The Catcher in the Rye
GCSE English Literature
The Novel and it’s Publication
The Catcher in the Rye was first published as a series of short stories
between 1945-6 in the United States. The narrative was first published as
a novel in 1951 both in Britain and the United States.There are major
differences between the original published versions and the original
American text that you are studying.In the early publications, for
example, the American version was amended for British audiences by changing
Americanised spelling and the removal of expletives or references deemed
offensive to the British audience.
However, the most telling alteration to the British edition of 1951 and the
original American text, published for the first time in Britain in 1994, is
the use of italics to add emphasis to Holden’s phrases.The effect is
telling. Without the italics the sense of an idiosyncratic voice is lost;
the impact of Holden’s, at times, searing and bitter perspectives, is
somewhat attenuated. Whereas, in the original American text, the use of
italics helps to further humanise the narrative voice as a representation
of a contemporary American youth.
The original publication of the novel in 1951 generated great controversy.
In 1951, America was coming into its role as the great geo-political
superpower of the twentieth century. In the aftermath of the Second World
War, which the Americans entered in its later stages but to decisive
effect, America found itself in a period of considerable wealth and
understanding of its own moral identity. This was characterised by a clear
sense of family values and social responsibility.Indeed, these values
were pervasive, with the increasing growth of broadcast media in the US,
the moral compass of the American ruling powers, was imposed on Americans
through their television sets on a nightly basis. By the 1950s, under the
presidency of Harry. S Truman – who authorised the use of the Atomic Bomb
and thus cemented the power of the US on the world stage – America had
become the first major ‘consumer society’. That is, a society that places
great value on material possessions as a representation of their personal
happiness. In turn, Salinger’s presentation of a young man in that
society, who is fundamentally disgusted by it, is the antithesis of the
prevailing national sentiment of the time.
Furthermore, Holden’s inherent rebelliousness was considered a negative
influence on American youth.However, popular culture in America was
beginning to focus on the concept of the ‘teenager’.The Catcher in the
Rye marks the early beginnings of representations of teenage rebellion in
pop-culture. In 1954, James Dean (pictured right) played a rebellious
teenager, Jim Stark, in Rebel Without a Cause. The film centred on Stark’s
defiance of his parents and the education system, in the process making
Dean an iconic figure in 1950s culture. Increasingly there was a growing
belief that the generation gap in the US was growing; that American youth
were disillusioned with the authoritarian outlook of their parents.
In turn this explains the inherently censorial approach taken to the novel
when it was first published in the 1950s: Holden’s ceaseless struggle with
authority in the novel embodies the very real conflict that was taking
place outside of it in families across Middle America.
Interestingly, The Catcher in the Rye’s place in education has been
problematic. Many school authorities banned the book from the curriculum
when it was first published. Indeed, many felt that to teach the book in
the classroom – a place where students are supposed to be educated in not
just subject matter, but social and moral issues – was to give the Holden’s
rebelliousness and anti-establishment perspective its intended audience.
The novel was still banned in some places as late as 1997.
The Catcher in the Rye is narrated from the perspective of a young man
called Holden Caulfield who has fallen victim to an undefined psychological
illness. Holden does not specify his precise location as he recounts the
events leading to his admission to a mental institution. Holden is sixteen
at the time of the narrative and he recounts the events that take place
between the end of the Autumn term and his return to New York City.
Holden’s story begins on the Saturday afternoon of a major inter-school
football game. Holden does not attend the game but instead stands atop a
hill overlooking the match. It is here that Holden reveals to the reader
that he has been asked to leave Pencey because he is failing four out of
five subjects at the school.Holden is not expected home until the
following Wednesday and so is left to ponder how to use the time.He
decides to visit his history teacher, Mr Spencer, so that he can say good-
bye. The visit to Spencer’s house leaves Holden feeling frustrated and
annoyed because Mr Spencer attempts to reprimand him for his poor academic
Holden decides to leave Pencey and head to New York followingan
altercation with another student at the school. Holden reveals he used to
date a girl called Jane Gallagher.Stradlater, one of Holden’s fellow
students, takes Jane out on a date and Holden grows increasingly jealous
about the fact. Holden begins to speculate about what Stradlater and Jane
did on the date; he begins to recall how Stradlater has sex with girls in
his car.On Stradlater’s return from the date, Holden relentlessly
questions him about the date.Stradlater, detecting Holden’s jealousy,
begins to tease Holden who then punches him causing his nose to bleed.
Holden decides to leave Pencey and head to New York.
On his journey to New York, Holden meets the mother of a student he
dislikes. Although he dislikes the student, he pretends to the woman that
her son is a fine, upstanding and popular member of the school.He also
pretends to be someone else, Rudolph Schmidt.
When Holden arrives at Penn Station, he heads for a phone booth and
wrestles with the idea of calling different people. However, in each case
he decides against making the call.Holden then heads for the Edmont
Hotel. From his room in the Edmont, Holden can see into the rooms of other
guests. It is an experience that Holden finds both distasteful and
arousing. He can see a man dressing in women’s clothes and a couple
spitting water into one another’s mouths. He considers this to be a form
of sexual play which he at first finds disgusting.
Holden then recalls Faith Cavendish, a woman he has never met, but whose
number he obtained from another pupil at Pencey. He recalls that she used
to be a stripper and is convinced that he can persuade her to have sex with
him. When Holden calls her, in the late at night, she is at first annoyed,
but agrees to meet Holden the following day.
After Holden has made the call to Faith, he heads downstairs to the
Lavender Bar where he attempts to buy alcohol. The waiter refuses to serve
Holden because he realises that he is underage. Instead, Holden begins to
flirt with three women who are having a night out. Holden quickly realises
that they are in the bar in a vain hope of catching a glimpse of a
celebrity. Holden, unperturbed, dances with the women in turn.He finds
that he is attracted to the blonde lady primarily because of the way that
she dances. However, once the women realise how old Holden is, they begin
to tease him about his age before leaving.
After his disastrous encounter with the three women, Holden heads out to
the hotel lobby. It is here that Holden begins to recall how he first met
Jane Gallagher.Holden recounts, in flashback, how they spentone
afternoon playing checkers. As they were playing, Jane’s stepfather came
out on to the porch, as he left Jane began to cry.It is at this point
Holden begins to kiss Jane all over her face, yet she will not allow him to
kiss her lips.
Having recalled how he got to know Jane, Holden then takes a cab to Ernie’s
jazz club in Greenwich Village.Holden sits alone at a table and observes
the different customers with distaste. While he is at the jazz club he
meets Lillian Simmons, one of D.B.’s oldest friends.However, Holden
pretends that he has to meet someone and leaves the jazz club.
