Teacher’s Guide to Joint Unit : The Catcher in the Rye & Catcher, Caught
JD Salinger’s classic novel The Catcher in the Rye has fascinated teenage and adult readers for six decades. Tom Wolfe wrote in 1999 that “Holden Caulfield represents the adolescent who wants to act flippantly, but underneath has great sorrow.” Holden’s story within a story evokes a particular emotional connection when teenagers face the loss of innocence that makes childhood feel safer than adulthood.
While Salinger’s Holden Caulfield struggles as modern teens do with peer pressure, a sense of isolation, and the transition to adulthood, cultural norms have changed. In Sarah Collins Honenberger’s novel Catcher, Caught, Daniel Solstice Landon faces the same issues as Holden, but in the year 2000 and with the complication of a leukemia diagnosis, the summer before tenth grade. Daniel finds insight and inspiration in Holden’s analysis of the adult world as he deals with his own mortality and his parents’ refusal to follow traditional treatment. Parallels between the two boys and their separate conflicts create opportunities for class discussions of universal themes and the way literature can illuminate the human condition. Catcher, Caught pays homage to Salinger and celebrates the importance and relevance of reading classics.
The outline below suggests discussion and essay topics for a high school joint unit on the two novels.
- Moving from childhood to adulthood can be challenging.
- Isolation or alienation skews one’s perspective of reality.
- A healthy adult mentality includes a willingness to explore the world beyond your own.
- Independence does not preclude reliance on other people.
The Catcher in the Rye
After his expulsion from yet another prep school 17 year old Holden Caulfield spends one final evening on campus before leaving early for Christmas break. After several difficult good-byes, he packs up. Afraid of his parents’ reaction, he rides the train to New York City, checks into a hotel, and tries to connect with people he knows in the city. Feeling increasingly isolated, he wanders, struggling with what he should do about his latest failure, vociferous in his complaints about the people he meets or knows, fueled by his grief over the death of his younger brother Allie from leukemia and his fear about change and having to grow up. Conflicted over his interest in sex and the line he’s drawn between moral and immoral behavior, he spends time with several women in city bars and arranges a date with an old girlfriend. Only partly aware of his spiraling depression, he alienates them all, though he makes excuses for his failure. When he decides to run away, his younger sister Phoebe insists on going with him. Her support and his own need to protect her changes his mind. He stays, admitting that he’s writing the story from a psychiatric hospital weeks later.
On the eve of his 16th birthday Daniel Landon is diagnosed with leukemia. After his mother moves the family to a houseboat to minimize contact with germs, his parents insist on alternative remedies. Deriving inspiration from Holden, Daniel begins to question the intentions and authority of those around him in his search for identity and for an acceptance of his new reality. As he falls in love, uncovers his best friend’s drug use, and meets other cancer patients in a Mexican experimental treatment facility, he is forced to adjust his preconceptions about the adult world. Once he realizes he’s not getting better, he follows Holden’s footsteps to New York City to arrange his own medical treatment. In the confusion of the city and his isolation, he discovers that home and family are more important than he thought.
Holden and Daniel are intelligent, sensitive boys who fear an adult world that they believe emphasizes the wrong values; casual sex, drug and alcohol abuse, and phony social structures. Their disappointment and confusion comes across in first person narratives that reflect uniquely expressive voices and each boy’s increasing desperation; Holden with his mental imbalance and Daniel with the leukemia diagnosis that gives him only a year to live.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS/WRITING PROMPTS
1. How does each boy’s underlying challenge color his approach to navigating his way through the world?
a. Holden rants about the phoniness of other students and adults. Leonard Yowell and his politician father irritate Daniel for the same reason. Consider the extent to which each boy moves from a simplified, childlike view of the world to a more complex one.
b. Holden suffers from psychological problems; Daniel, from physical ones. What similarities and differences do you see in their problems and their responses to those problems?
c. Suicide is a real threat to today’s teenagers. Compare and contrast each boy’s conclusion about suicide and what it reveals about his own fears.
d. In what ways are the settings alike or different? How does each setting contribute to each boy’s particular quest?
2. Families influence a teenager’s path to independence. Compare and contrast the relationship each boy has with a sibling, parent or parental figure and how those relationships affect each boy’s ability to act and think independently. For example, Holden’s dad is preoccupied with social and business activities, while Daniel’s dad is an openly recovering alcoholic.
3. Is one boy a more reliable narrator than the other? Explain how each boy’s voice reflects his view of reality and cite examples to support your conclusion.
4. Discuss the symbols for safety and risk in each novel. Possible topics for Holden: the red hat, the carousel, the gold ring, the duck pond. Possible topics for Daniel: the rowboat, the east wind, the novel he’s reading, the river.
5. What roles do Mr. Antolini and Ms. Stepford-Hanes play in each boy’s journey toward adulthood? What do you make of the way each boy sometimes accepts and sometimes rejects advice from mentors?
6. How do Daniel and Holden interact with their peers and how does that interaction contribute to each boy’s maturation?
7. What do Holden and Daniel finally realize about the adult world? How do such characters as Phoebe and Mack act as foils to the protagonists? To what extent has each boy matured by the end of the novel?
