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Comprehension Exercises

1. Read the conversation between Holden and Mr Antolini (pp. 1-8)

• What does Mr Antolini mean by ‘some kind of terrible fall’?

The ‘some kind of terrible fall’ meant that Holden was falling because he thought the world couldn’t provide what he needed, Holden needed love, but in a world full of corruption and phonies, love was non-existent.

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• Is Mr Antolini able to help Holden?

Mr Antolini was unable to help Holden because Holden didn’t really listen to what Mr Antolini was saying. Mostly because he was very tired.

‘Boy, I felt so damn tired all of a sudden.’ pp. 16

• Where else in the novel does the theme of ‘falling’ occur?

The theme of ‘falling’ occurred in the part where Holden was talking to his sister, Phoebe, about what he really wanted to do. Holden wanted to be a catcher in the rye. He wanted to catch the little kids playing in the rye and stop them falling off the cliff. This symbolised Holden’s belief that children should be protected from losing their innocence. This meant keeping them away from the adults’ world.

‘What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff…’ pp. 156

. Read from ‘Anyway, I kept walking’ to ‘another school again’ (pp. 04-5)

• Try to imagine Holden’s experience as he is walking up 5th Avenue.

When Holden was walking up 5th Avenue, he must have felt very lonely and sad. And then, all of a sudden, he got this feeling of falling every time he stepped off the curb at the end of each block. Holden was really scared, and every time he got to the end of each block, he would pray to his dead brother Allie not to let him disappear. And he actually thanked Allie when he didn’t disappear. Holden kept on going and going until he was out of breath.

• Can you identify with this feeling?

I can’t personally identify with this feeling but I think Holden’s mind was very unstable. Holden was having a mental breakdown.

• What is the significance of his fear of disappearing?

I think the significance of Holden fearing that he would disappear was that he was afraid to leave this world, a world which he despise because it was full of imperfections. Holden wanted to stay so he could be a catcher in the rye and save the little kids from falling of the cliff and losing their innocence when they come into contact with the adult world.

• Relate this to other themes in the novel concerned with falling and death.

The part about Holden fearing he would disappear and fall down can be related to other themes of this novel, mainly with the part where Holden wanted to be a catcher in the rye to stop other kids from falling off the cliff. And the part at the end where Holden felt that he didn’t need to prevent Phoebe from falling of the horse at the carousel because he understood that children will inevitably come into contact with the adult world.

• Why is he talking to Allie?

Holden was talking to Allie because Allie was dead, and Allie was someone who he really liked and respected. Allie and Holden were really good friends because to Holden, Allie was the only person apart from Phoebe who was honest and nice and full of love and innocence. Holden loved Allie because he never lost his childhood innocence.

. Read from ‘While I was walking’ to ‘principal’s office’ (pp. 07 � 8) and from ‘I went down’ to ‘It’s impossible’ (p. 08).

• What is the significance of Holden trying to rub out the obscene words.

The significance of Holden trying to rub out the obscene words was that it showed Holden as someone who really believed that children’s innocence should be preserved. That was the reason he was so angry when he discovered the obscene words on the stairs, because he didn’t want the little kids seeing it and wondering what it meant.

• Relate this incident to the theme of innocence in the novel.

This incident was closely related to the theme of innocence in the novel as it portrayed Holden’s view of children as the ultimate example of innocence and they shouldn’t grow up and lose their innocence.

4. Read from ‘I was getting’ to ‘You know that?’ (pp. 15 � 4).

• How would you describe Holden’s relationship with Carl?

I would describe Holden’s relationship with Carl as past acquaintances. They were not really friends and the only reason they talked to each other was because they knew each other from Whooton. Holden only talked to Carl because he didn’t have anyone else to talk to. He thought Carl was a pretty amusing guy and very much a pain in the ass.

• What do we learn about Holden’s attitude to sexuality from this extract?

From this extract, I learned that Holden has this problem of not feeling sexy towards someone he didn’t like. And he would only feel sexy towards someone he really liked; otherwise he would lose interest and desire for her.

