Catcher in the Rye (Salinger)

The Catcher in the Rye 
J.D. Salinger, 1951
Little, Brown & Co.
224 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780316769488

The Catcher in the Rye covers 48 hours in the life of 16-year-old Holden Caulfield, who has just flunked out of his expensive boarding school in eastern Pennsylvania. This makes the fourth school from which he's been expelled from. Holden heads to New York City, his home, and puts himself up in the Edmont Hotel. Over the next two days, through a series of encounters, Holden experiences the cynicism and phoniness of adult life— his narrative voice capturing the essence of teenage angst and alienation. The novel begins:

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them.

(From the publisher.)

Author Bio 
Birth—January 01, 1919
Where—New York, New York, USA
Died—January 27, 2010
Where—Cornish, New Hampshire
Education—Valley Forge Military Academy; attended New
  York University, Ursinus College, Columbia University

Jerome David Salinger established his reputation on the basis of a single novel, The Catcher in the Rye (1951), whose principal character, Holden Caulfield, epitomized the growing pains of a generation of high school and college students. The public attention that followed the success of the book led Salinger to move from New York to the remote hills of Cornish, New Hampshire, where he lived until his death in 2010.

Before that he had published only a few short stories; one of them, "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," which appeared in The New Yorker in 1949, introduced readers to Seymour Glass, a character who subsequently figured in Franny and Zooey (1961) and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenter and Seymour: An Introduction (1963), Salinger's only other published books. Of his 35 published short stories, those which Salinger wishes to preserve are collected in Nine Stories (1953). (From Wikipedia.)

Book Reviews
Mr. Salinger's rendering of teen-age speech is wonderful: the unconscious humor, the repetitions, the slang and profanity, the emphasis, all are just right. Holden's mercurial changes of mood, his stubborn refusal to admit his own sensitiveness and emotions, his cheerful disregard of what is sometimes known as reality are typically and heart breakingly adolescent. 

In New York Holden's nightmarish efforts to escape from himself by liquor, sex, night clubs, movies, sociability—anything and everything--are fruitless. Misadventure piles on misadventure, but he bears it all with a grim cheerfulness and stubborn courage. He is finally saved as a result of his meeting with his little sister Phoebe, like Holden a wonderful creation. She is the single person who supplies and just in time—the affection that Holden needs.
Certainly you'll look a long time before you'll meet another youngster like Holden Caulfield, as likable and, in spite of his failings, as sound. And though he's still not out of the woods entirely, there at the end, still we think he's going to turn out all right.
Nash K. Burger - New York Times

Discussion Questions 
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also, consider these LitLovers talking points to get your discussion started for The Catcher in the Rye:

1. Discuss Holden's observations about the carousel's gold ring at the end of the novel. What is the significance of the ring? What do his observations reveal about his state of maturity? In what way has his character changed—or developed—by the end of the story? (See LitCourse 5 on characterization.)

2. Do Holden's encounters with adult hypocrisy ring true to you? Or are they more a reflection of his own deteriorating mental stability? Or both?

3. Holden seems to be reaching out for genuine intimacy in his encounters. Is he himself capable of intimacy? Are any of the other characters capable of providing it? In fact, what is intimacy—sexual and/or non-sexual?

4. What role does Phoebe play in the novel?

5. What is the significance of the title—especially the fact that Holden gets Robert Burns's poem wrong?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution.)

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