I'd like to emphasize two things here: 

1. I have NOT edited these essays in any way. 
2. The essays do not necessarily reflect my own opinion on the topics presented here. Then again, it is also clear that they do not analyse CR in a way I would heartily disapprove of either...




Feb.3rd 2000

Gr. 11 English ISU

The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger


The three central themes in, The Catcher in the Rye, consist of, the 

artificial nature of adults, the vulnerability of the innocent, and the

process of maturation; these are accentuated and correspond directly to

the novel's physical settings of Pencey Prep, New York, and a

California mental institution. Although the novel was written and takes

place about half a century ago, 1948, it still serves as a commentary on

human existence. It's a tale of a disturbed teenager who refuses to grow

up and let go. This J.D. Salinger classic clings to the protection and

innocense that childhood possesses.

The first seven chapters of the novel occur at Pencey Prep, a private

school in Agerstown Pennsylvania. It is one of the many esteemed private

school's Holden Caulfield, both the narrator and main character, has

attended. This educational institute is typical for that era, having

several upperclass,(well-to do classmates in attendance. Pupils are

educated by knowledgeable professors who pride themselves in their high

academic standards and their cultivation of distinguished and refined

young men. Holden, like his classmates, comes from a wealthy family .

His father is a corporate lawyer, he owns expensive designer luggage,

and we infer he has often successfully given older women, "the eye", at

bars. Holden's world of apparent luxury has exposed him to various

individual whom he has labeled as "phonies". This concept connects to

the theme of how the adult world appears to an intelligent and

perceptive teenager. Holden observes that the Pencey Headmaster has no

time for "little old funny looking parents" on visiting day. The only

day where the cafeteria serves stake is when parents are on campus.

While on the train to New York, Holden talks to the mother of his most

despised and nasty classmate. Holden tells the women what a "gem" her

son is. Holden is disgusted that this woman is totally out of touch with

her son and is so quick to taking credit for being a great mother when

she doesn't know her son at all. Mr. Spencer, a history teacher at the

academy, is constantly spouting cliches and slogans as advice, yet

barely has the will to live himself. Stradlater, Holden's hansom and

attractive roommate represents a class of successful people who live by

false values and take advantage of others. These "phonies" present a

sharp contras to Phoebe, Holden's younger sister. Holden admirably

describes how, "You never saw a little kid so pretty and smart in you

whole life...She's quite skinny, like me, but nice skinny. Roller-skate

skinny" (pg. 69) If Holden didn't exist in the midst of people who

prostituted themselves for others, dancing for the money, he wouldn't

have been able to make the critical conclusions he has made about adult


After Holden is kicked out of Pencey, he returns to New York. Although

little information is given about this setting, their are a scenes, such

as Central Park, which are vividly described. Like Holden, J.D. Salinger

also grew up there, which becomes evident through his familiarity and

ease when dealing with this setting. In the novel, Hollen often wonders

where the duck go in the winter. This question reflects Holden's urge to

protect the weak and the vulnerable. It upsets Holden that most ducks

are forced to fly south and will not survive if they remain in the harsh

climate. Holden refuses to accept the inevitable sorrow and suffering in

the world. Jane Gallagher, Holden's childhood crush, is a person who he

wants to shelter. Holden's womanizing roommate Stradlater, is supposedly

giving Jane "the time". This upsets Holden who remembers Jane as a shy

girl who use to keep all of her kings in the back row when playing

checkers because they "looked pretty". He hesitates to call Jane

because he isn't ready to accept that this now 2nd year college student

may not be so innocent. He also shows pity to Akley, an alienated

classmate, by inviting him to the movies. Holden thought that Akley,

"never did anything else on Saturday night, except maybe stay in his

room and squeeze his pimples or something." Holden's obsession to aid

the unprotected is heightened in the familiar and tranquil setting of

Central park.

It is important to realize that the actual setting is in Holden's

mind. The story is an account of events told from the hospital bed of a

California institution while recovering from a mental illness. J.D.

Salinger's method, known as an interior monologue, emphasizes the fact

that Holden is a disturbed teenager, with an inability to cope with

people, school and everyday problems. Holden's forced contact with

reality, along with the death of his brother Allie, drives him deeper

into himself, finally unleashing a nervous breakdown. The events leading

to Holden's eventual mental collapse force him to realize the ugliness

and falsity which make up a part of life. He becomes depressed at the

obscenities written on the wall and is ultimately horrified when Phoebe,

a true personification of Holden's idealized interpretation of

childhood, tell's him to "shut up". However, while watching Phoebe on

the carrousel, Holden learned something monumental. Holden explains how,

"I was sort of afraid she'd fly off the goddam horse, but I didn't say

anything or do anything. The thing with kids is, if they want to grab

for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything to

them." (pg. 211) Holden has learned a truth about innocence and

childhood, that neither is a permanent position and you can't stop

someone from moving to another stage of life. If Holden wasn't so

depressed he wouldn't have been so upset at Phoebe's maturation. More

importantly though, he wouldn't have realized that it is impossible to

be "the Catcher in the Rye". Essentially, if you keep catching people,

they keep falling. He'd realize the harm we do to the ducks is the

kindness we show them in the Summer - so much so that they forget to fly

south before they are frozen helpless in the ice.