When he returns to the Edmont Hotel, Holden is greeted by Maurice, the
elevator operator, who offers to send a prostitute to his room for five
dollars. Holden agrees to Maurice’s proposition. A short time later, a
woman called ‘Sunny’ arrives at his door. However, Holden attempts to make
conversation with her rather than have sex. Holden tries to convince Sunny
that he has recently undergone a spinal operation and is not sufficiently
recovered to have sex. Holden pays her the five dollars he agreed and then
shows her to the door.Some time later, Sunny arrives with Maurice.
Maurice demands a further five dollars from Holden who refuses to pay.
Maurice punches Holden and leaves him writhing on the floor as Sunny takes
the five dollars.
Holden rises at ten ‘o clock on the Sunday morning.He immediately calls
Sally Hayes a girl he once dated. They both agree to go to a matinee
performance on Broadway that afternoon.Holden then heads outfor
breakfast where he discusses Romeo and Juliet with two nuns.Before he
leaves, Holden gives the nuns ten dollars.Holden then takes a cab to
Central Park where he hopes to find his sister, Phoebe, however she is not
there. Holden finds one of Phoebe’s school friends and helps her to
tighten her ice skate. She tells him that Phoebe might be at the Museum of
Natural History. Though he knows Phoebe won’t be there because it is a
Sunday, he still goes to the museum. When he arrives, Holden does not go
inside but instead takes a cab to the Biltmore Hotel to meet Sally.
Holden and Sally head to Broadway to see the matinee.After the play,
Sally meets a boy she knows from Andover and talks to him, much to Holden’s
annoyance. Sally suggests to Holden that they go to Radio City to ice
skate. After a token attempt to ice skate, they begin to discuss why
Holden is so unhappy at school.Holden urges Sallytomoveto
Massachusetts or Vermont with him and live in a cabin. She refuses.
Holden attempts to contact Jane again, but she does not answer.Instead,
Holden calls Carl Luce and they meet at the Wicker Bar in the Seton Hotel.
Holden begins to make jokes aboutLuce’sChinesegirlfriendand
homosexuals. Luce finds Holden’s prejudices distasteful and makes an
excuse to leave. Holden is left alone to drink and listen to the pianist.
Holden returns to his family’s apartment building where he is forced to
admit to Phoebe that he has been kicked out of school once more. Phoebe is
furious and accuses of Holden of not liking anything.Holden then begins
to describe a fantasy based on his misreading of Robert Burn’s poem, where
Holden is catching children as they are about to fall off a cliff.Phoebe
points out that he has recalled the poem inaccurately.
Holden visits Mr Antolini, his former English teacher.Mr Antolini asks
Holden about why he has been expelled from school and then tries to offer
him some advice about the future. Holden then goes to sleep only to woken
by Mr Antolini who is making what Holden takes to be a homosexual overture.
Holden leaves and heads for Grand Central Station where he spends the rest
of the night.
The following day, Holden heads to Phoebe’s school where he delivers a note
saying that he is leaving for good. He asks her to meet him at the museum
at lunchtime. When Phoebe finally arrives, she has packed her own suitcase
and urges Holden to take her with him. He angrily refuses and reduces her
to tears. Knowing that Phoebe will follow him, Holden heads for the zoo
and then to a carousel in the park. Holden buys Phoebe a ticket for the
carousel which she rides time and time again. It begins to rain and Holden
is overcome by happiness. He begins to cry.
Holden concludes the narrative at this point; he tells the reader that he
is not going to tell the story what happened when he became ‘sick’.
Instead, he tells us he plans to go to a new school and there is a sense of
optimism about his future.
Narrative – Revision Questions
1. Where does the narrative begin and end?
2. Divide the narrative into four distinct sections – think about the
moments when Holden leaves places and arrives in others, as well as how
particular characters mark distinctive sections of the plot.
3. What Holden watching at the beginning of the novel, and why do you think
that Salinger begins the narrative with this moment – think about what
ideas or themes that it foreshadows in the later narrative.
4. Why is Holden forced to return early to Pencey Prep. and why does Holden
recount this event while watching the football game?
5. What significant item of clothing does Holden buy during his trip to
New York and why is it important that he purchased it during this
particular trip given what else happened in New York, what might it
6. Who does Holden go to see to discuss his expulsion from Pencey Prep?
7. To whom does Holden introduce himself as ‘Rudolph Schmidt’ what is the
importance of this deception?
8. Once in New York what event demonstrates the complex nature of Holden’s
relationships with other people?
9. Holden checks into which hotel in New York?
10. When he has checked in what does he see from his window – what might be
the significance of what Holden sees?
11. Explain the events with Sunny and explain what they show us about
Holden is relation to the wider world of the narrative?
12. At breakfast, Holden is in conversation with whom and what does his
discuss with them?
13. What surprises Holden about the nun?
14. What does this section that ends with Holden buying the tickets for his
date signify in Holden’s life?
15. Explain the narrative and significance of the events at the Natural
16. When Holden goes to see Phoebe, how does she respond physically and
what is the significance of this?
17. Phoebe criticises Holden for a variety of reasons: make a list of them
and try to determine why she criticises him for these things specifically
– i.e. what do they imply about Holden and his vision of life that she
might not understand or she finds unpleasant?
18. While with Phoebe, Holden explains his fantasy of the ‘catcher in the
rye’ – what is the important of this moment in the narrative?
19. How does Phoebe’s generosity towards Holden at the end of this chapter
suggest that Holden is on the verge of a significant event within the
context of the novel?
20. Explain the importance of the events with Mr Antolini – what happens,
what do the events symbolise and how do they serve an important function
in the narrative?
21. As Holden prepares to leave New York, he is confronted with a series of
visions of everyday baseness – what are they and what significance do
they have in terms of the narrative as a whole?
22. Review the last two chapters of the novel – is Holden saved?Is he
saveable? And if so, how does Salinger save Holden?
23. Is it believable that a character like Holden might be redeemed at the
end of the novel?
Holden is a complex character: that is, he is defined by a range of
conflicting characteristics which combine to make the whole of his
1. Look at the list of descriptions below and complete spider charts for
each one giving textual references and chapter numbers to show which
passages you might refer to in order to prove the idea.
. Holden as ‘outsider’
. Holden as ‘lonely’
. Holden as ‘cynic’
. Holden as ‘idealist’
. Holden as ‘liar’
. Holden as ‘intelligent’
. Holden as ‘sensitive’
. Holden as ‘hypocrite’
. Holden as ‘phoney’
. Holden as ‘adult’
. Holden as ‘child’
. Holden as ‘suicidal’
. Holden as ‘optimist’
. Holden as ‘nihilist’ – (one who rejects the value and meaning of life
. Holden as ‘fatalist’ – (one who sees life as predetermined and
. Holden as ‘redeemed’ – (saved from his own weakness)
2. Consider all of the interaction that Holden has with other characters –
for each character complete the table below:
|Holden’s Interactions |
|| | |||
|| | |What does|What does |
|Character’s |Relationship |Holden’s|the|this|
|Name |to Holden|Attitude to|character|interactio|
|| |them|symbolise/ |n show us |
|| | |represent in|about|
|| | |the|Holden in |
|| | |narrative? |the wider |
|| | ||novel?|
|| | |||
|| | |||
|| | |||
|| | |||
|| | |||
|| | |||
|| | |||
|| | |||
|| | |||
|| | |||
|| | |||
|| | |||
|| | |||
|| | |||
3. Some critics have suggested that Salinger uses the characters in the
novel to ‘represent’ both positive and negative aspects of Holden’s
. Group the characters according to whether they are representations of
‘positive’ or ‘negative’ aspects of Holden’s world, and then try to
determine specifically what they represent.
