BOOK DISCUSSION GUIDE
Summary: In this iconic American novel published in
1951, seventeen-year old Holden Caufield narrates the story of a long
weekend in December 1949 when he runs away from his private school in
Pennsylvania and wanders, almost sleepless, around New York City. There
he meets up with a variety of family, acquaintances, and strangers,
passing through a seedy hotel, some bars and museums, taxi cabs, Penn
and Grand Central Stations, a movie house and a theater, a skating rink,
and Central Park with its lagoon, and the zoo. An encounter with his
younger sister halts his escapades.
1. Is The Catcher in the Rye in any way dated? How does it hold up as
a work of literature, a work of art? Is it still one of the seminal
20th century American novels?
2. For those who first read The Catcher in the Rye as an adolescent,
how does one’s maturity, one’s evolving world view, impact
on the manner in which one responds while re-reading the book?
3. To what degree is Holden's desire to be a catcher healthy or unhealthy?
Who else or what else in the novel catches or fails to catch?
4. Is the story of Holden Caulfield still relevant in the 21st century?
Does this character fit into today’s world? Is Holden searching
for something or running away from something?
5. Upon its publication, this book was considered controversial for
its liberal use of profanity and its portrayal of sexuality. Today,
we live in a time in which profanity and sexuality are the norm in popular
culture. Does this in any way take the edge off The Catcher in the Rye?
6. Do you think the controversy surrounding this book was justified?
How do you feel about Salinger’s use of language? Is the profanity
excessive? Or, is it a realistic representation of the way in which
7. Do you think that Mr. Antolini is making a sexual advance on Holden?
If so, what is the purpose of including this in the book? Are Holden's
guides, human or otherwise, good teachers or not?
8. The book is written in a subjective style, from the point of view
of Holden. It follows his thought process. Did you find this bothersome
or confusing? Or, did you feel it serves to accurately represent Holden’s
life and state of mind?
9. Do you think that Holden in any way changes during the course of
the story? Or, does he essentially remain the same? From Saturday to
Monday, what happens to Holden's body and mind?
10. What does Holden's use of words/tone/mode reveal about himself?
Is he a reliable narrator of his own experiences and feelings?
11. Who listens to Holden? To whom does he address his stories?
12. Why is Holden’s relationship with his sister Phoebe so important
to the story?
13. If Salinger had written a follow-up novel depicting Holden in middle
age, what would he be like?
14. What do you think young people will get out of the book? Will it
be a negative influence? A corrupting influence? Or, can it be of use
to young people?
Holden's fictional journey fits within that traditional sub-genre
of literature, the "quest". His quest, while literally a geographical
wandering, is also a physical, emotional, and psychological journey.
Holden is a hyper-sensitive, often crass, teenager confronting all of
the challenges of growing up in school and society. In addition, he
is grief-stricken by the death of his younger brother, someone Holden
idealizes as an innocent, intelligent and authentic person.
The title of the book reflects Holden's reaction to loss and disillusionment:
it refers to his unfulfilled desire that innocence, goodness, and purity
remain unchanged forever. Holden's version of Robert Burn's catcher
is someone who saves children playing too close to the cliff in a field.
The themes of the book are multifarious. They include: innocence and
the fall of innocence; personal and group identity; authenticity and
conformity; sexuality and death; change and permanence. Another theme
is language itself: Holden's voice is one of the most acclaimed and
original features of the book. He talks with a unique combination of
high vocabulary, slang, and curse words; as well as with several modes
of narration -- dialogue, interior monologue, telephone calls, etc.
This novel is a classic, one of the great post-war American novels,
assigned to the vast majority of high school reading lists. It has always
been both popular and controversial --praised for superbly-written narration
and redemptions but also condemned for its obscenities and nihlism.
It remains one of the most well-known, and most frequently-censored,
books in American literature.
by J. D. Salinger
Notes for The Catcher In The Rye
Questions and discussion provided by Therese Broderick
and Rob Edelman.
This discussion guide made possible with public funds from the New York
State Council on the Arts, a State Agency. Sponsored by the Mohawk Valley
Library System and participating member libraries.