his impression of adults.
5. Explain why this novel is considered a classic and cite what aspects of this story are still relevant today?
6. Describe why Holden feels so lonely and depressed.
7. Explain the benefits and limitations of having Holden as a first-person narrator.
8. Compare and contrast Holden’s views of adulthood with his/her own.
This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.
Student Study Guide
• The Study Guide is organized for a chapter-by-chapter study of the novel. Study Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.
• Study Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in reading each chapter and to acquaint them generally with the chapter’s content.
• Before chapter Study Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading...
(The entire section is 486 words.)
1. Describe Holden’s relationship with Phoebe. How does Holden feel about her? What does this relationship reveal about Holden and his view of the world? Use details from the novel to support your answer.
2. How does Holden view children in the novel? Why is his perception of childhood so important to the narrative?
3. Holden is full of contradictions (rebellious and compassionate; authentic and phony; attracted to people and repelled by them). What does this reveal about his personality and state of mind?
4. Why do you think Holden is so concerned with the ducks on the lagoon in Central Park? What might the ducks symbolize?...
(The entire section is 415 words.)
chuck: slang to throw
David Copperfield: the narrator of Charles Dickens’ famous novel, David Copperfield
dough: slang money
faggy: slang tired
foils: weapons used in fencing
grippe: a flu-like virus
prostitute: a person who has sex for money; can mean someone who has sold out for money
touchy: very sensitive and easily offended
1. What can you tell about the narrator after reading the first few pages of the novel?
The narrator is young, cynical, and irresponsible. He’s in some...
(The entire section is 368 words.)
alternative: another option
chiffonier: a tall, narrow chest of drawers, often with a mirror on top
corny: old-fashioned and out of date
innumerable: countless, too many to be numbered
ironical: meaning the opposite of its literal meaning; differing from expectations
moron: a stupid person
qualms: feelings of fear or doubt
sarcastic: sharp and mocking in tone
1. Right after Holden enters Mr. Spencer’s room, he says, “The minute I went in, I was sort of sorry I’d come.” Why does he think that?
Mr. Spencer is sick, in his bathrobe, and looks old. Holden feels...
(The entire section is 462 words.)
compulsory: obligatory, required
conceited: arrogant, vain
falsetto: a too-high voice that extends beyond the normal range
grope: to feel around blindly; to search with your hands
peak: a brim or part of a hat that shades the eyes
rostrum: a platform for public speaking
sadist: a person who delights in cruelty
stiff: slang dead person
undertaking business: a funeral home
1. How does Holden feel about Ossenburger?
Holden thinks Ossenburger is a phony. He says that Ossenburger tells students that they should pray when he really wants more...
(The entire section is 333 words.)
can: slang bathroom
chew the rag: slang talk
exhibitionist: a person who engages in indecent exposure
rile: to anger someone
up the creek: slang in trouble
viselike: extremely tight
washbowl: a sink
1. Holden says that Stradlater is a “secret slob.” What does he mean by this?
He means that while Stradlater always looks presentable, he is a slob in private. He only cares about appearances. For example, he uses a rusty, dirty razor for shaving....
(The entire section is 250 words.)
bridge fiend: someone who likes to play the card game bridge
brown Betty: an apple-crumb dessert
halitosis: bad breath
psychoanalyze: to study one’s mental state
racket: noise; disturbance
1. What do they eat every Saturday night at Pencey. In Holden’s opinion, why does the menu never change?
Pencey serves steak every Saturday night. Holden believes they do this because parents visit on Sundays and mothers often ask their children what they had for dinner the night before. The steak, however, is small and hard and served with lumpy...
(The entire section is 291 words.)
bawl: to cry loudly, to wail
fracture: to break
give the time: slang to have sexual intercourse
gore: blood that has been shed
gripe: to complain
morgue: a place where dead bodies are kept
pacifist: a person against the use of force or violence
pet: slang favorite
sock: to punch
unscrupulous: lacking morals or principles
1. Why is Holden upset at the beginning of this chapter?
Holden doesn’t trust Jane with Stradlater, whom he describes as...
(The entire section is 266 words.)
canasta fiend: a person who enjoys a card game that is similar to rummy
Gladstone: a type of luggage or suitcase
hysterical: uncontrollably emotional; extremely funny
loaded: slang has a great deal of money
monastery: a community of monks
snow: slang to lie to
welfare: wellbeing; health and happiness
1. Several times in this chapter, Holden mentions that he feels very lonely. Why do you think he feels this way?
Holden has just been in a fight with his roommate...
(The entire section is 434 words.)
conscientious: careful, meticulous
dope: slang an unintelligent person
doubtless: without any doubt, with certainty
in the sack: slang in bed
mixer: old-fashioned word for party or dance
modest: humble; moderate
nominate: to propose for election
trance: a hypnotic, semi-conscious, unresponsive state
unanimous: all in agreement
1. Describe the woman Holden meets on the train.
The woman is forty to forty-five years old and wearing orchids as if she has just come from a party. Holden describes her as being very...
