Study Questions for YA Fall 2000

 Study Questions & Quotations for Young Adult Literature Fall 2000.

Catcher in the Rye

Jumping the Nail



Briar Rose

Parrot in the Oven

Out of the Dust

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 Tristram Shady? How are their beginnings similar? What is the role of their parents?
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?

Jumping the Nail

1. Discuss the importance of the setting as it is initially described on page one of the book. For example, why does Bunting do you suppose bring up that "[s]ometimes June mornings in California are chilly . . ."?

2. Discuss the pattern which is established early in the novel regarding the polarity between the surf and glass walls. What do they signify? Make sure that you examine as many complexities as you can here.

3. Analyze the subplot of Dru’s mom’s young adult experience.

4. Look carefully at the narrative tone and style on page 7. "The Deep"? Who are "they"? Skeletons?

5. List and discuss at least five typical YA responses of Dru toward her mother.

6. Why is watching so important? Gathering?

7. Is "[s]haring danger with a loved one" a way of bonding only for YAs? Explain.

8. Our first glimpse of Elisa’s hair is important. Look carefully at the passage on page 23.

9. What is Dru’s sense of the danger involved? How about the others?

10. Look at the image patterns of seaweed, glass walls, flowing hair, wild surf, and foggy nights.

11. Comment on the statement, "Nobody forces Elisa to jump that first time."

12. Explore the similarities between Dru’s decision regarding college and Mike and jumping the Nail.

13. Look carefully at the images of Elisa as mermaid (106-07, 167 etc).

14. "When Scooter and Elisa had jumped, birds had flown, screeching, off the rocky ledges. But now it was as if some unknown hand had turned off sound and action. The twins fell silent and unseen" (123). Discuss and analyze.

15. The images of wildflowers. Discuss the symbolism.


1. Clocks, time, "chewing up the minutes that stretched. . ." (3). How does this maleable aspect of time become a pattern in the story?

2. Discuss some of the realistic aspects of Brent’s experience with his friends at the party, his own feelings about himself. Discuss any foreshadowing and/or irony that
you see in such sentences as "You have absolute power over your own life" (18).

3. The plot is non-linear. Draw a time line for the development of the story. In Weeksboro, Maine, Alexandra says that the whirligig "symbolizes all unseen forces" (26).
How are the plot and the themes juxtaposed?

4. "We never know all the consequences of our acts. They reach into places we can’t see. And into the future, where no one can" (38). Apply this idea to the accident as
well as one of the stories that revolve around a specific whirligig.

5. "He was lodged in his own chrysalis but had no idea what he was turning into" (43) also connected metaphorically with Brent’s choice of his next book. Trace the
working metaphor through the book. How is the fiction he is reading a parallel text?

6. Some problems regarding language difficulties. See the reference to "retarded children" being linked with "kids who didn’t know English" (57). Find other such examples
and discuss.

7. People live in flocks; they are always in a group, or in a karass (a disparate group of people linked together without their knowledge). We are all part of a community.
How is this theme developed throughout the story? Find some specific quotations that illustrate this fact.

8. What is the role of music and harmonica playing for Brent’s development? Notice the journeying motif and how this is also tightly connected to music, either in the form
of folk music or classical music. Find examples and discuss.

9. Learning, maturation, reading, insight, and honesty are all themes that are intertwined throughout the book. Discuss.

10. Discuss the idea that the whole world is a vast whirligig and that each of us is an individual whirligig. How is this possible? Find textual examples and discuss.


1. The book starts by explaining what is not at Camp Green Lake. There used to be trees, a lake, a town, shade, and people, now there are only lizards, rattlesnakes, and scorpions. How is this puzzle attractive reading? How does this beginning illustrate the basic pattern of the narrative? A braided narrative? juxaposition as narrative form?
2. "My name is easy to remember," said Mr. Pendanski as he shook hands with Stanley just outside the tent. "Three easy words: pen, dance, key." How is this sentence a metacritical comment? In other words, how does this sentence show us how to read this book? How does Stanley’s own name illustrate the narrative plot?
3. This is a story about juvenile delinquents, about learning, about reading, about crooks, thieves, and pig-stealings. Or is it? What satirical comments are being made about our views of these folks? Give two examples.
4. "Do you hear the empty spaces?" she [the Warden] asked (67). What are some other "empty spaces" in the book? Discuss the connection between empty spaces and the statement, "Zero was nobody" (81). How are these connected to black holes and time warps.
5. What are all the connections between Clyde Livingston, smelly feet, Zero, and Stanley? Digging holes makes character. Whose? Why?
6. "Doc Hawthorn was almost completely bald, and in the morning his head often smelled like onions" (109). Now look closely at this sentence: "A lot of people don’t believe in yellow-spotted lizards either, but if one bites you, it doesn’t make a difference whether you believe in it or not" (41). Examine the ways in which the ideas behind these two sentences are connected. This should also lead you to consider how myth and folk tales are woven into the fabric of this story.
7. There are some ethnic considerations elements in this story. What are they? How are these situations connected to a transcendence of these same elements?
8. Friendship. What is it? How do Stanley and Zero develop their friendship? What do they sacrifice?
9. Irony. What is irony? How does irony work in this book? Discuss some examples to illustrate how the Holes is an ironic demonstration of the onion-eating, layers of onion metaphor/episode in the book.
10. There seems to be nothing that is predictable in this book. Is this book in the absurdist tradition? a black comedy? What is serious becomes funny, and what is funny quickly turns serious. What seems to be a game turns deadly very quickly.

