provocative = causing an angry reaction intentionally
cockeyed = foolish, ridiculous, absurd
harrowing = extremely distressing
swanky = fancy, high class
reciprocal = mutual, experienced, performed, or felt by both sides
digress = start talking about something not related to the topic
plastered = drunk
ostracizing = ignoring
closet = wardrobe
garbage pails = dustbins
Veterans’ Day = a school reunion
carrousel = a merry-go-round (fairground ride)
ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS:
What does Holden pretend to have happened to him in the Wicker Bar?
Where does he go after he leaves the bar? Why?
What happens to Phoebe’s record? How does he feel at that point?
What do we learn about Allie’s funeral?
What does Holden tell us about Allie that contradicts his statement about being an atheist?
Where does he go after leaving the park?
How does Holden get into his parents’ apartment?
What does he find interesting about Phoebe’s notebooks?
Why does Phoebe become upset?
Which Phoebe’s question upsets Holden most?
What are the two things Holden can remember in connection with her question?
What would Holden really like to do in life? Why?
What does it tell us about Holden when he says, “Just because somebody’s dead, you don’t stop liking them, for God’s sake – especially if they were a thousand times nicer than the people you know that’re alive and all”?
Who does Holden call from the apartment? Why?
What do Holden and Phoebe do next?
What does Holden do when his parents return home?
What happens in this chapter?
What was Holden’s opinion of Mr Antolini before this meeting?
How did the opinion change and why?
Where does Holden go after that incident?
What happens to him?
Who does he arrange to meet and where?
What upsets Holden in the museum?
Where does he take Phoebe? How does he feel there?
Where is Holden? How do you know? (c.f. Ch.1 as well)
What does he say about remembering people?
Why, in your opinion, does the writer end the story at the same place he has started it?
the individual and society
the effects of the environment
innocence and childhood
HOLDEN AS AN OUTSIDER:
One of the main themes is the problem of forming relationships. Holden often tells us how lonely he feels and desperately wants to befriend people. From the beginning of his story he has problems with getting on with others.
We first meet him when he is “ostracized” (ignored) by the school fencing team. He is on his own when everyone else is enjoying themselves at a football match. His relationships are insecure: he talks to Ackley but tells us he doesn’t like him; he admires Stradlater in some ways but ends up fighting with him and leaving Pencey.
ADULTS AND PARENTS:
The first adult we meet, Mr Spencer, cannot understand Holden even though he seems to like him. The other important adult figure, Mr Antolini, also cannot understand him. He wants to give him some advice about life but Holden just feels tired and cannot understand what is being said to him. His relationship with his parents seems distant, as if he thinks they do not really care about him. His problems are mainly caused by their mutual inability to form a family relationship of trust and understanding.
All through the novel Holden attempts to talk to people of all sorts, but his only meaningful ones are with the two nuns and his younger sister Phoebe. Here he shows his true self. In all other conversations he lies or pretends to be someone else. He lies to Mrs Morrow on the train and tries to be sophisticated with the three girls in the Edmont hotel.
RELATIONSHIPS IN THE PAST:
He remembers his conversations with people in the past more favourably. He tells us how he and his brothers were happy together as children. When he talks about Allie, we sense a closeness which is not there in present time.
His other really significant relationship was with Jane Gallagher when they spent a summer together. In a way this is the closest Holden has come to being in love. His failure to contact Jane while he is in New York shows his inability to relate to anyone. He is frightened of spoiling the memory of a good relationship and substitutes her to Sally, and their brief day out ends in another failed relationship for Holden. He often talks about sex and mistakenly believes this aspect of a relationship is the most important or “adult”. This is a typical response for a boy of his age. Holden’s inability to understand sexuality shows his immaturity.
THE INDIVIDUAL AND SOCIETY
SOCIETY AND MATERIALISM:
Much of Holden’s story concerns his reactions to the values of the society in which he lives. He is disillusioned with his world and rebels against it. The society he lives in seems to him to be shallow (phony) and only concerned about material things; money is the most important thing and Holden feels that this is wrong. This can be seen by the fact that the only two adults Holden feels empathy with are the nuns. Nuns have to give up material things and money; they take vows of poverty. Holden thinks they are the only people who really care about other people.
