From a mental institution, where he is receiving treatment, Holden Caulfield recounts the two day period after he is kicked out of school.
Below are some reading passages that we have hand picked to supplement this book. Be sure to read the passage summaries and our suggestions for instructional use.
In John Updike’s short story “A&P,” a cashier describes three teenage girls who come into a grocery store in only their bathing suits during the more conservative 1960s.
Introduce this short story before students begin reading The Catcher in the Rye, in order to analyze how tone and characterization help shape narratives that are in the first-person perspective. Ask students to analyze Sammy’s thoughts and actions in “A&P,” and how they influence our understanding of the story. As students read “The Catcher in the Rye,” bring attention to the fact that they are reading a first-person narrative and have them consider how Holden Caulfield's character will also shape their understanding of the story.
In this excerpt from James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, a young boy feels left out at his new school.
Have students read this text after they finish Chapter 6, when Holden gets into an altercation with Stradlater, to help them analyze how tension and isolation is developed between characters. Why do both Stephen and Holden feel out of place at their schools? How does this isolation impact their social relationships. What factors make Stephen and Holden different from those around them?
“Teenage Brains Are Malleable And Vulnerable, Researchers Say” discusses how the teenage brain responds to potential rewards and consequent impacts on decision making.
Have students read this text after they finish Chapter 7, to provide them with a theoretical text to help them analyze Holden’s actions and motivations. Ask students to discuss the risky behavior that Holden engages in and how, according to Hamilton’s article, it might be related to his brain development as an adolescent. How much of Holden’s behavior do students think is due to his age and brain development? How does his behavior compare to the behavior of his fellow adolescent classmates?
In this poem, a desperate speaker begs the gods to deliver someone to love.
Have students read this poem after they finish Chapter 10, and ask them to compare Holden’s desire for company with the speaker’s need for love in “At a Window.” How do both texts convey the characters’ desperation for companionship? How do people respond to Holden’s persisting requests to get a drink together? How does this affect him?
In the speech “Depression, The Secret We Share,” Andrew Solomon describes his experiences with depression and why some people are more resilient with the illness than others.
Have students read this text after they finish Chapter 22, to provide them with information on depression and the effects it can have on a person. How do Andrew Solomon’s experiences with depression compare to Holden’s feelings of sadness and hopelessness? What evidence would students use from the text to argue whether or not they believe Holden is struggling with depression in “The Catcher in the Rye”?
In Emily Dickinson’s poem “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,” a speaker describes the loss of something internal that affects them deeply.
Have students read this poem after they finish The Catcher in the Rye, in order to compare Holden’s sense of loss with the speaker’s loss in the poem. How does Holden’s behavior in the final chapters of the book indicate that he feels he has lost something essential? What do students think Holden has lost? How does this compare to the lost described by the speaker in “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain”?