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The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger

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What struggles does Holden face in The Catcher in the Rye?

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Holden's struggles in the book The Catcher in the Rye include his inability to properly cope with his brother's tragic death and move on from his traumatic past. Holden also struggles with identity issues and fails to engage in meaningful social interactions. Holden's lack of social skills prevents him from forming genuine friendships, which is why he also struggles with loneliness. Holden also struggles in school and is desperately afraid of becoming an adult.

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Many of Holden Caulfield's issues directly stem from the tragic death of his younger brother Allie, who passed away when Holden was thirteen years old. Holden has never properly coped with Allie's death and seems to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder connected to the tragic incident.

One of Holden's main struggles in the story concerns his inability to move on with his life by making peace with his past. Holden desperately fears becoming an adult, believes that the competitive world of grown-ups is full of "phonies," and desires to remain an adolescent. His fear of the future causes him to stagnate, and he naively wishes to save children from entering adulthood by becoming a "catcher in the rye."

Holden also has identity issues and lacks self-awareness. Holden desires to be a suave, charming individual but does not possess any of the desirable traits that he resents in his charismatic roommate, Stradlater. Holden also struggles with his sexuality and social skills. His immaturity, lack of impulse control, and narrow perspective negatively influence his personal relationships with others, and he is unable to engage in meaningful, engaging social interactions. Despite his desire to connect, he comes across as annoying, offensive, and ignorant in many conversations, and he can't interact with the people who genuinely care about him the most. Instead of meeting up with Jane Gallagher, for instance, Holden seeks comfort from people like Sally Hayes or Carl Luce.

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Holden struggles to deal with survivor's guilt after his brother Allie dies. This crisis of a sibling death leads him to become profoundly alienated from the life of his school, his studies, and his peers.

Holden struggles with a preoccupying urge to protect those whom he perceives as young and innocent, such as his sister, Phoebe, as well as children in the world in general. He wants to protect them as he couldn't protect Allie. He dreams of becoming the catcher in the rye, a fairy-tale type figure who catches children who are ready to fall over the edge of a cliff.

Holden struggles to come to terms with who he is and with the fact that he can't save the world. He struggles, like many teenagers, to find authenticity among people who often seem phony and caught up in false values.

Holden is a sensitive person: he worries about his friend Jane, about Phoebe, and about the nuns he meets while breakfasting in a diner, noting that they eat far less than he does. He hires a prostitute but only to talk to her. While he has to deal with a world filled with much egotism and unkindness, he manages not to lose his basic decency, and in the end, he realizes that he has to trust that Phoebe will be OK. We are left hoping that despite a mental breakdown, he will find his path through life.

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Throughout The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield seems to struggle with many aspects of his life. At the beginning of the novel, he is temporarily suspended for his poor academic efforts. As he appears before Mr. Spencer, he is embarrassed at his tremendous lack of effort on a particular essay on the Ancient Egyptians. Due to his own cynicism and inability to get along with others, Holden finds himself having a tremendously difficult time applying himself to school.

As the novel continues, Holden wanders around New York, looking for some meaning. Needless to say, he has great difficulty finding it, for most of the people he encounters he considers to be phony. Whether its the older women he encounters in the hotel, the young prostitute (and her pimp), Jane Gallagher, or his old English teacher Mr. Antolini, Holden can't quite seem to connect to others. He mourns the death of his brother Allie, and it's not until he spends time with his younger sister Phoebe that he begins to feel any sense of happiness and optimism.

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Holden struggles in several different areas throughout the novel. Externally, Holden struggles with his school work. He is failing every class except English at Pency, which is why he is not allowed back for the next term. Holden also has a litany of social problems. He struggles to maintain genuine friendships with other boys his age and is often highly critical of those around him. Holden portrays his hypocritical nature by continually insulting and criticizing his acquaintances while refusing to analyze his own behavior. Holden also struggles to develop relationships with women throughout the novel. He lacks the ability to communicate with Jane Gallagher and does not express empathy towards Sally Hayes. Holden's struggles can be attributed to the loss of his younger brother Allie. Since Allie's death, Holden has struggled to move on with his life. He cannot come to terms with his future and instead lives in the idyllic past when Allie was alive. Holden's fear of becoming an adult comes from his inability to move on after Allie's death. His phycological issues negatively affect his relationships, perspective, and attitude throughout the novel.

