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Barron's Booknotes-The Catcher In the Rye by J. D. Salinger-Free Booknotes/Synopsis
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CHAPTER 22

"She was ostracizing the hell out of me," Holden says. "Just like the fencing team at Pencey when I left all the goddam foils on the subway."

This reference brings you back to the very beginning of the story, the fifth paragraph of the novel, when he talked about the fencing foils. Maybe it's an indication that Holden has come full circle, that he hasn't accomplished anything, that he's right back where he started. There's another full-circle reference later in this chapter, when Holden says he's going to visit a former teacher of his. Its likely that Salinger is trying to direct our attention to the beginning of the story.

Phoebe talks to Holden "like a goddam schoolteacher," and he responds as he might to an older person, in a petulant and whining manner. When she asks him why he's being expelled again, he tries to explain what a terrible place Pencey is.

The trouble is, his description could fit any school, or almost any group situation that any of us will ever be in. Holden may think he's complaining about Pencey; in fact, he's complaining about the world.

Phoebe really becomes the adult character when she presses him to name something he really likes. She won't accept either of the answers he gives, and she presses the issue by asking him what he wants to be.

Holden's response contains the source of the book's title. He wants to be the catcher in the rye because he wants to prevent small children from getting hurt.

NOTE:

His catcher in the rye image, far-fetched as it is, is the first concrete expression of Holden's urge to protect the vulnerable that we've been hearing about throughout the novel. It explains his feelings for Jane Gallagher (at least the Jane he knew during that summer vacation). It explains the concern he felt in the coffee shop for the nuns' sensibility, the feeling he has for girls in general, and the tenderness that overtakes him when he talks with or about children.

It explains why he likes Jesus, who preached love and sacrifice, even though he considers himself an atheist. It explains why he feels sorry for people who don't have the money or possessions he has, and why he sympathizes with social misfits like Ackley.


Holden just wants to prevent everyone from getting hurt. His image deals with children because no one is more vulnerable than they are. But his urge to protect extends to everyone.

Although this may sound beautiful, think of the negative side for a moment. Holden offered the catcher in the rye image in response to Phoebe's question about what he wanted to do with his life. This isn't a dream he's describing. He says it's "the only thing I'd really like to be."

Take that as a clue that Holden's grasp of reality isn't as firm as it should be. He doesn't imagine himself doing anything remotely attainable. He doesn't talk about entering teaching, social work, the clergy, medicine, or any other profession or occupation that would allow him to satisfy his urge to help people. He imagines himself only as the catcher in the rye.

As he admitted earlier in the day to Sally, he's in lousy shape.

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Barron's Booknotes-The Catcher In the Rye by J. D. Salinger-Free Booknotes/Synopsis
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