Use the table below to structure your ideas:
|Characters as Representations of Holden’s World |
|Character’s Name|Positive |Negative|What do they|
||| |represent? |
4. Now consider whether the characters that you have grouped can be as
clearly defined as wholly ‘positive’ or ‘negative’. Which ones are more
complex and why is this – think about Holden’s own complexity.
5. Think about the novel as a whole – how do Holden’s interactions
throughout the novel reflect on Holden as a character?
6. What does Holden learn from his interactions with other characters in
7. Think about the characters that we do not see in the novel –
. Who are they?
. What do they have in common?
. Why does Salinger choose not to give them a voice in the novel?
. What function do these characters serve as opposed to the ones who
appear in the novel?
8. Which characters have the most significant influence over Holden’s
perception of the world?
9. Is Holden’s eventual salvation a consequence of himself or his
interactions with other characters?
Give textual evidence to support your answer.
Holden Caulfield ; The Quest Towards Redemption
Holden Caulfield is an iconic character in modern literature; he embodies
the concerns and fears of a generation of American youth growing up in the
1950s. Holden is essentially paralysed by a fear of the unknown.The
unknown of which Holden is afraid is adulthood. In The Catcher in the Rye,
Salinger essentially places Holden on the inevitable trajectory from
adolescence to adulthood. The novel centres on Holden’s quest to find
equilibrium in the world; at first his inherent cynicism and prejudice seem
distasteful and immature, but it is exactly Holden’s immaturity that
explains his outlook in the novel.Holden seeks to be an adult and
ascertain the power and control that are intrinsic in adulthood; yet
simultaneously he is incongruous with the adult world.Indeed, his
animosity towards adults throughout the novel is counter pointed by his
idealised perception of childhood.It is this tension that Salinger
locates as the central narrative dynamic in the novel, and it is this that
drives Holden’s quest towards redemption in the novel: that is, in order to
be saved from his fatalism he must realise the equilibrium that defines the
balance of life; that the ‘child’ and the ‘adult’ coexist in a finely
Holden is initially a paradox: he lives a life that is underpinned by
relative security created by the wealth of his family; equally, he has been
to a number of America’s top educational establishments.However, it is
his family from which we can derive the novel’s most tangible explanations
for Holden’s perception of the world. Holden’s greatest affection appears
to be for his sister Phoebe and his dead brother Allie.Holden refers
dismissively to both his older brother D.B., who he describes as a
‘prostitute’ (p1), and his parents who he suggests would suffer ‘two
haemorrhages’ if he reveals personal information about them.In both of
these descriptions the initial prosperity and securityofHolden’s
background is problematised; it forms a coincidental compensation for a
much more fragmented and irreparable wound beneath the veneer of the
idyllic family unit. Holden is distant from those in his own family who
are older; indeed when he speaks positively of D.B. it is to describe ‘The
Secret Goldfish’, a short story that D.B. wrote before Hollywood came
calling. The inherent innocence of ‘The Secret Goldfish’ captures the
essence of childhood that Holden recalls in times of crisis.That D.B.
wrote this in the years before he went to Hollywood implies a certain
yearning for a time now gone on Holden’s part. Holden’s assertion that his
older brother is a ‘prostitute’ alludes to the possibility that he has
‘sold’ a part of himself that Holden considers valuable. In turn we derive
from this the sense that Holden is right; D.B. has sacrificed the
imagination and innocence of his earlier literary works for the riches that
come from being a hired writer whose imagination becomes the property of
his paymasters. Therefore Holden not only seeks the innocence of childhood
as a comfort to himself, Holden wishes it on those around him who are
older. This strange feeling foreshadows Holden’s later revelation to
Phoebe that he wants to be ‘the catcher in the rye’ (p156); Holden
envisages himself as a protector and guardian of youthful innocence, even,
it seems, in those older than himself.
This is the case most visibly in the passages with Phoebe in whom Holden
imbues his greatest hope that innocence can prevail in the adult world.
Phoebe is introduced physically for the first time in the novel’s closing
passages as Holden’s world is at its most chaotic.However, Salinger
interestingly creates a sub-text in the novel that concerns Holden’s
ability to locate his sister.His first attempt issabotagedby
circumstance: the young girl that he meets in the park suggests that Phoebe
might be at the Natural History Museum, yet on a Sunday the museum would be
closed. Equally, Holden buys Phoebe a record which he then drops and it
breaks ‘into about fifty pieces’ (p.138).Holden is mortified and the
incident makes him feel ‘so terrible’ that he ‘damn near cried’ (p.138).
However, instead of discarding the broken pieces he ‘put[s] them in his
coat pocket’ (p.138) despite the fact that they ‘weren’t good for anything’
(p.138). Tellingly, Holden justifies why he keeps the pieces of the broken
record by telling us ‘I didn’t feel like just throwing them away’ (p.138).
To Holden the narrative of the record represents the very fears that he
has: the ‘little kid who wouldn’t go out of her house’ (p.103) because she
is missing two teeth and is ‘ashamed’ (p.104). The record is the absolute
embodiment of Holden’s central fear of the world: that the innocence and
simplicity of childhood is brutalised by the adult world. In essence, the
young girl in the song is forced into ‘shame’ because she does not conform
to some sense of physical perfection. That Holden tells us the record is
‘very hard’ (p.103) to procure again highlights the novel’s central
dramatic tension: that the innocence and purity of youthful sentiment are
obscured and hidden by the overwhelming presence of adult cynicism.
From this episode we derive the importance of Phoebe not just as a physical
presence in Holden’s life; but a symbol of hope. In turn, Phoebe becomes
the object of Holden’s quest throughout the novel. She is not simply his
sister; she is the symbol of everything he hopes that life can be.If the
novel is a quest, therefore, the record is almost akin to an offering that
he will make to a deity. That Holden protects the broken pieces of the
record signifies the central importance of the offering at all; it is the
meaning of what it will symbolise that counts to him.Indeed, his
desperation to make the offering to Phoebe can be measured only against the
urgency he places on finding her.