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Holden struggles are with relationships, both with people and with himself. When we look at other people, the struggle with relationships is evident through his interactions with his roommate when he says he is going on a date with Jane Gallagher. 

"Jane Gallagher. Jesus. I couldn’t get her off my mind. I really couldn’t. I oughta go down and say hello to her, at least.”

Holden has a clear interest in Jane, but he cannot bring himself to go down and say hello to her. Throughout the rest of the story his interest in Jane is clear, yet he cannot bring himself to ever call her.

He also struggles with family and class expectations. Growing up in an upper-middle class family, both his family and his economic class expect him to succeed at a prestigious prep school and then go on to attend an ivy league college. This scares Holden so he plans spontaneous fantasies that will not work, like running away with Sally (which scares her) and running west to live with a deaf mute. 

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What are some problems that Holden faces in The Catcher in the Rye?

Two major problems collide for Holden: the survivor's guilt he experiences over his brother Allie's death and the issues of adolescence. These two originating problems lead to other issues, such as his inability to succeed in prep school.

Adolescents often have an inflated idea of their role in the world as they struggle to adopt the mantle of adult responsibility. The burden Holden bears is his desire to protect and save all the innocent and vulnerable people of the world as a way to atone for his younger brother's death. This pattern plays out in the novel: Holden fights with Stradlater out of a misplaced desire to defend Jane; he won't sleep with the vulnerable teenage prostitute he hires; he gives the nuns he meets in the diner money because it bothers him that their breakfast is so meager; and he shows the boys at the Metropolitan Museum of Art the way to the mummies. When he goes to visit his little sister, Phoebe, he tells her he would like to be the catcher in the rye, the person who stands at the edge of the cliff near where children play and saves them before they can fall off.

To mature, Holden needs to learn that it is not up to him to save the world—a lesson he begins to learn at the end of the novel as he lets Phoebe take risks to reach for the gold ring on the merry-go-round.

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What are some problems that Holden faces in The Catcher in the Rye?

The main problem for Holden is that he can't bridge the gap between adolescence and adulthood. He feels more intensely than most young adults the pressure to find a place for himself in a world that's scary and largely incomprehensible. Yet he lacks the ability to do so. His chronic cynicism gives him a perspective on the world that precludes any meaningful involvement in it. Everyone and everything in the big old world outside is just "phony," and so Holden refuses to engage meaningfully with people he regards as being terminally fake and insincere.

Most young adults go through a difficult period of readjustment, but it's much harder for Holden. Psychologically, he's still a child, still incapable of living in the world, despite his constitutional cynicism. He just wants to be "the catcher in the rye," protecting the innocence of children, the innocence which he himself has lost, yet yearns so much to recover. But he cannot do this. He can't even protect himself. In order to live up to his heroic self-image he needs to take a step up and become a responsible adult. But for Holden, this is an impossibility. And it's this chronic inability to reconcile the two elements of his developing personality that leads more than anything else to his institutionalization. 

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What are some problems that Holden faces in The Catcher in the Rye?

One of the major issues that Holden deals with throughout the novel concerns the death of his younger brother Allie, who died of leukemia when he was eleven. Allie's death significantly impacts Holden's mental health and well-being. On the night that Allie died, Holden broke every window in his garage and had to be hospitalized. Holden then sinks deeply into depression and does not get over his brother's untimely death. Holden's traumatic childhood experience negatively impacts his grades, relationships, and overall perspective on life. Holden is unable to maintain close friendships with boys his age and cannot focus on the majority of his subjects at school. He also has a negative disposition toward practically everything he encounters in life and seems to live in the past. Even Holden's fear of becoming an adult is connected to the death of his younger brother. Holden's psychological issues mimic the symptoms of individuals suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Holden never sought therapy following the death of his brother and proceeds to live an unfulfilling, depressed life. Allie's death is the root of Holden's many social and mental issues throughout the novel. 

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What are some problems that Holden faces in The Catcher in the Rye?

