Catcher in the Rye study questions

Catcher in the Rye 1951
Genre: social and psychological realism. Anti-hero, male initiation novel; Time of novel: two days in mid-December, 1949 ; Locale: eastern Pennsylvania and New York City; Point of view: first person, with limited reliability; Grade level: 10-12

  • Holden Caulfield, a 16-year-old boy on the verge of a nervous breakdown
  • Phoebe, Holden’s 10-year-old sister
  • Allie, two years younger than Holden, died of leukemia in the summer of 1946. Holden was approximately thirteen (38)
  • D. B., Holden’s older brother, now a screenwriter in Hollywood
  • Ward Stradlater, Holden’s roommate at Pencey Prep
  • Robert Ackley, an unpleasant boy who rooms next door
  • Sally Hayes, a girl Holden dates in New York
  • Jane Gallagher, a girl Holden secretly cares for
  • Mr. Antolini, an English teacher at Elkton Hills when Holden attended it, now teaching at NYU and living with his wife in NYC.
  • Sunny, a prostitute in the Edmont Hotel, where Holden stays, and Maurice, the elevator operator, also her pimp
  • Faith Cavendish, a girl he calls on the phone (64)
  • James Castle, a boy he knew at Elkton Hills

1. Holden has difficulty "fitting in." How does this novel compare to the beginnings of traditional 19th century novels?
2. Holden finds that his idols have feet of clay or that they are "phonies." Give examples and explain. Is there a pattern here? Discuss. Are his views projections?
3. Explore Holden’s attitudes toward Stradlater as a projection of his own anxiety?
4. Trace Holden’s reactions to Allie’s death. How are Holden’s conceptions of what a hero is, what a virgin is connected to Allie? Connect what you are observing to a discussion of the catcher’s mitt episode.
5. How important is humor in this story? What does this imply about Salinger’s view of the human condition?
6. Look closely at the image at the end of the novel where Holden recognizes that you have to let the kids on the carrousel reach for the gold ring. What does this mean?
7. Examine a few of the symbols in the novel. What does a car suggest to Holden? Why is Holden so curious about mummies in a museum?
8. Explore Holden’s relationship to women.
9. Disappearance and erasure are two terms which crop up thoughout the book. Trace a few of the meanings and incidents where these occur.
10. Look carefully at the description of "catcher in the rye." Analyze the symbols in this image. What are they falling into? What does "rye" symbolize? Compare this to Burns’s poem.