Later, as Holden envisions his death, he gropes incessantly in an attempt
to locate the precision of his sister’s feeling for him.Initially he
declares that ‘she likes [him] a lot’ (p.141), before he revises and
qualifies the statement, ‘I mean she’s quite fond of me’ (p. 141).The
need to qualify and clarify how he sees Phoebe’s affection towards him is
telling. It is the sign of an individual seeking affirmation of himself,
but also the person from who he is seeking affirmation.Phoebe is a
construct of Holden’s mind; that is, Holden inflects how he wants Phoebe to
feel about him on to her.Interestingly, as Holden sees hisown
deterioration – exemplified by a death from pneumonia – he becomes more
dependent on both how he hopes his sister perceives him, but also on the
sense of her as someone who can save him from his decline.Importantly,
Holden explains that the ‘only good thing’ (p.139) about his death would be
that his mother ‘wouldn’t let’ (p.139) Phoebe attend his funeral because
‘she was only a little kid.’ (p. 139). Therefore, Holden separates Phoebe
from his death. This is central to the idea that Phoebe – as presented by
Holden – is a construct, rather than a reflection of her true character.
Even though Holden pictures Phoebe as he envisions his decline into death,
he almost implies that there is hope. The hope, of course, is that Phoebe
will be protected from the reality of her brother ‘surrounded by dead
people’ (p140) in the graveyard. In turn, we then begin to understand the
centrality of Holden’s quest to find Phoebe. She is, in essence, his hope
of salvation. Holden’s vision of his death is a hypothetical invention at
which all of the features of the world he despises are present: ‘millions
of jerks’ (p139) coming to pay their respects; the ‘one stupid aunt with
halitosis’ (p139) and Holden’s mother ‘who still isn’t over…Allie yet’
(p.139). The people that Holden locates at his funeral all contribute –
from his point of view – to his negative and cynical view of the world,
which in turn, has led him to this point of crisis.That Phoebe is not
present almost begins to awaken Holden to the idea that by finding her, he
can save himself. Indeed, he then resolves to ‘sneak home and see’ (p.141)
Phoebe; in turn, Salinger has created a point of critical mass in the
narrative: Holden’s nihilism – or sense of himself, and the world, as
devoid of meaning or value – is reaching its height; yet he has one
remaining hope, his sister.
However, in order for Salinger to establish the equilibrium that Holden
seeks, he must first undermine the idealised construct that his protagonist
has created. It is when Holden finally finds his sister that this happens.
Salinger emphasises the covertness of Holden’s meeting with Phoebe from
the moment that he arrives at the family’s apartment building.Holden
tells us that he gets the ‘best break [he] had in years’ (p142) when he
arrives at the apartment because the ‘regular night elevator boy’ is not on
duty.Holden outlines his plan: ‘I figured if I didn’t bump smack into
my parents…I’d be able to say hello to old Phoebe…then beat it and
nobody’d know I’d been around’ (p.142).This is important because it
establishes that being caught by his parents would prevent Holden from
achieving his quest to reach Phoebe. Here once more we see the dichotomy
that rules Holden’s perception of the world: adults provide an obstacle to
the happiness and security of their children.Equally,itplaces
importance on the urgency of finding Phoebe before he is found by the
adults. Holden’s almost irrational reasoning and premeditation allude to
the insecurity of his mind at this point and, for the reader, enhance the
idea that Holden perceives his meeting with Phoebe as a final hope to
restore order to his mind and equilibrium to his world.
Salinger allows Holden some final moments to develop his construct of
Phoebe before she is revealed to the reader. Holden points out that Phoebe
‘likes to sleep in D.B.’s room when he’s away’ (p143). For the reader this
seems like the behaviour of a girl with an affinity toward her elder
brother, who realises her feelings for him, by occupying his space when he
is away. However, Holden attempts to denigrate the affection Phoebe might
feel for D.B. by attacking the objects in the room, his ‘madman desk’
(p143) for example, or the ‘big, gigantic bed’ (p143).The emphasise on
the size of the objects implies a certain decadence that Holden associates
with adults in general, but D.B. particularly, seen also when he refers to
the Jaguar that D.B. now drives in Chapter 1. Holden describes how he can
‘hardly see’ Phoebe when she works at the desk, she is, in essence,
obscured by this symbol of adult grandeur. However, whereas Holden mocks
symbols of grandeur as tools that obfuscate his idea of truth and innocence
– the reference to the advert for Pencey Prep. in Chapter 1, for example –
he merely dismisses this as humorous, ‘that kills me’ (p143).
This is a telling moment in the novel’s trajectory: the frameworks and
stereotypes that Holden assigns to objects throughout the rest of the
novel, and his absolutist interpretations of them, are forsaken here as he
deliberately attempts to impose a childish logic on to them.This is
centrally because the child in question is Phoebe: the symbol of everything
he wants to be true about the world. Consequently, he continues to peruse
the room, finding a notebook in which he discerns the childish innocence
that with which he associates Phoebe. A note written in the book reads
‘Bernice meet me at recess I have something very important to tell you’
(p145). For Holden, this note is the realisation of everything he had
sought, and hoped, Phoebe might still represent: childhood innocence.Here
Salinger is presenting the reader with a duality that is crucial to
Holden’s final redemption in the novel. That Phoebe can exist as a child
in this room of adult grandeur is a microcosmic representation of the way
that ‘childhood’ and ‘adulthood’ co-exist in a fine balance.
The beginning of the end for Holden’s absolutist construct of his sister is
when she announces that she is playing Benedict Arnold in ‘A Christmas
Pageant for Americans’. Here once more we see the duality that it is so
central Holden comes to understand. Phoebe – for Holden the embodiment of
everything he has sought to preserve – is playing a man synonymous in
American history with betrayal and treason. Her excitement is tangible and
Holden chooses not to see how this is inherently problematic: a girl in
which he stores his hopes of preserving innocence is cast as one of the
most reviled men in American history. This paradox is further highlighted
when following Holden’s inquiry, Phoebe tells him that D.B. ‘might have to
stay in Hollywood’ (p148) over Christmas to ‘write a picture about
Annapolis’ (p.148). Annapolis continues Salinger’s invocation of colonial
history in this chapter: established in 1649, Annapolis built its wealth on
the slave trade.Holden’s reaction is telling: ‘I’m not interested.
Annapolis, for God’s sake’ (p148).Holden’s distaste at first seems
reactionary; yet in the same way that Phoebe is playing a reviled figure
from the colonial past and Holden sees only her excitement; he is instantly
dismissive of D.B.’s potential project about the Annapolis.There is an
inherent irony in this: Holden who sees his brother as a ‘prostitute’ (p.1)
is now engaged in writing a film based on the selling of people.It is
almost as if in this moment Holden finally disconnects himself from his
elder brother and affirms his affinity with his sister.To the reader,
they are both engaged in that which Holden detests most: artifice.Yet,
Phoebe’s is endearing; while D.B.’s is another example of his willingness
to abandon his values.
