The Catcher in the Rye Essay Topics


You will write a five-paragraph essay about one of the topics below.  Be sure to follow the conventions for writing essays that we have discused in class and that are on this website.


1.  Salinger weaves a variety of symbols into The Catcher in the Rye, including (but not limited to) the red hunting hat, the ducks in Central Park, and Allie's mitt.  Select and analyze one symbol that Salinger uses in the book.  Explain how Salinger develops this object as a symbol throughout the story.  Discuss the symbol's meaning and significance, and explore its contributions to the overall message of the novel.


2.  Throughout the novel, Holden is a tormented adolescent.  He feels alienated and isolated at Pency Prep, he is belittled by women he wants to impress, he is beaten up twice, he wants to run away and cut himself from all other people, and he even considers suicide.  In spite of Holden's pain, the novel is funny.  Why did Salinger choose humor as the tone for the novel?  How does Salinger's use of humor contribute to the book's overall meaning and effect?  Consider how the book's overall meaning would be different if Salinger did not use so much humor.


3.  Critic David D. Galloway said that wherever Holden turns, his craving for truth seems to be frustrated by the phoniness of the world.  Analyze Holden's use of the word "phony."  What does the word mean in the context of the book, and does Holden offer any alternative to phoniness?  Is Holden himself guilty of being a phony?  How does Salinger want readers to judge ideas about phoniness?


4.  Discuss the meaning or impact of the title of the book as a central, controlling symbol of the story.  How does Holden's wish to be the catcher in the rye help readers understand both his character and the nature of his deep troubles and concerns about life?  Be sure to address the significance of Hllden's misreading of the Robert Burns poem.


5.  Critic Maxwell Geismar writes, "The Catcher in the Rye protests, to be sure, against both the academic and social conformity of its period."  While Geismar's statement is a given for our purpose here, consider the opposite.  What does the book argue for?  Write an essay to explain what the book argues for.  What might Salinger have been trying to communicate to his readers through his novel, and how does he do so?


6.  Holden, like each of us, faces living in a world he didn't create.  Nobody, not even Holden, can live in a culture without having some of it rub off on them.  What faults of his society does Holden exhibit?  How does Salinger reveal these faults to readers?