One major adolescent issue that Holden faces in the novel is dealing with his sexuality.  Near the end of the book, Holden assumes that Mr. Antolini is trying to make a sexual advance on him, and he says that these types of things have happened to him many times before.  It is unclear whether Holden means that he has been molested in the past or whether he has received advances by other males in the past.  In either case, the experience with Mr. Antolini makes Holden uncomfortable at the moment when it happens (Holden later considers that Mr. Antolini was just being affectionate towards him because he felt sorry for him).  Earlier in the novel, Holden also displays his inexperience with women.  Even though he talks a great deal about making out with girls, when he invites Sunny to his room, he does not have sex with her.  He claims that he realized he was not in the mood, but he often says this to cover up his true intentions (he also used this line to get out of speaking to Jane when she went on a date with Stradlater).  Holden is still caught in his desire to go back to his childhood, so his adolescent sexuality is an issue that he is not prepared to address.

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What are some open-ended questions for The Catcher in the Rye?

The following are some open-ended questions for The Catcher in the Rye:

What is the significance of the title The Catcher in the Rye?

Why has Holden been sent to therapy and how do you think this affects his attitude towards his parents?

What is Holden's relationship with his peers?

How does Holden's narration affect the reader's feelings about the other characters?

In what way are Holden's actions often inconsistent with his opinions?

How has Allie's death affected Holden?

What indicators are there that Holden is in the midst of an emotional breakdown?

What is Holden's view on sex and what does it say about his current state of mind?

What do you think are the character's views on Holden and how he acts?

In way could Holden be described as self-delusional?

What does the prostitute represent in terms of Holden's development, and why do you think he refuses her?

What are Holden's views on childhood and adulthood? How do these views affect his relationship with the other characters?

How does Salinger express the loneliness that Holden feels throughout the story?

What role does Phoebe's character play in helping Holden through his crisis?

What does Holden's description of the Antonlinis and their surroundings say about his feeling towards them?

In what moments does Holden make a rash judgement or decision? How does this affect the story and his mindset?

What techniques does Salinger employ to allow the reader to see through Holden's unreliable narration, seeing the truth of who he really is as a person?

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What questions does Holden ask in the book The Catcher in the Rye?

Holden has many questions in the Catcher in the Rye, most of his anxiety stems from his inability to get an answer to the question, why his little brother had to die at such a young age.  Holden experiences a deep sense of grief, most of which is too painful to confront and gets suppressed which causes Holden to experience depression.

Holden questions how his parents can go on with their lives when they lost a son.  How can people just move past such a momentous loss and go to work and continue as before, when nothing will ever be the same?  This offends Holden and he fears and resents his parents, and fails to communicate with them which is part of his problem.

Another question that Holden asks has to do with where the ducks go, the ducks who live in the pond in Central Park, Holden is confused about the cycle that the ducks engage in every year.  This question is also connected to his attempt to understand life and death.  The ducks come back and this is a comfort to Holden.

Holden questions why all adults are phony, he rejects adult behavior as insincere and therefore does not want to become an adult.

Holden also grills Stradlater about his date with Jane Gallagher, asking him over and over, "does she still keep her kings in the back row," a reference to Jane's sexual purity that Holden remembers from their days together in Maine.

While Sally Hayes is questioning Holden about whether he will come over to her house on Christmas Eve to help decorate the tree, he is thinking more philosophically.  He asks her:

"Did you ever get fed up I mean did you ever get scared that everything was going to go lousy unless you did something? I mean do you like school and all that stuff?" (Salinger)

 

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What are some questions that connect to the real world and relate to The Catcher in the Rye?

There are many different real world questions that we could think of after reading Catcher in the Rye. Let's start first by looking at the themes that are prevalent in The Catcher in the Rye. Holden is an innocent person who is fighting against society to avoid growing up. As a teenager, he feels as though he can't change society, and he develops a distaste towards fake or phony people. From this, we might ask several questions: Can a single person change the world? Do all teenagers need to go through a period of rebellion? Is it more important to try and fit it than to focus on what you find important? We also know that Holden struggles with mental health issues, which might bring up even more questions—What needs to be done to help people who are struggling to feel less lonely? What can be done to provide help to people struggling from depression?

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