Briar Rose

  1. Discuss how the story follows and deviates from the classic fairy tale. Use at least three examples.
  2. "I was the princess in the castle in the sleeping woods" (19). Consider what the "curse" is in this version. How is Gemma like the princess. Use some specific examples.
  3. The box. Pandora’s? How do the mysterious contents peek our interest in the history behind each piece? Discuss how narrative and family history plays a major role here. There are always double or triple "palismpsest-type" of stories going on. Give an example. Isn’t a map-reader a story-teller? Define what history is.
  4. What is in a name? What is our identity? Our past? Is our future determined by our past, by our relatives’ past? How important are our roots?
  5. Why is the "promise" so important? Is it another type of "obsessive-compulsive" behavior?
  6. "A hundred years, a thousand years, "Gemma said. It doesn’t matter. Dead is dead" (62).
  7. Time does not excuse conscience," Havey said shortly. "Time does not erase this" (72). "Because . . ." he whispered, "what’s past is prologue" (91).
  8. "But she was fearless nonetheless, and cheerful, having no past to haunt her" (180).
  9. "Your own American writer Emerson said, ‘The hero is not fed on sweets but daily his own heart he eats’" (194).
  10. "Truth is never tidy. Only fairy tales" (196).

Parrot in the Oven

1.Describe when the analogy is given. Is this idea only in the narrator’s mind at this point?
2.Think about and discuss the way the parents are described. Is this stereotypical or accurate? Why is it important to the story?
3.Analyze the scene when Manny and Nardo are picking peppers in the field. How does what happens there influence their lives at home?
4."He didn’t know how awful she felt about embarrassing him at the pool hall" (59).
5."’You can’t take my rifle . . . you can’t take my rifle,’ his voice sinking into a plea" (67). Discuss the significance of this scene, including Manny’s mother’s anger.
6."Grandma used to keep her face pretty like a baby doll, dabbing cold cream on it every night. . . . Now her face was webbed with wrinkles, and her hair sworly
white and frazzled" (81).
7."How we never take responsibility. She said that’s why we’re so confused and screwed up. Only she didn’t say ‘confused’ and ‘screwed up,’ but said ‘neurotic’ and
another medical word I couldn’t make out" (149). Describe and discuss the circumstances for this scene. Look closely at the narrator here. And what has just
happened to Magda. Draw a connection between this epiphanic scene and the one when Manny recognizes Magda’s "lover."
8."I passed the glass door; and from the light of the outside lamp I saw the reflection of a ridiculous boy, a clumsy boy. It was me, looking at myself, except that it
wasn’t me, but someone ghostly and strange" (181).
9."’Well, I suppose it’s okay,’ she said, finally. ‘But don’t come back later.’ . . .like she know I’d do the right thing" (200).
10."This room was what my mother spent so much energy cleaning and keeping together, and what my father spent so much energy tearing apart. And it was
wondrous, like a place I was meant to be. A place, I felt, that I had come back to after a long journey of being away. My home" (215).

Out of the Dust

1. "Wonder why Daddy’ll get his boy this time?" (5). This statement ends the first chapter. Describe the elements of foreshodowing does this statement contains.

2. Litotes implies understatement. Give two examples of this trope and explain why this form works in this book.

3. "When I’m with Arley’s boys we forget the dust" (50). Discuss briefly why this is true and what the implications of this fact.

4. Explore the historical occurances that are alluded to in this novel. The New Deal (26), WWI (44), the Dionne Quintuplets (57), the depression, economic dependence on wheat, population growth, prohibition, polio (115), Lindberghs (145), CCC (181).

5. The effect of the chapter "Nightmare": What is the reality? the dream?

6. Pattern of apple blossoms and apple trees as examples of hope. How are these parallel to aspects of the story.

7. "The women talked as they scrubbed death from the house" (74). Explain how this metaphoric construct works.

8. Her burned hands, and hands in general are vital symbols. Discuss.

9. Look closely at the titles of the chapters and what is being discussed in that chapter. How are the two related? Discuss at least one specifically.

10. Explore some of the following terms and their changing meanings throughout the book: enough, empty spaces, poetry, music, emptiness, hunger, hands, and dust.