However, Phoebe also begins to undermine Holden’s idealised construct when
she begins to admonish him for his expulsion from Pencey.Immediately she
tells Holden that ‘Daddy’ll kill you’ (p.150). She now represents the very
voice of conformity to the rules of the adult world that Mr Spencer urged
Holden to accept in Chapter 2. Salinger creates an interesting sense of a
growing distance between Holden’s ideal of Phoebe and the reality in this
chapter. Salinger’s careful attention to proxemics is key.At different
points throughout her argument with Holden regarding his expulsion from
school, she assumes physical positions that distance her from her brother.
Holden notes at the beginning of Chapter 22 how Phoebe is ‘ostracising the
hell out of me’ (p. 150). This continues throughout the chapter as Phoebe
‘turn[s] her crazy face the other way’, for example. This physical detail
represents both the evaporation of Holden’s construct of his sister, but
also, the way that he is isolated in his view of the world.Phoebe does
not affirm for him the path he has chosen, instead she criticises it,
leaving Holden alone to defend the indefensible. This is most eloquently
demonstrated when Phoebe corrects Holden’s misreading of Robert Burns’ poem
‘Comin’ Through the Rye’. Holden’s fantasy is to protect children from
falling over the edge of a cliff as they are ‘playing some game in this big
field of rye’ (p. 156). His fantasy derives from the misreading of the
poem to say ‘If a body catch a body comin’ through the rye’ as opposed to
‘if a body meet a body’ (p. 155). An immediate tension becomes apparent.
Holden has interpreted the poem in a protective sense that asserts he is
the sole adult protecting the children from the abyss of cynicism that
awaits them on the other side of adolescence. However, it is Phoebe who
points out the correct reading of the poem with its inherently sexual
connotations of bodies meeting in the rye. It is in this moment that the
validity of Holden’s fantasy is undermined. However, Holden recounts the
fantasy to the reader ending with the remark ‘I know it’s crazy’ (p.156),
almost to imply that Phoebe’s failure to fulfil his absolutist construct
has equally deemed his fantasy futile. It is at this point that Holden
must make a choice between accepting the adult world orremaining
frustrated by its inability to fulfil his ideals.
Holden’s narrative can be seen as a narrative towards redemption; that is,
Holden spends the narrative conflicted by his cynicism and fatalism in the
pursuit of a ‘way out’ of his moral ambivalence. One the one hand, Holden
longs to be an adult, free of the constraints and authority that adults
impose on children, while on the other hand, despising the superficiality
of the adult world. In turn, this creates a chasm between the two worlds
(the world of the ‘child’ and the world of the ‘adult’) that Holden cannot
bridge.Holden is, therefore, dislocated from the society thathe
inhabits; unable to conform to the demands that adults impose on children,
and unable to access the adult world which would free him, as he believes,
of adult imposition.However, Salinger hasplacedHoldeninan
irreconcilable dilemma – Holden firmly believes that to be adult is to be
free of constraint, yet, in order to be an adult, Holden must be free of
the constraints of his own history; in the novel this is characterised by
the guilt that remains from his brother’s death. Ali’s premature death (as
described in Chapter 5) is Salinger’s only attempt to mitigate Holden’s
cynicism and anger at society – implying that the arbitrary nature of
‘death’ has destroyed Holden’s belief in the concept of ‘childhood’ and all
that it represents. This is a pattern that repeats itself later in the
narrative with Phoebe, in whom Holden has invested so much hope that she
might re-affirm his belief in childhood innocence as sustainable against
the ills of the adult world.
When it prevails upon Holden that he must accept the co-existence of
innocence and the vices of the adult world he begins to cry.As Holden
watches Phoebe on the carousel, he begins to realise that childhood
innocence can be preserved – he pays for her to ride the carousel
repeatedly – yet, what makes the innocence of childhood so precious is that
it is measured against the harsher realities of life, of which he is the
embodiment as he stands, watching and refusing to ride the carousel
At the moment of realisation it begins to rain ‘like a bastard’ (p. 191)
and Holden is ‘damn near bawling’ (p. 191). The symbolism of the rain and
Holden’s tears is that at this moment, Holden is once more in step with
nature – his tears mirroring the rain, in contrast with the incongruity of
the earlier narrative where Holden was alienated from natural order.And
thus, Holden is spared the suicide that Salinger foreshadows as Holden’s
descent becomes more intense and acute. Holden’s redemption is complete:
he has realised the absolutes that provoked his cynicism are unsustainable
and he must accept the world for what it is: a complex balance of the
beautiful and the ugly; the innocent and the impure.
And, as Phoebe continues to ride the carousel, Holden regains his belief in
the innocence of childhood – she has brought him to his redemption.
The settings in the novel play a crucial role because they increasingly
help to define Holden’s descent into ill-health but also because they
provide a mirror for his emotions.
1. Complete the table below to show the location, events and their
importance in each chapter.
|Setting in The Catcher in the Rye |
| ||| |
| ||| |
| ||| |
2. Using the locations listed below, complete the table to explain its
significance in the novel:
. Pencey Prep.
. New York City
. The Seton Hotel
. Central Park
. The Museum of Natural History
. The Caulfield Household
|Significance of Key Settings |
|Location |Chapter|Which events|What does ||
||Number(s)|take place |the |Textual Evidence |
5. Salinger rarely, if ever, gives any clue as to when he is setting the
novel in terms of its date. However, certain contextual factors suggest
that the novel is set in the 1950s. What do you think Salinger does not
give a specific date for the novel’s setting?
6. Salinger refers to some of the most famous landmarks in New York City at
different parts of the narrative – why do you think he does so and what
is the effect?
7. Paul Goldberger, an architecture critic for The New York Times, once
said of New York City that it is:
The city of right angles and tough, damaged people.
. With this quotation in mind, explain why New York City is an effective
setting for the later stages of the novel – think about what the words
in the question suggest, and how this might relate to the novel, its
characters and themes.
The key themes in The Catcher in the Rye are all linked to Holden’s
experience of the world he inhabits within the novel. There are four key
themes that you need to understand, however, towards the end of this
section, some more complex themes are explored and to give yourself the
opportunity to achieve the higher grades, you will want to make sure that
you think about them and how they relate to other ideas in the novel.
The four key themes are:
. The Individual and Society
. The effects of the environment
. Childhood vs. Adulthood
One of the central causes of Holden’s breakdown at the end of the novel is
his feeling of social isolation and dislocation, Holden repeatedly tells us
that he feels lonely.Holden tries to counteract his loneliness by
befriending other people; however he is constantly confronted by his own
awkwardness when such moments arise. Eventually, Holden is caught in a
paradoxical cycle of wanting to be known while always finding safety from
rejection in his own solitude.
. Look at the headings below – these are all elements of the narrative that
present the theme of relationships:
. Pencey Prep.
. Adults and Parents
. Meaningful Conversation
. Relationships in the past
. Use the headings above and create a list of quotations that explore the
theme of relationships in the novel.