• What do you think Holden’s overall attitude to sexuality is?

From this extract, I think Holden was very interested in sex, but he can only feel sexy towards someone he really liked and he thought his sex life was lousy because of it. But from previous extracts, Holden was aroused by kinky sex, even though he felt bad about it. Also, he didn’t think one should have casual sex with someone else if one didn’t know the person very well.

5. Consider Antolini’s advice to Holden ‘The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one’ (p. 15).

• Do you agree with this statement? How does this advice relate to Holden?

I totally agree with this statement as it perfectly described the situation Holden was in. Holden, who was quite immature for his age, wanted to die nobly for a cause, and that cause was to keep all the children to stay innocent of the adult world, which he considered to be corrupt and immoral.

6. Consider the following conversation between Holden and his history teacher, Mr Spencer.

‘What did Mr Thurmer say to you, boy? I understand you had quite a little chat.’

‘Yes, we did. We really did. I was in his office for around two hours, I guess.’

‘What’d he say to you?’

‘Oh…well, about Life being a game and all. And how you should play it according to the rules. He was pretty nice about it. I mean he didn’t hit the ceiling or anything. He just kept talking about Life being a game and all. You know.’

‘Life is a game, boy. Life is a game that one plays according to the rules.’

‘Yes, sir. I know it is. I know it!’

‘Game my ass. Some game. If you get on the right side where all the hot-shots are, then it’s a game all right � I’ll admit that. But if you get on the other side, where there aren’t any hot-shots, then what’s a game about it? Nothing. No game.’ (pp. 1-1)

• What does Mr. Spencer mean when he says life is ‘a game’? What are the rules that he is referring to?

Mr. Spencer meant that life was like game where there were rules that everyone has to stick to. The rules he was referring to were the laws of society. Written, as well as unwritten laws.

• Discuss Holden’s response to Mr. Spencer. What does Holden mean? Give examples of some of the ‘hot-shots’ that Holden is talking about.

Holden didn’t think it was much of a game if you were a loner and had no friends who were either rich or well liked. The ‘hot-shots’ Holden was talking about were people, who were rich, went to rich schools, wore expensive clothes, lived in luxury and have enormous power. In Holden’s opinion, only if you were like these ‘hot-shots’ or were friends of these people, can you then have a game.

• In what way are they playing life according to the rules? Give examples of ‘the other side,’ i.e. where ‘there aren’t any hot-shots’. How is life to them ‘no game’.

They were playing life according to the rules by going to school, obeying the law, go to church, have a job, get a family, etc…People who were on the side without any ‘hot-shots’ were poor, socially awkward and without friends who were rich. Life was no game because they would lose every time because of their disadvantages.

7. Discuss the symbolic significance of the following

• The red hunting cap

The red hunting cap represented protection for Holden. It kept him warm and comfortable, something that he hasn’t received from the people around him.

• Winter

The winter represented whiteness and innocence and Christmas, a time of loving and giving.

• The museum

The museum symbolised time being still, and to Holden it meant that children won’t have to grow up and therefore they won’t have to come into contact with the adult world. A world of corruption and deception.

• The ducks on Central Park lake

The ducks symbolised disappearance. Holden wondered what happened to the ducks at the lake when it was winter and when the lake was frozen over. He didn’t want to end up like the ducks and disappear.

• The carousel

The carousel symbolised the happiness and innocence of childhood. Holden was so happy that he cried when he saw Phoebe was having fun on the carousel.

• Allie’s baseball mitt

Allie’s baseball mitt showed that Allie was an intelligent and sensitive child. It was also a representation of childhood innocence.

• New York

New York represented everything Holden hated about the adults’ world. It was a city full of ugliness and corruption. Full of phonies and snobs and where everyone pretended to be something they were not. A city without love and it made Holden feel unwanted and lonely.

• The ‘catcher’ in the rye

The ‘catcher’ in the rye symbolised Holden’s belief that children must be protected from ‘falling’ into the adults’ world. A world which would make them lose their innocence and make them immoral and unloving.

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