(The entire section is 317 words.)
burlesque: a comedic situation created by great exaggeration
corset: a tightly fitting woman’s undergarment
engagement: old-fashioned word for appointment
highball: a cocktail with whiskey and soda
incognito: in disguise
pervert: a person who engages in abnormal, inappropriate sexual behavior
suave: charming and elegant
1. What is ironic about the hotel’s bellboy?
He is an elderly man and not a boy. Holden thinks it’s sad that at his age he has to carry heavy suitcases for people and wait for tips.
(The entire section is 326 words.)
affectionate: expressing tenderness
crude: rude, impolite
hem and haw: slang to hesitate
jitterbug: a fast dance popular in the 1940s
psychic: a person claiming to have unexplainable powers, such as telepathy
put it away: slang to drink a lot
verification: the process of checking or confirming something through a review of documents
1. In this chapter and in the previous chapter, Holden mentions that he’d like to call his little sister Phoebe. Why do you think he wants to speak with her?
Holden is feeling very...
(The entire section is 368 words.)
big freeze: slang to ignore
stink: slang to make a fuss
1. What can we infer from the way Holden describes his relationship with Jane?
It is a genuine friendship. They enjoy spending time together and understand each other. It’s not just about sex. She probably knows him better than anyone else except perhaps Phoebe. In fact, she may be his only true friend.
2. How do you know that Jane is special to Holden?
Holden is tormented by thoughts of Jane with Stradlater, whom he describes earlier as a...
(The entire section is 193 words.)
crocked: slang drunk
dope fiend: slang a drug addict
Ivy League college: a very prestigious college
knockers: slang breasts
pansy: slang a weak or effeminate male
toss your cookies: slang to vomit
1. In this chapter, Holden once again asks where the ducks on the lagoon in Central Park go during the winter when the water has turned to ice. Why do you think Holden is so concerned about the ducks?
Holden may worry that the ducks...
(The entire section is 324 words.)
chateau: French for castle; large house or mansion
dolled up: slang dressed up
nonchalant: seemingly unconcerned
premature: too early
recuperate: to recover
yellow: slang afraid
1. What is Holden thinking about as he walks back from Ernie’s to the hotel?
He is thinking about his gloves and how “yellow” he is.
2. Holden discusses his past sexual experiences in this chapter. What do his actions reveal about him?
(The entire section is 256 words.)
atheist: someone who does not believe in God
chisel/chiseling: to cheat; cheating
minister: a clergyman
plug someone: slang to shoot him
rubberneck: slang to gawk at others (refers to stretching their necks to keep watching something)
1. Who knocks at the door, and what do they want?
Sunny and Maurice, her pimp, are at the door demanding the extra $5 Holden had refused to give her for her time.
2. What’s Holden wearing, and why do you think this bothers him so much?
(The entire section is 283 words.)
bourgeois: middle class
chew the fat: slang to talk
convent: an establishment of nuns
flop: slang something that didn’t do well
inferiority complex: to feel inadequate when compared to others
infirmary: a place where the sick or injured are cared for
king’s ransom: a great deal of money
modesty: propriety or reserve; also humbleness, simplicity
prejudiced: biased against a group of people
spendthrift: someone who spends money extravagantly
1. Holden mentions his mother in this chapter. What does he say?...
(The entire section is 386 words.)
goose flesh: goose bumps or chills
mutiny: a rebellion; refusal to obey orders
sharp: smart; clever
squaw: a female Native American (sometimes used in a pejorative manner)
swanky: slang upscale
1. What does Holden want to buy for Phoebe?
He wants to buy Phoebe an old record called “Little Shirley Beans.”
2. Why does Holden think that Sally will want to see the show, I Know My Love?
Holden thinks that Sally will be excited about the show because the Lunts are in it, which makes it a sophisticated show....
(The entire section is 348 words.)
blasé: not easily impressed, usually because of familiarity
clinch: a hug or embrace
clique: a small, exclusive group
raspy: grating, harsh sound
1. What event during the date changes Holden’s feelings for Sally and why?
When he sees her behave obnoxiously with a pompous Ivy League–type young man, Holden decides she is a phony and doesn’t like her anymore. He probably also doesn’t like the fact that this other person and Sally have so much in common, when Holden has such a hard time connecting with people. He feels left out....
(The entire section is 282 words.)
enlightening: bringing greater understanding
furlough: a leave of absence from the military
putrid: decaying, foul-smelling
Rockettes: chorus-line dancers at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall
sacrilegious: irreverent, profane, against God
1. What is revealing about Holden’s address book?
He only has three names/numbers in it: Jane’s, Mr. Antolini’s, (a teacher at a former school), and his father’s office. He has no friends (except Jane), no connections to anyone.