THE VALUES OF SCHOOL:
At the beginning we find ourselves in the enclosed little world of a boarding school with its rules. Holden’s dislike of the society values can be clearly seen at Pencey, where he is very sarcastic about the school and its claims to “mould” (oblikovati) students into valuable members of society. He mocks Mr Ossenburger, who became rich after leaving Pencey, and says that he is only regarded important because he is rich. All of the schools Holden has attended are for the rich and privileged. Many students would consider themselves lucky to have these opportunities, but Holden seems to feel guilt and anger at his situation and rebels against it.
NEW YORK PEOPLE:
Holden escapes to the world of NY which he often finds frightening. He immediately starts talking about perverts in the hotel where he stays. He has an encounter with a prostitute and gets beaten up. All the worst moment take place in the city.
The social and moral values of the people he meets in NY are portrayed as either corrupt or petty and snobbish. The places where he goes in search of company are full of people who are only interested in themselves and in how others see them. As Holden sees it, they all let him down when he needs them:
Sally Hayes won’t run away with him
Carl Luce is not interested in Holden’s problems
Mr Antolini makes advances on him (in Holden’s perception)
The prostitute and the elevator-boy exemplify how corrupt the society is. In one of his “weak” moments Holden thinks he can buy company but when he behaves as he thinks an adult would, the result is embarrassment and humiliation (the incident with the prostitute).
PRESSURE TO CONFORM:
Throughout the novel, Holden is critical of the society in which he lives. The pressure on people to conform and be like others, puts enormous strain on him. He is portrayed as an outsider who tries to fit in but cannot. This is the dilemma that leads to his breakdown.
THE EFFECTS OF THE ENVIRONMENT
THE IDEA OF THE ENVIRONMENT:
Holden moves through three main environments: SCHOOL (Pencey Prep and others before that), NEW YORK (clubs, bars and streets) and CENTRAL PARK. They all have an impact on him and he tries to escape from all these places.
At Pencey Prep he is a part of the community but is on the verge of leaving. He deals with the people he comes in contact with on an equal basis. He is secure and confident at the school even though he tells us that he does not like it, and the environment there seems to stifle him. Holden views the school as boring, trivial and phony. Although it is his fight with Stradlater which finally makes him leave, we often feel Holden wants to escape from the confines of school. Holden cannot obey the rules and regulations which govern the boarding school environment.
J. D. Salinger often makes the streets of NY a frightening place. One example of this is his description at the beginning of Ch. 12, another, in Ch. 25 is when Holden feels he is disappearing and that the city is going to “swallow” him up. He will become one of the casualties of his environment, like many other city dwellers.
The only place where Holden finds some moments of happiness is when he is in the Central Park or the museums nearby. The park is a green space, a small piece of nature in a vast, man-made environment. The museums represent the past, a time when things were easier and not subject to the stresses and strains of a city life. In these places Holden remembers his childhood before his brother’s death and his own problems; he wishes things could stay the same as they were then. It is in the central park that he finally has a moment of true happiness, when he sees his sister riding the carrousel. It seems these places are innocent and untainted by man. In a way the park is a metaphor for the wide open spaces to which Holden dreams of running away. It is also the place where the ducks live and Holden wonders where they go in winter when the lakes freeze. It could be a metaphor of his own situation: where can you go when everything freezes around you?
EFFECTS ON EMOTIONS:
The different environments all have effects on his inner emotions:
the museums and the park make him nostalgic and he wishes that time could stand still or even go backward
the clubs and bars bring out Holden’s cynicism but also his insecurities and naivety
the city as a whole leads him into depression
the pace and confusion of the city reflects his own confusion and fear
INNOCENCE AND CHILDHOOD
In the novel, Holden is at the age between childhood and adulthood. The difficulties which he has making this transition are the principal part of the story. It is a type of story that shows a person developing from childhood to maturity, but not a conventional one. His development is twisted and he doesn’t reach maturity at the end of the story.
In some ways Holden is afraid of growing up. He seems unable to face the responsibilities which come as he gets older. This is shown by his continual “flunking” of his exams, even though he is obviously intelligent. His answer to his problems is a typically childlike dream, to run away and have an adventure: he runs away from Pencey Prep (+ 2 other schools before that) and he talks to Sally Hayes and his sister about escaping somewhere to the west.
ALLIE AND JANE:
Holden’s happiest memory concern his own childhood before the death of his brother Allie. The only other time he has seemed genuinely happy since then is the time spent with Jane Gallagher. These relationships were innocent ones, they happened before Holden saw how cruel the world could be. When his brother died, Holden’s own childhood was lost and he had to confront something he did not understand; his reaction is extreme (parents want to have him psychoanalyzed) and this is the beginning of his problems.