The setting of Pencey Prep, New York, and the Mental Institution

enhance the themes of perpetually pretending adults, sheltering the

weak, and the necessary independence needed to grow up. As the novel

concludes and Holden is reflecting on his experiences, he advises us to

"Never tell anybody anything. If you do you start missing everyone".

This phrase is Holden's final declaration to a world where he doesn't

belong. When Holden reflects on his past, filled with intense hatred, he

starts to understand it. This point of comprehension is a frightening

line which Holden doesn't want to cross. He knows that if he thinks to

much about his problems he will become them. Holden realizes that he

must either humanize himself and join the other "phonies", or escape to

a private solitude. There is no neutral ground, there is no half-way



("Thought you would like this from a 9th grader")

To Study or Not to Study

To study or not to study; that is the question

Do I have to stay here, writing essays

For that self-obsessed, sonofabitch football moron,

Or should I do what I want to do and get the axe?

To get the axe--to be kicked out-

To hell with Pencey Prep and all its phonies.

No more-when I get out of this place,

I wonít need to deal with old Mr. Spence

Or Ackley or anyone like them.

Boy, thatís what I canít wait for.

But, whatíll happen to me when I finally

Do get out of here?

Who would take all of this Pencey Prep crap

When you could avoid it by flunking?

But then again, why flunk out ?

I wonít know what to expect if I flunk out;

If I stay, Iíll be okay.

So you see, again, my introspection keeps me

From doing any goddam thing--that kills me.



by Danielle Ducharme, Michigan

(This is actually an email I received on March 10, 2000)

   Hi, my name is Danielle, and I am 17. Having just finishing The Catcher in the Rye, I came across your website while searching for information about it on the net.         .....                                
    The reason as to why I'm writing is because I feel overwhelmingly compelled to respond to those critics who felt that the story's language was innappropriate. Was I the only one that realized that the explicit swearing was the whole point ofthe story? Allow me to explain.....
   It is obvious that Holden is unmotivated. He finds something annoying about every aspect of his life. He is pessimistic. However, after he snuck into Phoebe's room, he made it blatently clear that the one thing in his life that made him happy, that gave him hope for tomorrow, was the simple pleasure of having a conversation with his little sister.
   Towards the end of the story, Holden sees the words, "Fuck you," written everywhere his little sister would be exposed to her school, in the museum, etc. He tried to wipe them away, but everywhere he went another one popped up. Holden is hurt that some pervert, or some phony person, as he calls them, is taking away the innocence of the one good thing in his life- his little sister. He is only trying to protect her from all the perverts, all the phonies, all the "Fuck You's," that are out there, and THAT is what makes him mentally unstable.
   I think the inclusion of the language was outstanding. Those who shun
it don't understand the true, unstated meaning that is behind the words.



Ashish, April 2000:


   I have read this book 6 times already. It is my favorite book to date. ...

   I finally realized that innocence cannot be preserved. That was what bothered Holden so much about this world, and the reason he had lost all his faith in this world. It was because he finally realized that innocence cannot be preserved. He felt his whole world collapsing around him, and the only thing he sought was innocence. That was what Phoebe was there for. She was sooo innocent, and so pure. She spoke her mind, she wasnt a phony. I think this is why he wanted to save children in a rye field, their falling from the rye field was their losing of innocence, and he didnt/couldn't let that happen. That is why it depressed him soo much to see "fuck you" written in soo many places, and above all in the halls of an elementary school. Every time a kid saw those words, he became a little less innocent.

   This might be why the person who killed John Lennon may have started reading this book after committing such a murder. He felt his world collapsing around him, and the only thing he could think of doing was attacking the only symbol of youth/peace and happiness that he could think of : John Lennon.

