Explain the title. Where in the book is the title explained?
Holden wants to be a catcher in the rye. In chapter 16 there’s a reference to the title: ‘If a body catch a body coming to the rye’. He describes a kid who is singing, how pure and not phony he his. Holden hates his peers and his parents; he’s convinced that adults lost their purity, that they’re phony and liars. So, he sees himself at the edge of a cliff, trying to catch all the kids who are running over the cliff to somewhere they don’t know. Trying to rescue those children. Holden doesn’t want to accept the truth about growing up.
What are the main themes?
Major themes in catcher in the rye are growing up, depression and ‘phoniness’. As I wrote above; Holden wants to rescue children from growing up. He just doesn’t understand adults and he doesn’t want to understand them. Holden often says that something drove him crazy. But as reader you just think ‘crazy’ is the typical teenage ‘crazy’, you don’t think that he’s really going insane. Or when he says he’s depressed or wished to be dead, on first sight you think he just says it to make his ‘teenage’ emotions more intense. As the book progresses you figure out that those thoughts are
really driving him insane and not in an innocent way, but that he’s thinking about killing himself, because he can’t deal with the world he’s living in.
Holden often uses the word ‘phony’; it’s the way he thinks about others. He sees others as hypocritical and fake. Characters as Ackley or Stradlater are often phony. So, yes he’s right about that, but he doesn’t see that he himself is
also phony. He doesn’t want to see that, because in his ideal world there is no such thing as ‘phoniness’. Mr. Antollini wants to make clear to him that everyone’s phony, it makes them human. So, Holden’s ideal world, without fake people, is actually inhuman.
When and where does the story take place? How important are time and place in this novel? Does the writer use flash backs/flash forwards?
Well, the whole story is actually a long flashback. Holden speaks from an mental hospital about a very important football match, after this Holden is going to see his history teacher, Mr Spencer, to say goodbye. Because Holden is expelled. But he stays at Penceys dorms, Pennsylvania. After a fight with his roommate Stradlater he decides to go to New York for a few days. He can’t go home, because he doesn’t want his parents to know that he was expelled. In New York he witnessed a lot of things, which made him think about stories. For example when he thinks about Sally, Jane or his dead brother, are their stories set in a flashback.
He goes to bars and hotels, which give the story a certain atmosphere; dark and you also understand Holden’s definition of phony, because of the people in the bars. I think the places that he goes are more important to the story, then the time it’s set in. Well, I mean his age is very important and typical to the story, but not that it’s set in the early 1950’s. On the other hand is the fact that it’s set in the early 1950’s an important fact to explain the reactions the novel got in 1951. World war 2 had ended, Americans were feeling national anxiety, so it wasn’t strange that people were searching for their identity and values. Young people could relate to young Holden: a rebel, smoking, cursing and swearing. That was the reason that this book was banned out of schools.