Topics for Discussion

1. Holden constantly uses the word “phony” to describe people, events, and popular culture such as movies. What does he mean by this word and what does it indicate about his values?

2. Although he discusses the subject with ironic humor, the idea of war clearly disturbs Holden. He states that his older brother “hated” the army and World War II. Holden dreads military experience because he will not be able to choose the people with whom he associates. What does this tell us about Holden’s social ideal?

3. Although indirectly discussed in the book, the theme of death by war, disease, and accident has a profound impact on our understanding of Holden Caulfield. His obsession with the death of innocents, such as James Castle, indicates that he is very complex and sensitive. How does this obsession affect his thoughts and actions?

4. Holden criticizes virtually all the young people he encounters. They appear to be unaware of the complex world outside school and personal desires. Is his criticism of adolescent egotism accurate?

5. Several times Holden discusses the Bible, religion, and Catholicism in an extended analysis, with seemingly sharp, ironic commentary. What is he really criticizing?

6. Why does Holden so often tell lies or at least answer Questions with only partial truths, especially Questions about his real feelings?

7. What does Holden mean when he says he wants to be a catcher in a field of rye preventing children from falling off the edge of the field?

8. Is Phoebe really what Holden sees in her, or is her symbolism to him the product of his own imagination?

9. Mr. Spencer and Mr. Antolini are actually very reasonable, intelligent people. Why can’t Holden accept their advice?

10. Holden is unlike most boys, and he dislikes much of what other boys do unthinkingly. Is he mentally ill or does he just see things from a point of view we normally cannot see?