MATT FROM N.Y.C.:  (email Matt at Bigg )


Anyway, I really did go home after the carrousel. First, Phoebe and I
walked out of the park onto the east side, and took the bus to Grand Central,
to get my goddam Gladstones out of the strong box there. Though it had
stopped pouring out, I was still pretty wet. Boy, it really came down like a
madman. I still had Phoebe's red hunting hat on, it was soaking wet though. I
didn't care. Phoebe was much more cheerful now.
"I'm glad we're both going home now, Holden", she said.
"I'm just ready to get this over with", I said, "Mom and dad will cry
and yell. I don't care."
"Don't worry, Holden. It'll be okay", Phoebe said. She squeezed my
hand-she was holding my hand-and smiled the cutest smile at me. It just about
killed me.
We walked into the huge lobby in Grand Central. As we walked over
to where the lockers were, we passed the bench where I'd sort of slept for a
few hours after I had to leave Mr. Antolini's. I'd never tell Phoebe about
it, of course. It seemed like so long ago, but it was actually just this
We just had most of Phoebe's Christmas dough, so we got my
Gladstones, and took the Madison Avenue bus to 72nd street. There were a
bunch of kids around Phoebe's age in the back of the bus. They were all
horsing around, laughing like madmen at something. We sat next to them, on
those three seats between the back door and the back row. We took up a lot of
room, since we had my two suitcases, plus my old suitcase with Phoebe's stuff
in it.
I heard some kid say, "Phoebe, your brother found you!" I looked
across the bus. It was that little girl I met in the park yesterday, whose
roller skates I'd tightened and all, that I told you about. I guess she and
Phoebe were friends, because they immediately started talking and laughing up
a storm.
"Holden's coming to see me in the play", she said to the girl. She
tugged my arm, "This is my brother Holden, Holden, this is Susie. She's in
the play too."
"Yes", Susie said, "It should be really great". She was so polite. I
really liked her. I usually like Phoebe's friends when I meet them. Watching
the two of them helped me get my mind off of how I was about to face my
parents. I was worried about my mom. I really was. I tried not to think of
how hysterical she'd get. Phoebe said mom and dad were coming home at around
7. It was around 4 now. I didn't want to bother them at work. Soon enough
they'd come home, see me, and deal with me.
So, we got off the bus at 72nd street, said goodbye to Susie, and
walked home. Phoebe seemed all cheery. Kids don't understand situations like
this. I mean, old Phoebe, she did, but I guess she was just really happy to
be with me, and that I was home and all.
"How are Mr. and Mrs. Antolini?", she asked me.
"They're doing pretty good", I said. Of course I would never tell her
what really happened. I still couldn't beleive it. It really bothered me. Had
he always liked me in a flitty way?
Anyway, I was so happy to see old Phoebe. She was about the only
friendly person whose company I'd enjoyed since I left Pencey. We got home,
and I took my suitcases into my room and lay down on my bed. I was pretty
tired, having hardly slept the night before. I had a big head ache. All of a
sudden i got to thinking about Pencey. I wondered what they were all saying
about me back there. I started thinking maybe I was wrong, leaving so
suddenly after that goddam little tiff with Stradlater. He's really not a bad
guy. In fact, i sort of missed him. I mean, it was an accident he wound up
dating old Jane anyway, it's not like they met and he courted her and all, it
was just a blind date, basically. I was jealous. I wondered if they horsed
around. I bet they didn't. Well, I'm giving her a buzz tomorrow if it's not
too crazy here.
So, I sort of unpacked a few things in my room, and smoked about a
dozen cigarettes. Boy was I nervous.
Around 7 o'clock, mom and dad walked in together. They worked near
each other, and would walk home together quite frequently. At the time, I was
right there in the foyer, so they saw me right away. I really didn't care if
they yelled at me. I felt numb and empty inside. I was really hungry, but too
worried to eat. I was in pretty bad shape, if you want to know the truth.
Though I had changed out of my damp clothes since I got home, I felt I must
look pretty bad. I hadn't shaved in days or anything.
Anyway, they walked in the door. They were all dressed up. They
looked nice.
"Holden! What's going on? What are you doing here? Its' Tuesday", my dad
said. He seemed scared at first.
"Baby? What happened?", my mom said.
I took a deep breath, then started coughing all over the place.
Christ, what a gorgeous time to have a coughing fit. I finally cleared my
"Well", I said, "I...I sort of got kicked out again. I'm really sorry.
"Damn it, Holden!", dad yelled. Now you see where I get my swearing
from. "You're going to that goddam military school!! Maybe they can whip you
into shape. I can't take it anymore!"
Mom had already started sobbing. I felt awful. Dad went on,
"Holden, what the hell is wrong with you!? I paid a ton of money to send you
to these schools and all you do is flunk out every goddam time! I know you're
not stupid! You can pass these classes! I know it's that you're not applying
yourself! All your teachers told me when I went up there at mid-term! I told
them to talk some goddam sense into you! Honestly I don't understand it!
Can't you even get some goddam C's or D's??"
Boy, was he mad. His face was all red, and all these veins were