For each subsection, you should use the table below to help you structure
|Pencey Prep. & the theme of relationships|
| || |
|Quotation|Chapter Number|How this quotation presents the|
| ||theme of relationships|
| || |
2. The Individual and Society
America in the 1950s was the first modern ‘consumer society’ in which some
sections of the population had considerable wealth and opportunity. One of
the key elements of Salinger’s narrative is concerned with how Holden
rejects the society that he sees around him. Some of Holden’s most cynical
and nihilistic ideas are witnessed when he is commenting on the society to
which he belongs. Holden attacks 1950s American society with charges of
superficiality and an unhealthy obsession with financial rewardand
. Look at the headings below – these are all ideas in the narrative that
present the theme of the ‘individual and society’:
. Materialism (an obsession with possessions)
. The values of school
. New York people
. Pressure to conform
. Use the headings above and create a list of quotations that explore the
theme of relationships in the novel.
For each sub-section you could use the table below to help you structure
|Materialism & the theme of the Individual and Society|
| || |
|Quotation|Chapter Number|How this quotation presents the|
| ||theme of individual/society|
| || |
3. The Effects of the Environment
Holden experiences three distinct environments throughout the novel: Pencey
Prep., New York City and his family home. Each one has a direct impact on
Holden and he tries to escape from each one at different points.This is
another of Holden’s many paradoxes, he constantly claustrophobic – places
where he one desired to be, soon become suffocating, and he leaves them
before he can become consumed by them.
. Take the three locations listed below and briefly remind yourself of the
key moments in each location:
. Pencey Prep.
. New York City
. The Caulfield Family Home
. For each section complete a spider chart like the one below, and label it
with quotations that show how that particular environment affects
Holden’s inner emotions:
4. Innocence and Childhood
The principle project of Salinger’s novel is to explore the transition
between adolescence and adulthood. Salinger subverts the conventions of
the ‘bildungsroman’ genre because there is no definite affirmation of
Holden’s maturity by the end of the novel.Instead, we are left to
interpret the final ending as we choose. However, it is clear that at the
end of the novel, Holden as, at least, regained his faith in childhood
innocence, which might be taken to imply a salvation of sorts.
. Look at the headings below:
. The transition between adolescence and adulthood.
. Allie, Phoebe and Jane
. Holden’s childlike qualities.
. Using the headings above find quotations from the text that explore the
theme of ‘Innocence and Childhood’
You should use a table like the one below to structure your ideas:
|The transition between adolescence and adulthood|
| || |
|Quotation|Chapter Number|How this quotation presents the|
| ||theme of childhood and|
| || |
| || |
| || |
| || |
| || |
| || |
| || |
| || |
| || |
| || |
You should think about the themes outlined below because they are more
complex than the four key themes discussed above. You should consider each
theme and for each one find some textual quotations which trace their
development across the novel.
1. Alienation Vs. Self-Preservation
2. The superficiality of the adult world
The novel’s motifs are slightly different from its themes – motifs are used
by a writer in order to develop the broader themes that they are writing
1. Look at the list of motifs that are used by Salinger to develop his
exploration of the novel’s themes.
. Relationships, Intimacy and Sexuality
. Lying and Deception
. Faith ; Faithlessness
. Hope ; Despair
. Disappearance Vs. Visibility
2. For each of the motifs complete a diagram like the one below – using
each motif as a heading, show which theme the motif is linked to and find
a range of textual quotations that explore each one.
3. Try to find some motifs of your own and complete a chart for each one
like you have above.
The novel’s symbols are objects, characters, figures or colours that
Salinger uses to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
1. Look at the list of symbols that Salinger uses in The Catcher in the
. The ‘Catcher in the Rye’
. Holden’s Red Hunting Hat
. The Museum of Natural History
. The Ducks in the Central Park Lagoon
. The Carrousel
. Holden’s Smoking
. The Graffiti (‘fuck off)
. The rain at the end of Chapter 25.
2. Complete a chart like the one below for each symbol.
3. Salinger’s novel uses symbolism heavily, however, in most other regards
he chooses not to employ many of the literary devices many novelists
Explain, with close reference to the text, the importance of symbolism in
The Catcher in the Rye.
Language & Style of the Novel
Salinger writes The Catcher in the Rye from the perspective of a first
person narrator – Holden – which invites us into the mind of the
protagonist. In turn, our understanding of the novel’s world is discerned
primarily from Holden’s own perception of it. Therefore, as the audience,
we must question the reliability of the narrator and the extent to which he
is presenting an unbiased perception or a deliberately altered construction
of the world. There is clear evidence to suggest that Holden is not an
entirely reliable narrator. It isimportanttoquestionHolden’s
motivations at different points in the narrative to discern the reasons why
he presents episodes in particular ways.
Holden’s Narrative Voice
As Salinger has written the narrative in the first person, Holden uses the
pronoun ‘I’ throughout. Equally, at the beginning and end of the narrative
he uses direct address – this is where he uses the second person pronoun
‘you’ to address the reader directly. Consequently, we develop the idea
that Salinger wanted the novel to be an intimate communication between
Holden and the reader – in the same way that an intimate conversation might
be conducted between two friends. Of course, this generates conflicting
emotions in the reader because much of Holden’s personality we find
contemptible – his cynicism and fatalism are difficult for us to accept in
a teenage narrator. Yet, this might have been Salinger’s intention because
it allows us access to the tormented mind of his young protagonist.
. Find some examples of Holden’s narration from across the novel.
. Using these moments of narration, try to explain the effect of first
person narration in the novel.
Holden’s Stock Phrases
In order to make Holden seem like a unique and believable person, Salinger
allows him to use certain stock phrases repeatedlythroughoutthe
narrative. The constant repetition of Holden’s stock phrases reminds us
that Holden is supposed to be afictionalrepresentationofan
idiosyncratic (unique) individual with his own idiom (style of language).
Equally, Holden’s use of stock phrases reflects the slang of 1950s America.
. Collate a list of Holden’s stock phrases.
. Why has Salinger chosen these phrases and used them repeatedly throughout
the novel – think not just about creating a believable narrator, but also
what they might tell us about Holden’s character and reliability as a
. Are there any stock phrases that suit a much more sinister purpose –
think specifically about Holden’s references to death in the novel.
Often, Holden will ‘digress’ into relating an event to the reader of which
he is reminded.Sometimes Holden digresses when heisdiscussing
particular incidents in his life and other times when he is explaining
relationships with other characters. This technique adds to the realism of
the novel – it mirrors the reality of human interaction.
. Find some examples of Holden’s digressions, and try to explain why
Salinger has adopted this style – how do they give power to Holden, or
When the novel was first published, The Catholic Herald condemned the novel
for its ‘formidably excessive use of amateur swearing and coarse language’.
. Identify some examples of taboo language that Holden uses in his
. Now group the examples according to the following headings: general
swearing, insults and swearing used to describe how he feels.
