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1.) The title, The Catcher in the Rye, is extremely, beyond words, significant. It shows how Holden wishes to 'catch' the innocent children falling into adult hypocrisy. "If a body catch a body coming through the rye" was the phase sung by a young frolicking boy. The underprivileged boy was playing in his own world, carefree and unsupervised, even though his parents were walking near. In this sense, it almost seems like the boy had nothing to lose in his purity, while his parents close-by were worrying about the surrounding adult world. Holden then gets this mental image of children frisking through a field of rye carelessly. He fears they will hastily fall off a cliff. "â€¦I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff- I mean if they're running and don't know where they're goingâ€¦" Through this, Holden is saying he wants to save the purity of children. He feels like he doesn't belong in the adulterated world, because his mind is still in a state of naÃ¯ve youth. He believes the adult world is phony, and he is therefore trying to preserve purity, the quintessence of children.
Phoebe corrected him, informing him the poem is worded "If a body meet a body coming through the rye" rather than his (and the young child's) version. Robert Burns' poem, Comin' Thro' the Rye, is more than meets the eye. It is ironic how Holden trusts that the poem is strictly about childhood innocence, when on the contrary, it's believed to be about sex. Holden's young psyche was subconsciously blocking out obscenity, so he imagines the poem is about adolescence and purity. The little careless boy, who frolicked and sang through the street, shows how society is subliminally sending a message of casual sex to children through catchy tunes. Holden is trying to protect the innocence of all youth, and on the other hand, society is trying to further corrupt it. He is observing the newer generation getting exposed to explicit material earlier and earlier into their lives.
The title shows how Holden is trying to clasp onto the idea of innocence. In his name, Holden Caulfield, that is revealed by 'hold on caul.' A caul is a membrane that covers the head of a fetus during birth; it symbolizes the inability to see the convolution of the adult world. Which is summed up to youth, hence Holden Caulfield trying to hold on to youth. He is trying to catch the children before they become completely brainwashed. Holden is unintentionally trying to preserve the sacredness of sex. He isn't aware that this is his true purpose. He believes his true rationale is protecting kids. Trying to keep casual sex out of the picture is a Christian belief, and he clams he is an Atheist. He doesn't truly understand the depths of himself.
The title is tremendously helpful, in describing his innermost feelings indirectly. If he knew how unfathomable he was being, he would've thought he was being a phony and trying to be above others, like the rest of the world. He is, in a way, secluding himself by his superficial thoughts. He rebels from rebels, and tries exceedingly hard not to be cliché.
4.) The nature of the conflict is man versus self, given that Holden is in a stage of mental breakdown. The protagonist of the story would be Holden, while his inability to fit in with the adjacent fraudulent world is the antagonist. The conflict is Holden's strong beliefs. The protagonist side thrives to grow up mentally and connect with others. This side also hopes for a sacred sexual encounter. The opposing side of his mind requires to retreat to the memories of his joyous childhood. There seems to be a simple dichotomy between the sweet world of childhood innocence, where Holden wants to stay, and the cruel world of shallow adult hypocrisy, where he's afraid to go. Some complications of this problem include him breaking down various times, as well as his coming upon a prostitute. The situation with the prostitute resembled his two-sided state of mind. One side wanted to embrace the sexuality and grow up, whereas the other side wanted to help her redeem the innocence from her corrupted mind. This causes him to get incalculably drunk. That results in him wandering around a park in the middle of the night looking for ducks. Earlier in the story, he was marveling about where the ducks go when the lake freezes over.
Holden strongly fears the fact that casual sex has become tolerable. He believes that getting 'sexy' with a girl is to degrade her, because that's what he was exposed to at Pencey Prep with his roommate, Ward Stradlater. He's contradicting himself by not wanting to get sexy with, or degrade, the one girl he really likes. He doesn't want to be a phony like his 'friends' back at Pencey Prep and everywhere else, who only want to use girls for casual sex. He then has to resort to casual sex which seems to be his only option, being that cares, even though he's not comfortable with the colloquialism of it. He is emotionally scared from a memory with Jane Gallagher, his closest encounter to true love. The two of them were necking and she shed a tear then started bawling. Looking back on it, Holden still doesn't know what he did wrong. In a verse from the poem, it reads, "When a body kiss a body- need a body cry?" This could be referring to Jane logically.
He seeks help and ends up staying at his former teacher's apartment, Mr. Antolini. That, in turn, leads to the climax, mental deterioration. It is unclear exactly what happened to lead to this climax, but the reader can assume that Mr. or Mrs. Antolini put roofies in Holden's drink, for Holden suddenly becomes extremely tired and wakes up to Mr. Antolini stroking his head. On the other hand, Mr. Antolini was very drunk, even before Holden received his coffee, which should've kept him awake.
The main climax is considered Holden's major psychological breakdown, after the incident at Mr. Antolini's place. It causes him to pass out, feel sick, and even believe he is talking to his dead brother, Allie. He talks aloud to Allie in fear of 'falling down' and disappearing forever while crossing the streets. He was constantly praying to his brother, and reiterating the same phrase, "Allie, don't let me disappearâ€¦" Allie is his stronghold to life and reality. That goes to show how lonesome he feels, regardless if he wants to be or not. His weakening state of mind is slowly exploding within him. He doesn't know what to think about growing up and maturing with phonies anymore, and possibly even evolving into one. He's trying to stop the inevitable, but children will grow up and be exposed regardless.
5.) The story took place over the course of three winter days, Saturday afternoon to Monday afternoon, in the late 1940's, post World War II. The scenery jumped from Pencey Prep High School, in Agerstown, Pennsylvania, to the streets of Manhattan, New York. Over the course of a few days, he finds himself in multiple hotels, cabs, apartments, and bars. He also went to central park, Phoebe's (his younger sister) school, and the Museum of Natural History, where he liked knowing the certainty that things would always remain the same.
Holden's fears peak in the late 1940's when conservatism, rigid morality, and paranoid self-righteousness held the nation in a tight grip. The issues of religion in school are a popular topic of debate now-a-days, but back in the mid-1900's, bible readings during school were very common. In the book, Holden was dropping out of high schools frequently, which didn't fight the statistic of that time period of a 42% drop out rate. That, compared to the 11% drop out rate of today, is staggering. That led to more jobs, in the mid-1900's, and to a more competitive job market, that now often require college degrees. In schools back then, basic skills were all that was required to teach, and most recently, the US has specialized an in depth education for certain careers. We now start thinking about what we will do when we are older starting in elementary school, whereas Holden didn't exactly know realistically what he wanted to do. Rebellions started to occur, which drove the parents, who were kids in that age, to desire 'family values.' Holden stuck out from the crowd, by wanting family values then. He frequently spoke of his older brother, and younger sister, as well as his dead brother, Allie. He had a deeper connection with his siblings than fighting brothers and sisters today.
Social pressures to conform were intense, with Americans paying more attention to the younger generation as a result of the "Baby Boom." Teenagers began to date, and become sexually active, at a much younger age. The new rock 'n' roll music was blamed by parents. Dress codes and embedded company cultures muted individuality. Juvenile delinquency, which became a major social issue, caused a lack of respect for authority in teens.
6.) The characters and plot of the story were greatly influenced by the setting. The time period resembles the beginning of rebellious children. New York City is a land of phonies. Holden was trying to escape the fake people of Elkton Hills, which wasn't the first high school he'd been to, so he was forced to study at Pencey by his dad. Pencey was full of immature shams such as his roommate Stradlater. After he found that out, he fled to New York to his home, giving up on school. He didn't realize that the world is full of his so called phonies, yet he keeps attempting to flee. He didn't comprehend the fact that his internally generated isolation goes with him. He wants to fit into the world, but he can't escape the reality of feelings of isolation and disillusionment of his generation. He doesn't want to grow into conformism and consumerism of America, so he resorts to a song with the wrong words, to fit his thoughts.
The setting of post World War II caused people to lose their innocence through the bomb of degradation. He was describing how he was glad they invented the atomic bomb, and said how he would voluntarily ride it if there was another war. This could be taken as destroying what he doesn't believe in, phonies. He doesn't want to degrade the one he loves, but it's become way too accustom in the setting.