sticking out in his neck. He almost looked like he was going to hit me. After
being knocked around by Stradlater and Maurice in the last few days, I was
used to it. I knew he wouldn't hit me, though. Our family was always very
non-violent and anti-violent. Especially Allie. He would always go into
fights at school and try to separate the two guys going at it. He didn't even
care if he got hurt or punched or anything. He got a black eye once that way.
They weren't trying to hurt Allie, just suddenly he was there and he got in
the way. That's the kind of person Allie was. Anyway, we're a pretty
non-violent family. I was thinking about Allie while Dad was yelling on and
on at me. I don't know how long the whole thing lasted.
"Dammit, Holden", he yelled, "In school and in life, things are not
always going to be just to your liking. Get used to it now, you have to
adapt. I've invested so much in you and you let me and your mother down every
time. Look at how well DB and Phoebe are doing. Can't you follow their lead?"
Mom was just sobbing on and on the whole time, occasionally saying
something like,"My baby, how can you keep doing this to us?" and, "I even
sent you those skates you wanted last week, this is how you thank me".
I started drifting off again. I thought about how it was too bad it
turned out so bad with Mr. Antolini. I could be there now, maybe, sipping a
scotch and water, smoking a cigarette, and having one of those very witty,
sophisticated, intellectual conversations with him. I only sort of understood
what he was trying to tell me last night. Boy did it seem like ages ago. It
was actually the same day; I arrived at the Antolini's at around 1:30 a.m.
Anyway, I guess he, like everybody else, was just trying to get me into
shape,to apply myself at school and all, even if it's boring and doesn't
interest me. Still, I kept thinking about him patting me on the head. Did it
mean he liked me in a flitty way? Or was he just really drunk. It didn't seem
right at all. When I got there, he should have noticed how tired I was and
just let me sleep. I know he was just trying to help me, but it wasn't the
right time. But he didn't notice. He was really drunk. I wouldn't have even
minded having a conversation like that, but you have to be in the right mood.
So, Dad was yelling,"That's it, this fall you're going off to that
school! And you brought it on yourself, Holden! Frankly, I don't want to see
your face anymore. Go to your room- I'll deal with you in the morning!!"
I walked into my room, shut the door, and laid down on my bed again
and lit a cigarette. I tried to remember the last time I'd seen him this mad.
It was probably around this time last year, when he heard I'd been thrown out
of Whooton. And before that, it was probably the night Allie died, when I
broke all the windows in the garage, like I told you. He threw a fit when he
saw me trying to punch in the car windows, and he saw all the blood and
broken glass everywhere. And I had to go to the hospital. Boy, he really lost
it that night. Somehow tonight didn't bother me that much. Not only was I at
this point used to stuff like this, like how I told you I flunked out of all
those other schools too, but I was prepared for it. I had a good idea how Dad
would react and what he'd say. Earlier that day, I thought to myself what
this moment would be like, and it was really close to what happened. Like
Huck Finn said,I been there before. I read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn at
Elkton Hills.It's a terrific book, I really liked old Huck and old Jim, just
lazing around naked on the raft, going down the river, freee without a care
in the world.
So, I just lay there on my bed, thinking of old Huck. I wondered
how he'd handle a situation like mine. He'd probably leave tonight and hitch
hike out West. I didn't feel too gorgeous. I heard my mom crying in their
bedroom, and my father was comforting her, saying, "there, there, baby". He's
not always this bad. Just these moments when I mess up bring out the worst in
him. They really do. No one gets him mad like I do.
I started thinking of the military school. I knew I'd hate it
there, even more than the other schools I'd been to. The next thing I knew, I
was sort of crying again. Normally I'm not a huge crier, but I'd cried more
the last few days than I had in years. It sort of worried me.
I heard a soft knock at the door, and Phoebe came in.
"Hi, Holden", she said,"I heard you crying, I'm sorry. Mom and dad are
sure upset, too. Don't worry, it'll all work out." She hugged me and kissed
me on the forehead.
"Holden, you feel really warm", she said, she felt my forehead, and I
realized I was sort of getting a fever or something. I felt shaky and weak,
and was coughing a little. I guessed it was because I hadn't exactly treated
my body too gorgeous these last few days. I hadn't slept much at all, or ate
very much, and was drinking and smoking like a madman.
Mom came in my room at around 10 o'clock. I guess she'd heard me
coughing a lot, and it brought out the mother in her, and she was nicer to me.
"Honey?" she said, "you sound really sick"
It turned out I was really worn out mentally and physically, and
they have me here in this crappy hospital. I feel like I shouldn't be here,
but they won't let me go. I miss scotch and cigarettes, and there's no cute
girls here either.
So, that's all I'm writing. I think I told too much already. I
doubt any of you will understand, I don't expect you to.