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The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger

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  • Topic #1
    Illustrate how Holden can be viewed as a contemporary Everyman, the main character in a medieval morality play.

    I. Thesis Statement: The Catcher in the Rye can be viewed as a contemporary morality play.

    II. Historical Context of Morality Play
    A. Definition of morality play
    B. Characteristics of morality play
    C. Morality play (allegory) as a literary genre

    III. Everyman
    A. Summary of story
    B. Accidental differences to the stories due to different eras
    C. Lessons The Catcher in the Rye teaches us which are similar to Everyman

  • Topic #2
    Discuss symbolism in The Catcher in the Rye.

    I. Thesis Statement: Although much symbolism in The Catcher in the Rye is authentic, some critics have argued for symbolism which is illusory at best and trivial at worst.

    II. “Symbols are nothing but the natural speech of drama”
    (T. Williams).
    A. Words are symbols of concepts.
    B. Symbolic gestures, clothing, etc. can speak more directly and simply than do words.
    1. Gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh from the three wise men to Jesus symbolized that Jesus was a king.
    2. White gown of a bride symbolizes her purity.
    3. Wearing a black armband indicates a person in mourning.
    4. A ring on the third finger of the left hand indicates that a person is married.
    5. A military salute
    C. Authentic symbols in The Catcher in the Rye
    1. Phoebe and Allie representing innocence and purity
    2. Ducks representing homeless condition of Holden, i.e., evicted from their home by the cold temperature of the environment
    3. Lunatic in the tombs who hurts himself identified with Holden
    4. Holden’s passing out in the restroom as a death, and then meeting Phoebe as a resurrection
    5. Breaking of phonograph record as a symbol of the end of childhood
    6. Holden’s blowing smoke on the nuns as a sign of his tainting of the innocent
    D. Inauthentic or trivial symbols in The Catcher in the Rye
    1. Holden’s falling sensation as he crosses the streets as a falling into adulthood
    2. Red hunting hat as a symbol of rebelliousness
    3. Prayers in the bathroom suggesting that the bathroom is a sanctuary
    4. Holden’s frequent use of the term madman symbolizing his own deteriorating mental health
    5. The red hunting hat as a consolation prize for failure, i.e., for having left the fencing equipment on the subway
    6. Ernie playing the piano in the Greenwich Village nightclub as a symbol of a priest saying mass at the altar

  • Topic # 3
    Many aspects of American life have drastically changed since The Catcher in the Rye was first published. Show how Holden’s story still has a profound effect on young people today despite these changes.

    I. Thesis Statement: Even though times have changed drastically, Holden Caulfield speaks as authentically to today’s teenagers as he did to his contemporaries over 40 years ago.

    II. How times have changed:
    A. Single-Parent Homes–There are 8 million single-parent homes today. In 1951, there were relatively few single parent homes.
    B. Working Mothers–About 50 percent of mothers work outside the home today. In 1951, few mothers worked outside the home. Most of those who did work during the war were either laid off or quit their jobs to provide jobs for men returning from the war.
    C. Sexual Activity–Over 25 percent of girls are sexually active at age 15. Since birth control methods were limited and not readily accessible, and there was a taboo against bearing children out of wedlock, sexual activity outside of marriage was much less than today.
    D. Violent Crime–One in six youths between the ages of 10 and 17 has seen or knows someone who has been shot. In 1951, migration of the poor to the cities had just begun, so that violent crime was much less.
    E. Child Abuse–Reported child abuse has increased two hundred fold since 1950.
    F. Drug and Alcohol Abuse–Drug and alcohol abuse are enormous social problems today. They were not in 1951.
    G. Mass Communication–In 1951, every home had one radio, a telephone, and a few had televisions. With communication satellites, faxes, portable phones, and the Internet, the world is truly a global village.

    III. Evidence that Holden speaks authentically
    A. The Catcher in the Rye has remained in print since it was published.
    B. The University of Dayton did a survey in late 1994 and found that The Catcher in the Rye was the third most popular book to be given for a Christmas gift.

    IV. Why teenagers still listen to Holden
    A. Holden, although perhaps in an exaggerated manner, speaks of what most teenagers are experiencing, e.g., finding out who you are, what you believe, how life should be lived.
    B. The experience of struggling through the teenage years is presented so authentically that young people today can still identify with Holden.

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