His relationship with Jane was innocent. Although they kissed, Holden stresses it wasn’t a kiss on the mouth! They played games together (draughts, golf). Holden does not want to let this happy memories go and he idealizes his time with Jane. His reluctance to phone her reinforces the sense that he does not want to see her grown-up because it would shatter his childhood memories. This is also clear from the fight with Stradlater: he become obsessed with the idea of what Stradlater may have done with Jane. He is afraid that, because of Stradlater, Jane may have lost a part of her innocence and moved into the adult world.
HOLDEN’S CHILDLIKE QUALITIES:
Holden’s innocence and childlike qualities are exposed when he tries to act out his perceptions of adult behaviour. They all end up in disaster or depression. His initial attempts to get alcohol are prevented and when he does get served he gets drunk and breaks his sister’s present. His experience with the prostitute shows his innocence regarding sex, while she provides a contrast to his innocence. She is roughly the same age as Holden and her life is already corrupted by the world in which she lives. His rounds of the clubs and bars all leave him depressed.
FANTASY AND REALITY:
Holden’s tendency to fantasize also stresses his childlike behaviour. He often retreats to the world of the imagination when things in the real world become too much for him. Examples of these are when he pretends to be shot and his great love for books and stories. His fantasies of life in the Far West, or in the mountains with Sally Hayes, show he is unable to face reality and that he still has the unrealistic dreams of a young adolescent. His admission that he doesn’t understand women and adults in general contribute to our view that he is immature.
HOLDEN’S QUEST COMPLETED:
Holden cares about the innocent aspects of the world which have not change since his childhood: the park with the ducks, the children’s zoo and the museums he visited. His sister Phoebe, who is still uncorrupted by the adult world, is the only person to whom he can really relate. It is the innocent image of his sister riding a carrousel that finally makes him happy for a moment. Holden’s quest is complete; he seeks refuge in the innocent pleasure of a fairground ride (a carrousel), rather in the adult world he has lived in the previous two days.
What kind of a game is life? (consider Mr Spencer, Holden and give your own opinion)
What does it mean to be true to yourself?
What does it mean to be a good person?
Is it inevitable that we conform to the world and society we live in?
How should a person adjust to the world s/he did not create?
What happens when a person does not accept the rules of the dominant culture?
Is it possible to grow up and not become phony?
Is it possible to protect everything that is precious to you?
What does it mean to be mature/ immature?
Why are people cruel to each other?
How do people respond to cruelty around them?
THE CAULFIELD FAMILY
Holden is the main character in the novel and we see the world through his eyes (1st person narrative). He is a young man (16) at the time when the events he describes happen. He is on the verge of adulthood. His language is meant to be typical of a teenager of that time and this defines his character. (cf. Language and Style). He appears to be a witty individual who can also be irritating to those around him. He comes from a stable background and his parents are quite wealthy (father is a lawyer, mother a housewife). They live in an expensive part of NY. He has a younger sister, Phoebe, and two brothers, D. B. who lives in Hollywood, and Allie, 2 years younger, who died when Holden was 13.
During the course of the novel we discover more and more about Holden’s past and realize that he is a troubled young man. He is confused about much of the world around him and is disillusioned with life. His sense of unhappiness and depression increases as the novel progresses, until he has a nervous breakdown. It is left to the reader to decide whether it is because he has a “weak” character or because he has experienced intolerable pressures and no-one has helped him to deal with them.
We are shown that Holden has a strong sense of moral values which often clashes with those of people around him. When he does things that he knows are wrong he feels guilty; all through the novel there is a sense of Holden’s guilt about his behaviour and this is one of the reasons he is afraid to go home.
Holden has a vivid imagination and a love of books and stories in general. Although he claims he hates movies, he spends quite a lot of time pretending to be in them! This frequent contradiction of himself is another trait of his character. He tries to behave like an adult by smoking and drinking, going out with girls and hanging in bars, but he is highly critical of others who are doing the same, and still yearns for his innocent childhood.
Holden’s 10-year-old sister is described by Holden as pretty, skinny and having red hair. Phoebe likes going to the movies and can tell a good film from a bad one. She is an intelligent girl with an inquisitive nature and has a love fro writing stories. She seems to enjoy school and has lots of notebooks. Holden says she is a neat and tidy person and she seems very organized and grown-up for her age.