. Why do you thing that The Catholic Herald was so alarmed by Holden’s use
. What is contradictory about Holden’s use of taboo language bearing in
mind his rage when he finds the graffiti that reads ‘fuck off’?
. What does this tell us about Holden’s perceptions of language and its use
Exaggeration & Vague Expression
Holden uses exaggeration and vague expression in equal measure.Holden
exaggeration, primarily, when he doesn’t like something and Salinger
employs exaggeration to create humour in the novel.Conversely, Holden
expresses his emotions vaguely – often omitting logical explanations of why
he dislikes an object or person. Equally, Holden offers us his inner-most
thought but rarely draws any detailed conclusions from them.
. Find examples of Holden’s exaggeration and comment on your examples
thinking about the effect they create and what they tell us about
. Look for different examples of vague expression and comment on your
examples trying to suggest why Holden is being vague – is it deliberate
or are there other reasons?
Salinger’s use of dialogue
Dialogue is a tool that Salinger uses to describe his characters –
throughout the novel, you will have noticed that conventional description
is minimal: Salinger reveals his characters through what they ‘say’ rather
than how they ‘look’. However, this does not limit our understanding of
them. Whereas, conventional novels draw on certain images and their
associations to describe characters visually, Salinger depends on our
ability as speakers and listeners to understand each character through
. Select a character, other than Holden, and write down some quotations of
. Explain how the language of the quotation reveals their character to the
Salinger’s novel almost veers towards adopting a literary ‘anti-style’;
that is, the novel makes little use of conventional literary techniques.
There are few metaphors, for example, and the prose itself is highly
naturalistic, avoiding the prose of William Faulkner, for example.
Equally, descriptions of people, places and objects are incredibly sparse –
the effect of this approach is powerful, it creates a novel that is based
on the physical actions of the characters (speech and obvious behaviours)
which convey the impression that we are seeing the world through the
unreflective – and reactionary – eyes of a teenage boy.
. Identify one passage from the novel that exemplifies Salinger’s ‘anti-
style’ – a section which in another novel, for example, might be
constructed in a more descriptive way.
. What is the impact of Salinger’s approach both on that passage, but also
across the novel?
Salinger’s literary anti-style impacts most obviously on the novel’s
sentence structures. Unlike many literary texts, which are a blend of
syntactical styles, The Catcher in the Rye tends towardasimple
syntactical structure, which causes the sentences to be much tighter and
more direct. This gives the novel its momentum and pace towards Holden’s
impending breakdown.Equally, many of the sentences do not resemble
properly constructed structures – especially when Salinger allows Holden to
explain himself in moments of doubt or anger.At these times, the
sentences tend to roll endlessly with little direction.However, this
allows Salinger to replicate the rhythm of naturalistic speech in the sense
that in times of high crisis or emotion our own sentences lack focus.This
also links with the notion of a literary anti-style, in that much of the
novel adopts the style of speech rather than literary prose.
. Select some examples of Salinger’s sentences at key moments in the novel.
. What does the construction of the sentences suggest about Salinger’s
intentions at each point in the narrative?
In the 1950s, literary critic Donald Costello, forecast that:
In the coming decades, The Catcher in the Rye will be studied…as an
example of teenage vernacular in the 1950s. The book will be a
significant historical record of a type of speech rarely made
in permanent form.
. What do you think prompted Costello to make this assertion?
. Do you agree with his point of view – briefly write down your own ideas
and find quotations that demonstrate the types of language that he might
Narrative Style & Structure
Bildungsroman – Salinger’s novel is part of a tradition of narrative
writing that traces back to the 1700s and Goethe’s novel Wilhelm Meisters
Lehjahre. The literal translation of the word is ‘novel of formation’,
that is a novel that traces the formation of a man from childhood. The
Catcher in the Rye is part of this literary tradition; Holden is a teenage
boy on the road to adulthood who must first come to terms with himself, his
ideals and his fears. However, Salinger deviates somewhat from the generic
conventions of the bildungsroman because by the end of the novel, Holden
has not reached maturity in the literal sense. However, he has reaches a
kind of emotional maturity whereby he is on the periphery of a greater
understanding of his emotions and the world in which he lives – which,
until the conclusion of the novel, has caused him such conflict.
A Frame Narrative – a literary device used to structure an episodic
narrative like The Catcher in the Rye. In Salinger’s novel, the frame is
Holden’s recovery in a mental institution. However, within this frame, are
a series of other stories that take place – in The Catcher in the Rye the
other narratives are the events that take place in flashback as Holden
describes how he declined into a state of mental ill health.
An Episodic Narrative – The Catcher in the Rye is considered to be an
episodic narrative because there is no clearly definable beginning, middle
or end. Instead, the elements of the narrative that Holden re-tells are
chosen by him to show the reader how and why he came to be ill.Equally,
there is no sense that the novel progresses in an even time-sequence.
Instead, the novel tells of three days in Holden’s life after he leaves
Pencey Prep., and the narrative jumps back and forth between Holden’s
present and past to build a detailed picture of a disturbed and depressed
young man. Indeed, as the novel progresses, the sense of logical time
order is obscured and confused deliberately in order to replicate the
increased loss of order in the mind of someone suffering from depressive
symptoms and suicidal tendencies.
A Circular Narrative – The Catcher in the Rye is also a ‘circular
narrative’; that is, a narrative which returns to the point of its
beginning at the end. In the case of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden is
telling, retrospectively, the story of his decline into mental depression
from his bed in the psychiatric institution. In Chapter 1 of the novel,
Holden begins from this point and when the narrative concludes in Chapter
26, Holden returns to the clinic to end his account.
The Catcher in the Rye is structured around four sections of Holden’s life
– each section has a climax which drives the narrative forward and
represents a point of realisation for Holden
1. Leaving Pencey Prep.
2. The Edmont Hotel
3. Faces from the Past
4. Re-united with Phoebe
. For each of the four sections do the following:
. Explain how Salinger brings each section to a climax.
. Identify Holden’s realisation at the end of each section.
Internal Structure – The Catcher in the Rye has a very distinctive internal
structure. This is when the writer employs symbols to suggest key themes
and ideas by constantly referring back to them throughout the narrative.
Writers also use characters in this way – creating characters that are
representations of ideas rather than individuals.
. Make a list of all the characters and symbols that Salinger uses as
representations of ideas.
. For each character and symbol find textual examples that show how they
recur throughout the novel.
. Why do you think Salinger uses this internal structure?
Foreshadowing – Salinger uses foreshadowing throughout the novel to develop
our concern and terror at Holden’s gradual descent into possible suicide.
Essentially, the entire novel is an experiment in foreshadowing, because
the novel begins with out fears affirmed. That is, as we begin to read the
novel, we fear for Holden’s mental well-being.Holden’s obsession with
death, and in particular suicide, suggest that Holden’s narrative will end
tragically. Yet, the narrative is being told retrospectively from Holden’s
mental health clinic and therefore we know his suicide has been averted.