2. How does Holden feel about being in the army and fighting in a war?...
(The entire section is 274 words.)
aristocratic: belonging to a socially exclusive group
flit: slang gay man
inane: ridiculous; lacking substance
tear: slang to leave
trait: quality, feature
1. What does Holden keep asking Carl Luce about? Why does Luce get upset?
Holden asks Luce personal questions about sex and girlfriends. He is prying into Luce’s private life.
2. Where is Luce’s girlfriend from?
3. What does Luce suggest Holden do?
(The entire section is 145 words.)
boisterous: rowdy or loud
conceal: to hide
economize: to spend as little money as possible; to be frugal
pneumonia: a lung disease characterized by a fever, chills, and a cough
1. Why doesn’t Holden like to visit Allie’s grave?
Holden can’t stand seeing him in the cemetery, surrounded by the dead, especially when it’s raining. Allie is stuck in the rain when everyone else can go home and get warm.
2. What can you gather from the way Holden talks to Sally and her grandmother: “Wake ‘er up! Wake ‘er up, hey. Attaboy!” and “Hey Sally! You want...
(The entire section is 214 words.)
bull session: slang conversation
ears like a bloodhound: excellent hearing
plastered: slang very drunk
Siberia: part of Russia; also signifies any faraway place
suffocate: to suppress someone’s ability to breathe
1. Why does Holden tell the elevator boy to take him to the Dicksteins’ apartment?
They live on the same floor as his parents, and he doesn’t want the elevator boy to know who he is.
2. What room does Phoebe sleep in?
She sleeps in D.B.’s room....
(The entire section is 168 words.)
cockeyed: slang ridiculous, absurd
fraternity: a high school or college club for males
ostracize: to exile from a group
stinking: slang terribly; extremely
1. Why does Holden say that Phoebe sounds like a school teacher?
She lectures him as if she is his elder.
2. Who is James Castle and what happened to him?
He is a former classmate of Holden’s who committed suicide.
3. What does Phoebe ask Holden to name, and what is his first answer? Why do they disagree...
(The entire section is 277 words.)
tango: a Latin American dance
1. Why does Holden call Mr. Antolini?
He needs somewhere to go and he has no options left.
2. What makes Holden cry and why?
Phoebe gives him her Christmas money. She is the one person who would literally give him everything she has. She cares wholeheartedly about his welfare when no one else does.
3. What does Holden give Phoebe?
He gives her his red hunting hat, which he loves.
4. Near the end of this chapter, Holden...
(The entire section is 137 words.)
dandy: very good
digress: to diverge, to go off topic
oiled up: slang drunk
provocative: stimulating, exciting, aggressive or challenging
reciprocal: give-and-take relationship
short order: quickly
stenographer: a person who transcribes dictation
stimulate: to excite or energize
1. Describe Mr. and Mrs. Antolini using details from the first paragraph of this chapter.
They live in a very nice apartment with a bar. Mrs. Antolini is older than her husband...
(The entire section is 331 words.)
jazzy: slang upbeat
scraggy-looking: slang tattered
unsanitary: not clean
1. Describe Holden’s physical and mental condition when he is at Grand Central Station.
Holden feels terrible. He says that he is more depressed than he has ever been in his life and his headache is worse than ever. He is worried that he may have misinterpreted the situation with Mr. Antolini. His eyes are sore and burning from lack of sleep.
2. As Holden’s condition deteriorates, what does he do when he reaches the end of a block?...
(The entire section is 487 words.)
affected: phony, pretentious
1. What can we gather about where Holden is?
He’s still in the mental hospital he was in at the beginning of the book, meeting with a psychoanalyst.
2. What do you think he means by, “Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody”?
He realizes that opening up about his feelings only makes things more painful. He’d still rather shut out all the pain and not talk about it.
3. What is different about Holden in the last chapter? What remains unchanged about...
(The entire section is 139 words.)
1. What can we tell about Holden from the opening pages?
A. He’s at the hospital getting his hand fixed and will be back at school for next term.
B. He’s at some kind of mental institution in California.
C. He’s just arrived at military school.
D. He’s moved back in with his parents, a living arrangement he hates.
E. He’s living with his brother, D.B., in Hollywood.
2. Why does Holden return to Pencey earlier than expected?
A. The headmaster wants to speak to him about his failing grades....
(The entire section is 1862 words.)
1. This is a first-person narrative in which the narrator speaks directly to the reader. Why do you think Salinger used this technique? What do we gain by hearing the story from Holden’s perspective? Is there a part of the story we don’t hear?
First, it’s important for us to have access to Holden’s inner thoughts and feelings. This story is much less about what happens than it is about Holden’s perceptions and opinions of what’s going on around him. By telling the story in the first person, we can see inside his head.
Second, Holden’s tone tell us a great deal about his personality. From the opening page, we have insight into his cynical and fragile state. Just a few lines in, he...
(The entire section is 1796 words.)