She becomes a very important character towards the end of the novel. For Holden she represents innocence and is a reminder of when life was happy at home. She is the main reason for Holden to eventually go home. Phoebe becomes very upset when she finds that Holden has been expelled from school again. This shows that she deeply cares about him. When he decides to run away, Phoebe insists on going with him. This also demonstrates the stubborn side of her nature. She is portrayed as a wise child, but one who still behaves in the manner which we would expect of a 10-year-old.
Allie was Holden’s younger brother by 2 years who died when Holden was 13. Holden describes him as a popular and sensitive boy. Although he is not often mentioned, he is an important character as his death may have caused Holden’s mental problems.
Holden’s older brother is a writer. He moved to Hollywood to write for film industry, which Holden thinks is a waste of his talent (similar to prostitution). He visits Holden in hospital in California where Holden is recovering from his nervous breakdown and from where he is telling his story.
MOTHER AND FATHER:
Holden’s mother is mentioned only briefly and is described as being very nervous since the death of Allie. His father is also mentioned in passing; he is a corporate lawyer who earns a high salary but alienated from the family. They are important because it is Holden’s guilt and fear of their reaction (he has been expelled from school for 3rd time) that prevents Holden from going home.
“Ackley boy” as Holden calls him, is an important character at the beginning of the novel. He has the room next to Holden at Pencey Prep. He is not popular at school. He is a senior pupil but no-one seems close to him. He has acne and bad teeth and is a “slob” (a lazy and dirty person). Holden tells us he is not liked by anyone, including himself, and he has been prevented from joining different societies set up by the other boys. He is an outsider in many ways, just like Holden, but for different reasons.
Although Holden spend a great deal of time telling us about Ackley’s bad qualities, he is the last person Holden goes to before leaving Pencey Prep. Holden seems to realize that Ackley, like himself, has no-one to identify with. Ackley often tries to start a conversation or make friends with people but is ignored, just like Holden in NY.
Stradlater is another character who is important at the beginning of the novel. He is Holden’s roommate and his senior. He is described as handsome and popular with girls, someone who knows about the world and is sexually active. He has seduced girls in the past and Holden thinks he is one of the few students who has actually had sex. He is portrayed as the “model” for society’s idea of what a young man of his age should be. He has his faults but his behaviour is that of a “normal”, well-balanced American male of that era. He is represented as a contrast to Holden, who is an outsider, unable to behave in the way society dictates.
Stradlater is important because he is the person who causes Holden to leave Pencey Prep early. He seems to be able to do things that Holden wants to do but cannot. There is a feeling throughout the novel that Stradlater makes Holden jealous, particularly because of his relationship with Jane Gallagher.
Although we never meet her, she is one of the major characters in the novel, as she occupies so much of Holden’s thoughts. She is a sensitive girl with whom Holden spent a summer holiday 2 years before the action of the novel starts. She is portrayed by Holden as his perfect companion and one of the few people he has ever felt comfortable with.
Jane is, indirectly, another reason Holden leaves Pencey. He fights with Stradlater because he believes he has behaved badly with Jane. Throughout the novel, Holden thinks of phoning her but never gets to speak to her. It seems she represents a beautiful memory for Holden which he is afraid of spoiling, so he is unable to talk to her.
CHARACTERS OF AUTHORITY
Holden’s History teacher at Pencey Prep is an old man who is friendly to his students, often inviting them into his home for hot drinks. When we meet him he is suffering from flu and Holden wishes he hasn’t come to visit him. He shows concern for Holden and cannot understand why Holden is failing so badly at school.
The main scene involving Mr Spencer is when he reads Holden’s History exam paper to him, showing up its inadequacies. Holden feels that Spencer is being sarcastic, but tells us that Mr Spencer felt badly about failing him in the exam.
Mr Spencer is important to the novel as he is the first “adult” we meet. He typifies the “generation gap” and is one of the many grown-ups in the novel whom Holden wishes he hadn’t started talking to. Although he is warm and kind, he cannot relate to Holden’s feelings.
He is Holden’s ex-English teacher from Elkton Hills school, described as the best teacher he has ever had. A youngish man (not much older than Holden’s brother D. B.), he is married to an older woman. They live in an expensive apartment in NY and are friendly with Holden’s parents. Mr Antolini makes an impression by being the person who goes pick up the body of the boy, James Castle, who killed himself in Elkton Hills.
