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Catcher in the Rye and the allusion within the title

Catcher in the Rye and the allusion within the title

Author: Dean Hill
Description:

Begin the process of understanding poetry, practice critical reading skills, build connections from allusions and titles to the text.

The allusion presented in the title builds understanding of the text. In this case the reader may understand more about Holden Caulfield and his erroneous journey through New York.

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Tutorial

Answer the questions in each section- hopefully, this will work while I am out

This is to enhance your understanding of the text. Answer these questions in your notes on the novel, if you cannot answer a question move on. If you finish, continue reading the novel. Do not take this home for homework, if you don't finish that is okay- as long as you tried.

Read the poem- approx. 15 minutes

Answer the questions to the poem- approx 20 minutes

Read the lecture- approx. 15 minutes

Answer follow up questions on the novel- approx 20 minutes

Reflection- What did you learn? What confused you? What questions does this raise for you?

Holden's Crux

While we are still in the early stages of reading The Catcher in the Rye, I like to introduce the poem alluded to in the title. Before we get into the poem, let's recall some details from the text.

First, while Holden is still at Pencey he makes a snowball but cannot decide what to throw it at. He considers a car then a hydrant, but he chooses not to because each were "too nice and white(36)."

Immediately, as readers we must consider the importance of this, what does it mean to be "too nice and white"?

Second, Stradlater is out on a date with Jane, a girl Holden seems to know and like, why couldn't he go down and say 'hi' to her as Stradlater asks?

To answer this question accurately we read to recall what fact about Jane that Holden remembers or mentions frequently about her? Think board game.

Lastly, the name of the protagonist in The Catcher in the Rye may help you to remember Jane's particular habit. Holden is a pun for, say it slowly, Holdon.

All of this will help explain the curious hotel scene, the phone call to an ambiguous girl, the bizarre behavior with Mrs. Morrow on the train and with Holden's movie like portrayal of Stradlater's sweet moves in the back of Ed Banky's car.

The Poem and translation

Click the read and the poem: on the url.

Reading poetry review/ preview

Disclaimer- the reading of this poem is as it pertains to CITR. Some questions will bias the reading of this poem to parallel Holden's development as a character. Also, an explication of a translation is always a misleading process as well, but good enough for the purpose of high school.

First- poetry is an exercise in close reading and re-reading, so, read the poem once (obviously the translation, I would not expect high school students to do well with the Scottish dialect).

Second- Define words that you don't immediately know. Define rye, petticoat, draggle, glen (?).

Third- Make sure you follow the narrative of the poem, it is always good to summarize each stanza

Fourth- Note ambiguous words and their possible meanings, especially, "body". What could "a body meet a body" mean?

Fifth- Note transitions within the poem. What ideas, settings, images or characters are changing or evolving? In particular note the differences between rye, glen, and grain. Also note the last line in the last three stanzas.

*Hint rye is tall in stanza 3 think hidden/ cry, glen is open in stanza 4 think exposed/ know?, grain is processed rye think processed/ own.

Sixth- Note the narration and the perspective presented. 1st, 3rd, omniscient, limited? Does this add to the poem? How?

Last, go back to the narrative in the poem and answer why are Jenny's petticoats dirty? Why is she crying? Is it because what she did to get her petticoats dirty or is it because of social expectations/ perception? Ultimately, how does the poem resolve this issue?

 

Terrible way to lecture- I know/ in summation

I have done a bit of research on this point of interest (this poem) in regards to CITR and have found very little that would be supportive/ informative. Most reference sites note the existence of the allusion and offer no insight into the allusion, and the best I have read is the important aspect of the poem is how Holden miss-understands the poem. While that is true, I feel that this reading discredits the intelligence of Salinger's creation, therefore I insist that the poem shed some light on Holden or the text.

Burns' poem considers the choices, to act indiscreetly in secret or publicly. Ultimately, I think Burns is in favor of the action but does acknowledge that those who take action will still have to contend with society and its perceptions. As much as we would like to say "our life, our business" people talk and we should be prepared, if we are not, then we should not act.

If you didn't guess by the leading questions that the start this whole lecture or guided reading exercise, Holden is too busy holding on to enter the rye field. Instead of preparing to deal with social attitudes regarding adolescents taking on more adult roles, he chooses not to do anything- not to act, in public or in private. This is why he likes Jane but also since he hasn't seen her in a while he also refuses to see her, in case she has decided to not hold on to those kings anymore. Let's not fixate though, Holden is not only about 'bodies meeting bodies', although after reading about what he sees in the hotel through the window and some of his other wild comments it may be hard to recognize other issues beyond this, he is very concerned about being authentic or true to himself. Remember this is what he dislikes most about his brother, his school, Ossenberger, the movies and himself. I find we, modern readers, respond negatively to Holden because at an early age we discern between public and private lives and are forced to negotiate where the true 'self' lies in these different spheres. However, Holden's world is not as complex as ours and while we make peace with the different spheres that we exist in, we are only lying to ourselves if at times we lose track of our own identity from time to time.

What I really feel is great about this allusion is that it sets the reader up for a 'fall from grace experience' for the protagonist, not unlike Gatsby from the novel The Great Gatsby. Holden knows the 'fall from grace' is coming but he doesn't know what is going to happen to his self-perception as he emerges into society or assumes more adult roles (remember he is 16 and in high school, although he seems to be prolonging that experience). After all Adam and Eve changed drastically during their fall, while they gained knowledge from eating the forbidden fruit, they also gained the burden of death and social expectations; honestly, death is a bit easier to deal with, as it doesn't constantly change or have an unstated agenda.

Well, that is what I make of the poem. We will all have to choose to act, but we should not make the choice until we are prepared to deal with the forces of society that will see us act, it always sees us- eventually. This is why Jenny in the poem cries and why Holden opts to not act.

Questions for further reflection on the novel CITR

What does Allie's baseball glove represent as a symbol?

What does Holden's hat represent symbollically?

Why doesn't Holden know what happens to ducks in the winter?

What makes Holden so lonely that wants to die?

Why do you think Holden would like to hear Mrs. Morrow on the phone, but thinks Faith Cavendish is a real "tigress"?

Reflect

Refer to the top.