Introductory Lecture and Objectives

The Catcher in the Rye eNotes Lesson Plan content

Introductory Lecture

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.

Instructional Focus: Teaching With an eNotes Lesson Plan

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 comprehension.


(The entire section is 486 words.)

Essay and Discussion Questions

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.)

Chapter 1


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

Study Questions

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.)

Chapter 2


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

Study Questions

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.)

Chapter 3


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

Study Questions

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.)

Chapter 4


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

vile: disgusting

viselike: extremely tight

washbowl: a sink

Study Questions

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.)

Chapter 5


bridge fiend: someone who likes to play the card game bridge

brown Betty: an apple-crumb dessert

halitosis: bad breath

hunch: feeling

monotonous: boring

psychoanalyze: to study one’s mental state

racket: noise; disturbance

Study Questions

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 mashed...

(The entire section is 291 words.)

Chapter 6


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

solitary: alone

sore: angry

unscrupulous: lacking morals or principles

Study Questions

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.)

Chapter 7


canasta fiend: a person who enjoys a card game that is similar to rummy

cracks: jokes

Gladstone: a type of luggage or suitcase

hysterical: uncontrollably emotional; extremely funny

lavish: generous

loaded: slang has a great deal of money

monastery: a community of monks

snow: slang to lie to

tiff: argument

welfare: wellbeing; health and happiness

Study Questions

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.)

Chapter 8


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

Study Questions

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 good...

(The entire section is 317 words.)

Chapter 9


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

hysterics: laughter

incognito: in disguise

pervert: a person who engages in abnormal, inappropriate sexual behavior

suave: charming and elegant

Study Questions

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.

2. What...

(The entire section is 326 words.)

Chapter 10


affectionate: expressing tenderness

crude: rude, impolite

hem and haw: slang to hesitate

immaterial: unimportant

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

Study Questions

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.)

Chapter 11


big freeze: slang to ignore

stink: slang to make a fuss

Study Questions

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.)

Chapter 12


crocked: slang drunk

dope fiend: slang a drug addict

Ivy League college: a very prestigious college

jam-packed: crowded

knockers: slang breasts

pansy: slang a weak or effeminate male

toss your cookies: slang to vomit

Study Questions

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 feel...

(The entire section is 324 words.)

Chapter 13


capacity: ability

chateau: French for castle; large house or mansion

cutting: hurtful

dolled up: slang dressed up

nonchalant: seemingly unconcerned

premature: too early

recuperate: to recover

yellow: slang afraid

Study Questions

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?

He’s still...

(The entire section is 256 words.)

Chapter 14


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)

Study Questions

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?

He’s wearing...

(The entire section is 283 words.)

Chapter 15


blue: sad

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

Study Questions

1. Holden mentions his mother in this chapter. What does he say?...

(The entire section is 386 words.)

Chapter 16


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

Study Questions

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.)

Chapter 17


blasé: not easily impressed, usually because of familiarity

clinch: a hug or embrace

clique: a small, exclusive group

nauseating: sickening

raspy: grating, harsh sound

Study Questions

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.)

Chapter 18


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

Study Questions

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.)

Chapter 19


aristocratic: belonging to a socially exclusive group

flit: slang gay man

inane: ridiculous; lacking substance

tear: slang to leave

trait: quality, feature

Study Questions

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?

Luce suggests...

(The entire section is 145 words.)

Chapter 20


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

Study Questions

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 me...

(The entire section is 214 words.)

Chapter 21


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

Study Questions

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.)

Chapter 22


cockeyed: slang ridiculous, absurd

fraternity: a high school or college club for males

ostracize: to exile from a group

stinking: slang terribly; extremely

Study Questions

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 over whether...

(The entire section is 277 words.)

Chapter 23


snappy: quick

tango: a Latin American dance

Study Questions

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.)

Chapter 24


dandy: very good

digress: to diverge, to go off topic

harrowing: distressing

humility: humbleness

oiled up: slang drunk

pedagogical: instructional

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

Study Questions

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.)

Chapter 25


jazzy: slang upbeat

scraggy-looking: slang tattered

unsanitary: not clean

Study Questions

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.)

Chapter 26


affected: phony, pretentious

Study Questions

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.)

Multiple-Choice Test and Answer Key

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.)

Essay Exam Questions With Answers

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 refers to...

(The entire section is 1796 words.)