He is the last person Holden goes to in his quest to find someone to understand and help him, and who can relate to him. They have a long conversation during which Mr Antolini is described as drinking heavily. Mr Antolini tries to get through to Holden that he may fail in life if he does not pull himself together and decide what he wants. He shows genuine concern for Holden and we feel he really cares.
When Holden falls asleep in his apartment, he is woken up by Mr Antolini stroking his hair. Holden interprets it as a sexual advance and runs out. The last character that Holden looks up comes under suspicion for having false motives.
A boy who causes disturbances at Pencey Prep by farting during a speech.
Holden’s old student adviser at Whooton school. He meets Holden for drinks and we realize Luce has become an adult who does not want to respond to Holden’s immature questions.
The boy who died at Elkton Hills school. He jumped out of a window rather than take back something he believed to be true. He is an important link between Holden and Mr Antolini.
One of Holden’s old girlfriends whom he takes out one afternoon in NY. She is described as very attractive but shallow. She comes from a wealthy background and is happy with her life. Holden upsets her by calling her “a pain in the ass” when she refuses to run away with him.
The prostitute who comes to Holden’s room at the Edmont Hotel. She is about the same age as Holden.
He meets them in the cafeteria. They are also teachers, one of them an English teacher. Holden has one of his successful conversations with them and thinks about them often after their meeting.
One of Holden’s old junior school teachers who used to take them to the museums around Central Park.
The headmaster of Pencey Prep.
The mother of one of the boys Holden knew at Pencey Prep. Holden has a conversation with her on the train to NY, telling her outrageous lies about what his school-friends think about her son Ernest.
The elevator-man with whom Holden makes the arrangement to see a prostitute. He beats up Holden after a row about the money owed to the prostitute.
LANGUAGE & STYLE
The novel is written entirely from Holden’s point of view. We are asked to believe his story to a doctor or a counselor of some kind and therefore it is important that the language sounds like spoken English. J. D. Salinger uses language to bring Holden’s character alive. Holden has many “stock phrases”, which are repeated throughout the novel to give an impression of a particular individual’s speech style. He frequently digresses from the subject, as a person would when telling an oral narrative. This sometimes creates the impression that the novel has not been carefully structured, but this is probably intentional and adds to the sense of realism. The narrative style consciously avoids many of the devices we associate with literature: little use of metaphor, not much elegant writing or detailed description of places and emotions or feelings. This style persuades us we are really seeing the world through the eyes of a 16-year-old.
HOLDEN’S USE OF LANGUAGE:
One of the first things we notice about his use of language is his use of swearwords; although today they seem mild, at the time they would have been quite shocking (the novel was censured in the States when first published in 1951!). He uses the word “crap” quite frequently and expressions like “my ass”. He has a limited set of insults such as “you sonowabitch” and “you moron”. Holden does not like certain swearwords and spends time at the end of the story rubbing off graffiti, saying “fuck you”, from the walls of his sister’s school.
Holden has many other habitual phrases. He often uses the expression “it really was” or “I really was”, as if he wants us to believe him but is afraid that we will not. His other ma in phrase is “that kills me”, usually used to indicate that something amuses him. These and other expressions like “phony” make Holden an individual with his own way of speaking, but they also echo the slang of the time.
Another characteristic feature of Holden’s language is his tendency to exaggerate. There are many instances of this in the novel and this is the main way in which J. D. Salinger portrays the humorous side of Holden’s character.
The way in which Holden expresses his feelings and emotions is made deliberately vague by the author. Holden often says he doesn’t know why he likes things or that he doesn’t know why he said a particular thing to someone. He frequently tells us what he is thinking, but he does not seem able to draw any conclusions from his thoughts. On a number of occasions, his description of what is happening to him emotionally are summed up in one word, “stuff”, and he tells us that things make him sad or “blue as hell” but he cannot say why. His inability to express his emotions clearly is very noticeable at the climax of his story when he is watching Phoebe on the carrousel. Holden tells us he so happy but cannot explain why.
The way in which J. D. Salinger reveals the world through Holden’s individual voice is very clever. By giving Holden a limited ability to describe his world in a sophisticated way, he has made Holden seem even more like a real person. Holden is fixed in our minds as a mixed-up teenager who lacks the sophistication of an adult to describe what is happening to him. If we feel sympathy for Holden – and it would be cruel not to – it is the way in which he has told his story which makes us do so.