The fear and concern for Holden that is created in the later chapters is
mainly because of the clues that Salinger gives.Salinger’s use of
foreshadowing, therefore, is complex and subtle and helps to capture the
immediacy of Holden’s despair and confusion to such an extent that our
belief that this is a narrative told retrospectively is suspended.In
turn, we begin to believe, and are encouraged by Salinger, to believe that
Holden’s suicide is a real possibility.
American Attitudes and Values in the 1950s
The Catcher in the Rye is set after the Second World War.America had
helped to secure victory over the Axis forces and was now rising to global
prominence as a ‘superpower’. American military power coupled with its
domestic wealth created an affluent and materialistic society which we
might consider the first ‘consumer society’. That is, a society that is
afforded the luxury of choice in its purchase of desirable products like
property, cars, and other material goods.In turn, thisnew-found
confidence had an impact on the American sense of national identity.
Effectively, America began to see itself as the moral, military and
economic leader of the World. Its people, in turn, began to develop a
highly nationalistic sentiment that gave them the belief that the American
Dream had been realised and they were living in the World’s greatest power.
Equally, this helped to establish a fundamental conservatism in American
society. There was a defined sense of citizenship and family values which
were the preserve of all ‘Good Americans’.This political and moral
conservatism was couples, inevitably, with a religious conservatism.In
real terms this can be seen most clearly in the family values of the 1950s:
this was the age of the ‘Nuclear Family’. The ‘Nuclear Family’ was clearly
defined as two heterosexual parents and their legal children. In turn, the
father was the moral authority over his wife and children, in a way that
mirrored the role of the President over his people.
Furthermore, the strict code by which families operated in the 1950s
reached out into wider society. The 1950s marked the beginning of The Cold
War. The effect on American life was profound. The American people became
highly suspicious of Communists, and as The Catcher in the Rye was
published, the House Un-American Activities Committee had been established.
The McCarthy Witch-hunts of the 1950s were, at the time, seen as a
necessary means to uphold the sense of national identity that Americans had
derived for themselves from their new found power on the global stage.
However, retrospectively, we can see that this is the point at which the
American Dream began to be eroded by the zealous obsession of a group of
Rise of the Teenager
The Catcher in the Rye can also be seen as an example of the rise of
teenage rebellion. The concept of the ‘teenager’ was not clearly defined,
if it ever existed, before the 1950s. It was essentially constructed at
the same time as the notion of the ‘Nuclear Family’.However, Salinger’s
novel deals explicitly with the ‘teenager’ as both a person, and a concept,
creating a narrative that essentially centres on Holden’s rebellion against
the physical, moral and spiritual world of 1950s America.
During the 1950s, teenage identity began to define itself – this is
demonstrated by the rise of ‘rock and roll’ music and teenage fashions
which became even more prominent in the 1960s.In film, there was a
growing sense of teenage rebellion.Actors like James Dean and Marlon
Brando became major stars with films like Rebel Without a Cause and The
The 1950s shows us for the first time the notion of the ‘generation gap’ –
the division between adults and their children on matters of morality and
social values.Holden Caulfield is essentially oneoftheearly
representations of the ‘teenager’ in modern literature.
A Generation Without A Cause
The iconic American writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald, once wrote that: ‘Our
generation has grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths
in man shaken.’ In Fitzgerald’s words we find an interesting subtext that
might be applied to The Catcher in the Rye.Although Fitzgerald and
Salinger are divided by a generation, there is a sense that the sentiment
can be located not just in Fitzgerald’s works, but also Salinger’s.In
Fitzgerald’s statement we discern almost a nihilistic view of American
society. Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Salinger’s The Catcher in the
Rye were published within a year of one another – 1950 and1951
Inherently Fitzgerald’s statement implies a dearth of meaning in an entire
generation’s experience of America. The absence of ‘Gods’ is striking with
it’s implied sense of multiple deities after the Pagan model. In turn, we
come to take his statement to mean the possibility of glories for the self;
the causes for each man to aspire to, but for so few to achieve.Equally,
the idea of ‘wars fought’ is important, it implies a denial of national
glory, the inability of a generation to subscribe to a collective goal,
which by virtue of its achievement, brings historical immortality.Coupled
with the lack of causes, Fitzgerald implies that there is a lack of
greatness to aspire to, the ‘faiths in man’ being the absolute principles
to which men might subscribe to live a life beyond the ordinary.
Fitzgerald’s narratives often explore the consequences of such a society.
The Great Gatsby’s protagonist has an outwardly idyllic life but is
destroyed by a tragic yearning for something that even his phenomenal
wealth cannot provide.Equally, in The Beautiful and Damned, Gatsby
explores the failure of wealth and luxury leading to the moral destruction
of the protagonist. Fitzgerald implies that in a society that lacks a
collective cause, which in turn, is the recipient of great privilege, there
can only be one outcome: death, destruction and moral corruption.
This sentiment was very often ascribed to writers of the Jazz Age in
American culture.However, an interesting point at whichtodraw
comparison with The Catcher in the Rye, is when we reflect on the passages
of the novel that place Holden in New York’s Jazz Clubs. Holden describes
how the Jazz Clubs are filled with ‘jerks’ (p. 76) and that Ernie, the
pianist, is playing ‘something holy’ (p76.). The corruption of the Jazz
Club provides an interesting extension to Fitzgerald’s concerns about his
generation. The Jazz Club has in itself become a commodity of the social
scene, more important for its symbolism than the art itself.In essence,
Salinger’s location of the cause-less and nihilistic Holden in the Jazz
Club, suggests another reason for his intolerance of , and frustration at,
his society: its lack of meaning and purpose.
The generation of Americans that Holden is supposed to represent found
themselves at a cross-roads in the 1950s heading into the 1960s.The
central cause of the time became to prevent the perpetuation of the ‘Red-
Threat’ across the Globe.Yet, this in itself caused the mindless
slaughter of tens of thousands of Americans on foreign battle fields.
Equally, outrage at this spilled out into the streets in the 1960s in the
protest movement. The gap between young and old was at its most extreme as
the young tried to find a cause that was both honourable and promised
TRACKING THE CHRONOLOGY OF THE NOVEL
TRACKING PLOT, CHARACTERS ; SETTINGS
|CHAPTER|KEY EVENTS|CHARACTERS|SETTINGS |
TRACKING THEMES, SYMBOLS AND MOTIFS
TRACKING KEY QUOTATIONS
|CHAPTER|CONTEXT|QUOTATION |IMPORTANCE |
TRACKING LANGUAGE FEATURES
|CHAPTER|FEATURE OF LANGUAGE|QUOTATION|EFFECT|
NOTES ; KEY THINGS TO REMEMBER[pic]
Linked to the theme of RELATIONSHIPS
Represents the idea of: