The Catcher in the Rye has been revered as a classic for over half a century because it truly captures what it is like to be a teenager. Holden Caulfield's first-person narration portrays the all-too-familiar anxieties that accompany one's teen years, though the tension is certainly amplified by the narrator's own unique personality and perspective on the world.

Students will relate to Holden's alienation, confusion, and the often directionless path he follows. The book's ending allows for great debate and discussion over whether Holden has changed or developed as a character. Students will feel aligned with Holden and will leave with the understanding that feeling lost does not have to last forever.

Summary

Upon hearing the news that he has been expelled from yet another prep school, sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield decides to embark on a brief series of adventures around Manhattan before he is forced to face his family during the holidays and reveal the disappointing news. For three days, Holden attempts, and miserably fails, to flirt with older women, to reconnect with old lovers and friends, and overall, to appear more genuine, intelligent, and self-aware than the "phonies" by which he claims to be surrounded. J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye is a classic novel about the trials of adolescence, as told in a first-person narration of a teenager who's still trying to figure it all out himself.

Objectives for Teaching
The Catcher in the Rye

  • Discuss why the book uses an interior monologue throughout, and comment on how that style reflects the mind and speech of a sixteen-year-old youth.
  • Comment on what type of personality the narrator has, using examples from the text to support that conclusion.
  • Discuss the extent to which the book is an example of a "rite of passage" novel.
  • Identify and discuss the qualities of the novel that have kept it a classic piece of literature for over half a century.
  • Recognize literary terms used throughout the text, including synecdoche, verisimilitude, simile, irony, flashback, etc.
  • Trace the several themes that develop throughout the novel.
  • Examine the significance of the title and the incidents to which it refers in the text.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Digression
  • Flashback
  • Foil
  • Hyperbole
  • Irony
  • Interior Monologue
  • Simile
  • Synecdoche
  • Verisimilitude

Themes and Motifs

  • Superficiality — Holden despises the "phoniness" of the adult world. He believes that hypocrisy, shallowness, and pretension are what make the world an awful place. Holden acts as though he is an honest person surrounded by phonies, but the reader can clearly see that Holden lies, too. In this sense, his hypocrisy makes Holden an unreliable narrator.
  • Alienation — Holden feels as though he doesn't belong, which results in constant loneliness for him; however, the reader must question whether Holden is alienated by society, or if he is alienating himself, and observe the unique consequences associated with those respective conclusions.
  • Coming of Age —  The novel is essentially the story of Holden Caulfield coming to terms with adulthood and the idea of maturity. The interesting paradox lies in the fact that, while Holden seems to believe he has everyone else figured out, he still manages to exude a rather immature personality that only serves to isolate him from others.

Related Works

Theme of Superficiality

 

Theme of Alienation

 

Theme of Coming of Age

Key Facts

  • Length: 214 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 790
  • Publication Date: 1951
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9 – 10

Awards

  • New York Times Bestseller

Movies

For his entire life, J.D. Salinger adamantly refused to sell the rights of The Catcher in the Rye for a film adaptation, as he firmly believed that the novel could not translate well into a movie.

Your students will love:

  • Holden's sarcasm
  • Relating to Holden's outlook on the world
  • The easy-to-read, colloquial prose

Students may have problems with:

  • Never meeting Jane in the story, even though she's mentioned repeatedly throughout the novel
  • Holden's narration; some students may find his perspective to be more annoying than insightful or relatable.

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