Catcher in the Rye Analysis Questions

1.     The role of women in Cather in the Rye is complicated. Women like Jane Gallagher and Holden’s sister Phoebe represent positive relationships in Holden’s life. They understand him, he can be himself around them, and they listen to him. However, women like Sally Hayes and the prostitute Sunny represent relationships that revolt Holden. To Holden, love should be a deep affection for all aspects of an individual -  like his affection for Jane - but the people around him say that love is merely a physical attraction, which is extremely confusing to Holden. “She was always reading, and she read very good books. She read a lot of poetry and all. She was the only one, outside the family, that I ever showed Allie’s baseball mitt to, with all the poems written in it.” (77) Holden wants to feel the deepest type of love possible, but he’s taught that this means sex is the only course of action, and that love is irrelevant to a relationship, and the quote demonstrates why this is disgusting to him. He desperately wants his relationships to be significant, but he doesn’t know how to make them meaningful. His concept of love is so eschew that he calls a prostitute thinking having sex will make him feel less depressed, but instead it caused him to spiral deeper into his despair. It is only at the end of the book that Holden reaches a point of balance between what he knows and what he’s been taught. He goes to see his former teacher Mr. Atolini, who gives him a lot of advice on adulthood and maturity that helps Holden make sense of the future . The women in Catcher in the Rye are both the protagonists and the antagonists, which is representative of the way other people function in our own lives, and the one aspect of the novel may be to demonstrate just that.

2.     I don’t believe the tone of the novel is funny. Yes, Holden often comments on how certain behaviors are “funny”, but this is not a humorous funny it’s an odd funny. “It's funny. Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.” (214) He uses sarcasm as a tactic to avoid topics that make him uncomfortable. Holden is depressed and his actions for the majority of the novel are self-detrimental. He chats up and dances with older women. He hires a prostitute, and goes on a date with a girl he doesn’t really like. This novel is not meant to be funny; it’s meant to be authentic because Holden’s problems are common to many. Holden’s cynical attitude is a product of his awkwardness and despise for inauthenticity. I empathize with Holden, deeply, and think that what he is feeling is not funny. His use of humor is merely a coping mechanism typical of adolescents.

3.     The quote “…envy is ignorance; imitation is suicide.” by Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson greatly applies to Catcher in the Rye. The quote sums up the root of Holden’s problems; he is envious of people in stable relationships and he attempts to imitate the behaviors of the people around him. His envious feelings toward Carl Luce’s relationship displays Holden’s ignorance about how relationships work. In his meeting with Luce, Holden repeatedly asks about Luce’s sex life and Luce repeatedly avoids answering the question asking, "When the hell are you going to grow up?" (146) Holden wants to be listened to and throughout the book his questions go unanswered, leaving him more frustrated and ignorant than before. Along with Holden’s envious feelings he also is an imitator. He wants to be like the people around him – confident and assured of their maturity- but they seem so phony to him that he is constantly disgusted. Holden is torn between two desires. He desperately craves a sense of belonging, but really hates the people he surrounds himself with. Holden also wants to be his own man, but he doesn’t know what makes him unique. This paradoxical situation causes Holden to become more depressed as the book progresses. He considers suicide and disappearing as ways to avoid his problems, but it’s only when he meets up with his sister and she actually listens to his concerns that he lets go of his envy and begins to feel happy again.