After World War I, there was a great depression, which led people to believe history would repeat itself after the Second World War. Sunny, the prostitute he met, symbolizes how the young generation is giving up their beliefs in order to get by. They are saving all they have, money-wise. People were growing up quicker than previous generations, so they were exposing themselves to become fiscally responsible. Holden was doing the opposite, without knowing. He was spending all he had, donating to nuns, and leading a safe life in general. That makes him seem to have Christian roots, even though he doesn't want to believe it. Everyone around says they are Christian, yet they are not living like a quintessence of a Christian. He says he is atheist, yet the reader can see he lives like a Roman Catholic. To be able to understand the full meaning of this, the reading must have a grain of historically perspective salt in their mind.
14.) Holden Caulfield, as a character, is very rounded. He thinks in a distant way, where he wants to be unique and noticed for not fitting in. His discontent makes him stand out from the newly rebellious teens. He has great nostalgia, for his family, and concealment to the true world. He criticizes and philosophizes about dull people, insecure people, and most of all, phonies. He is extremely judgmental in that way, because he doesn't want to truly analyze people so he rejects more complex judgments in favor of simple categorical ones.
Another round character, in The Catcher in the Rye, is Phoebe. She is very mature, and accepts reality, rather than rejecting it like her brother. She is very intelligent for being 10 years of age. While her classmates may be playing on the playground, not worrying about life, she will be writing, philosophizing, and thinking about the true world; the true world that the other kids have yet to be exposed to. She understands that growing up is necessary. Phoebe breaks Holden's idealized fantasy of innocent children romping through a field of rye. She challenges his thought process and shows how oversimplified it is.
Some flat characters, or characters that the reader must stereotype to get to know, include Robert Ackley, Ward Stradlater, Sally Hayes, Mr. Spencer, Maurice, and Sunny. These characters are flat because we are never told much about them and we can't see their thought processes. Their personalities are weak to the reader, so the reader must label them manually.
15.) The characters are presented through Holden's narrations. He characterizes acquaintances through both direct and indirect characterization. Directly, he says appearances, and what he stereotypes them as in his mind. Then later on, when the character is revealed, the reader can understand Holden's mind by the character's actions. Holden is very opinionated about people, and he just goes against the flow of life. He is very stubborn with his thoughts, being that he doesn't want to understand others' mind sets. He doesn't really categorize himself because he knows his own thoughts, rather than not knowing others' views. Then again, he is lost at where he should belong because of his intense regulations, in opposition to his acceptance of reality. Though he describes people directly, he also tends to describe them through digression. He points out how he took a class, and the goal was to publicly speak without digressing. When he was describing this class, he told how he kind of likes digression because you get to know someone through the speaker telling their actions, since they can't be there to show them. So he concludes that going off topic can be beneficial to the reader, or listener. He tends to digress when he's narrating a lot, but it helps one to understand the characters more.
POINT OF VIEW AND THEME
16.) The story is written through 1st person point of view. This point of view was consistent throughout the story because the plot focused on Holden, and all other characters came and went as the story progressed. The point of view should under no circumstances be changed because that would lead the reader to confusion. If there was a switch in the viewpoint, both of the narrators would lead the reader to believe they were both unable to be categorized. If the view switched in the middle of the story, it would contradict the whole theme of Holden being the catcher in the rye because he can't fit in anywhere else. It shows him to be inimitable in what he sees as a world full of phonies. The effect of J.D. Salinger's choice of perspective is so that Holden, the narrator, can expose his own view, which is very opinionated compared to his stereotypes. This causes the reader to assume that everyone, with the exception of Holden, is a phony. That can only be presumed because we can't truly get into anyone else's thoughts. Holden is still unique because he shows his beliefs through his actions, while other characters go with what everyone else is doing. They are thoughtless followers.
17.) One main theme, of The Catcher in the Rye, is preserving innocence. Holden wishes to preserve children's innocence before they fall into the tainted abyss of adulthood. He wants to be the catcher in the field of rye, where kids frolic around and are carelessly running through their years of life. Holden, in a way is trying to save the future generations from changing the sacredness of life. He doesn't want traditions to fade in the background, nevertheless casualness becomes more popular. Salinger tries to raise questions about casual sex. He asks, indirectly, whether it is an okay thing to do. He doesn't think children are mentally capable of comprehending the subject, an example of this is the poem Comin' Thro' the Rye, which is a children's poem, yet is deeply understood to be about casual sex. What the author is trying to get across is that new generations are being exposed earlier and earlier, even if they don't realize what is happening. This is definitely worth saying because it is an important topic, and it shows how as the years go by, innocence deteriorates slowly and unnoticeably.