The Catcher in the Rye
What I was really hanging around for, I was trying to feel some kind of good-by. I mean I’ve left schools and places I didn’t even know I was leaving them. I hate that. I don’t care if it’s a sad good-by or a bad good-by, but when I leave a place I like to know I’m leaving it. If you don’t, you feel worse. (p. 4, TCITR, Bantam, paper)
After I got across the road, I felt like I was sort of disappearing. It was that kind of a crazy afternoon, terrifically cold, and no sun out or anything, and you felt like you were disappearing every time you crossed a road. (p. 5, TCITR)
You never even worried with Jane, whether your hand was sweaty or not. All you knew was, you were happy. You really were. (p. 79, TCITR)
He was just singing for the hell of it, you could tell. The cars zoomed by, brakes screeched all over the place, his parents paid no attention to him, and he kept on walking next to the curb and singing “If a body catch a body coming through the rye.” It made me feel better. It made me feel not so depressed any more. (p. 115, TCITR)
I kept walking and walking, and I kept thinking about old Phoebe going to that museum on Saturdays the way I used to. I thought how she’d see the same stuff I used to see, and how she’d be different every time she saw it. … Certain things should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone. I know that’s impossible but it’s too bad anyway. (p. 122, TCITR)
“You ought to go to a boys’ school sometime. Try it sometime,” I said. “It’s full of phonies and all you do is study so that you can learn enough to be smart enough to buy a goddam Cadillac some day, and you have to keep making believe you give a damn if the football team loses and all you do is talk about girls and liquor and sex all day and everybody sticks together in these dirty little goddam cliques.” (p. 131, TCITR)
Anyway I kept worrying that I was getting pneumonia, with all those hunks of ice in my hair, and that I was going to die. I felt sorry as hell for my mother and father. Especially my mother, because she still isn’t over my brother Allie yet. I kept picturing her not knowing what to do with all my suits and athletic equipment and all. The only good thing, I knew she wouldn’t let old Phoebe come to my goddam funeral because she was only a little kid. That was the good part. (p. 155, CITR)
Holden: I mean (Mr. Vinson) he’d keep telling you to unify and simplify all the time. Some things you just can’t do that to. I mean you can’t hardly ever simplify and unify something just because somebody wants you to. (p. 185, TCITR) Mr. Antolini: “You’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now.” (p. 189, TCITR)
The thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything, if they fall off, they fall off, but it’s bad if you say anything to them. (p. 211, TCITR)
Good old Holden just acts like he doesn’t care. Okay, sure, he blows them off partly because it’s not any of their goddamn business. They’re not people he respects. But mostly, I guess, because he’s already figured out where you go to high school doesn’t matter in the long run. (p. 2, CC)
It was one of those summer nights when bugs swarm the streetlights, the buzz so loud you can’t hear yourself think. Their tiny wings beat so furiously. As if they’re desperate to be transported to another world. The kind of night when even though you can see people talking in their cars, like mimes with painted faces, the air conditioners make it impossible to hear their words. The windows up, they’re drowning in their own little worlds while scraps of their lives—a wave of a hand, a nod, a glance out the window—like shards from a cracked mirror, fall into the night and splinter into smaller and smaller pieces until you have to pull your hands back to avoid getting cut. (p.58, CC)
“It’s the time in your life when you figure out where you’re different from your parents, what you’re good at, how you can alter other people’s opinions with your expression of ideas, not just by what you’re wearing or how many goal kicks you can get past the goalie or what friends you hang out with.” (Stepford-Hanes, p. 167, CC)
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not making a moral judgment about sex before marriage. I didn’t take advantage of Meredith. We’re in this together. That’s the point in spades. If her father knew how messed up her life is going to be because the boy she loves dies before he turns 17, her father should have been here to enforce the goddamn curfew. And he sure as hell ought to be around after I die when she falls apart. (p.174, CC)
With the leukemia battling under my skin, playing hide and seek between bones and muscle, this winter I stay awake on the nights when the temperature drops below freezing. I listen and wait and hope for that east wind to come again and carry me off. I need to see that future. I want to know if I’m remembering it right, if it’s still there because I’m having trouble remembering the details now. (p.191, CC)
“This is my last will and testament.” I start with Joe. He’s the easiest. He was away for most of this last part while I was getting sicker. He won’t miss me but so much. I’ll be like a fingerprint on the edge of his glasses. Most of the time he’ll look through the memory of me and only notice me once in a while, in a vague, absent-minded kind of way like you do when you clean your lenses. The memory of me won’t interfere with his career and his social life. (p. 218, CC)
No sign of the hours of studying, brainstorming with Holden, debating Nick’s theories on the end of the world, and that incredible night with Meredith. It’s been a good place to be. A hard place to leave. . . . Outside the cabin the sky colors purple and brownish pink, bruised already and shrinking as if it doesn’t want to see what this day holds. If I’m really going, I’ve got to leave now. (p. 221, CC)
For event scheduling, please contact the publisher’s marketing department at firstname.lastname@example.org . A supplemental reading list for other current novels with teenage narrators is available on request at email@example.com . Background information on Sarah Collins Honenberger can be found at www.catchercaught.com and on her author page at www.amazon.com .