The Catcher in the Rye Study Guide

The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye is a novel written by J.D. Salinger in 1951. It is told from the first person perspective of a young boy named Holden Caulfield, who is in a psychiatric facility after the events of the novel. Holden dislikes the world around him and his story reflects that. It explores themes such as growing up, the phoniness that comes with growing up, and alienation from peers as a means of protecting oneself.

Chapter 5 Summary

Brief Summary

After eating an unsatisfying steak dinner at school, Holden goes to town to catch a movie with his friend, Mal Brossard, and Ackley. When they arrive at the theater, the only movie playing is one that Mal and Ackley have already seen. The trio decides to go for hamburgers at a nearby restaurant and stay long enough to play video games. They finally return to Pencey and say goodbye. Mal looks for a bridge game while Ackley accompanies Holden to his room. Ackley tells Holden a tale about a girl he supposedly had sex with the previous summer, but Holden is not interested and asks him to leave so that he can write Stradlater's composition. Holden uses his dead brother, Allie's baseball glove as the main subject in the composition. This causes him to remember the night of his brother's death when he broke his hand by punching out the garage windows.

Detailed Summary

Following a disappointing steak dinner in the dining hall, Holden and his friends get into a snowball fight. At the end of the snowball fight, he and his friend Mal Brossard take a bus into Agerstown to see a movie, despite the fact that Holden despises movies. Mal agrees to allow Holden to invite Ackley along. When they arrive at the theater, they discover that Mal and Ackley already saw the movie showing. Rather than go into the theater, the three decide to get hamburgers and play pinball before returning back to Pencey.

When they return to Pencey, Mal leaves the other two in search of a bridge game. Ackley joins Holden in his room, again uninvited. He sits on Holden's bed squeezing pimples while telling Holden about a girl he claims to have had sex with the previous summer. Eventually, Holden gets Ackley to leave by telling him he needs to write a composition for Stradlater. When he settles down to write the composition, rather than writing about a particular place as Stradlater had asked him earlier, Holden writes about a baseball glove that belonged to his brother Allie. In particular, Holden describes the poems D.B. had copied in green ink onto the glove for Allie.

Writing the composition leads Holden to reminisce about Allie who died from leukemia several years earlier. He remembers that although Allie was two years younger than Holden, he was the smartest member of the family. He also remembers Allie as being an exceptionally nice, innocent child. His most vivid memory of Allie is the night that he passed away. That night, Holden slept in the garage and punched out all the windows with his bare fist. He finishes the composition in a somber mood, so he stares out his window listening to Ackley snore in the next room.

Chapter 6 Summary

Brief Summary

Stradlater returns from his date with Jane Gallagher and reads the composition Holden has written for him. He is angry at Holden for writing about a baseball glove rather than a place. He insults the composition and then teases Holden about being expelled from Pencey. This angers Holden who immediately tears up the composition. After a few moments of quiet, Holden inquires about Stradlater's date with Jane, but Stradlater is not forthcoming with information. Holden suddenly and unsuccessfully attacks Stradlater. He also insults Stradlater by calling him a moron. After several warnings to stop, Stradlater punches Holden and leaves him on the floor with a bloody nose.

Detailed Summary

Stradlater arrives home from his date, storming through the door. He asks Holden for the composition, which he reads over quickly. He becomes annoyed and angry, accusing Holden of not doing the assignment correctly. He doesn't understand why Holden has written about a baseball glove when he was told to write about a place. As a way of putting Holden in his place, Stradlater says he understands why he is being expelled from Pencey. Upset by Stradlater's behavior and comments, Holden takes the composition from him and tears it up. Stradlater also can't understand why he does this.

Holden then lights a cigarette in the room and begins smoking, something he knows will annoy Stradlater. Stradlater asks him to smoke in the bathroom down the hall, but Holden ignores him and continues to smoke, tapping the ash from his cigarette on the floor. He then begins to question Stradlater about his date with Jane. Stradlater doesn't give him any details which compels Holden to attack him unsuccessfully. Stradlater pins him to the floor and tells Holden he needs to calm down. Holden starts calling Stradlater a moron, an insult to which he is highly sensitive. Although Holden is warned by Stradlater to cut it out, he continues to insult him until Stradlater punches him in the nose causing it to bleed. When he sees the blood he tells Holden to clean up the wound. Of course Holden ignores and stands there looking at the blood pouring from his nose. In order to avoid any further trouble, Stradlater leaves the room with more insults trailing behind him.

Chapter 5-6 Analysis

Chapters 5 and 6 reveal more interesting details about Holden's personality. Despite Holden's scathing description of Ackley in the previous section, he displays empathy and kindness to him in these chapters. After eating dinner in Pencey's dining hall, he invites Ackley to see a movie with him and his friend, Mal Brossard. Mal Brossard is reticent to have Ackley join them, he eventually agrees to Holden's suggestion. Also noteworthy in this section is Holden's desire to see a movie. He indicts his brother for moving to Hollywood to write for what he considers to be a phony industry and yet he is eager to see a product of this industry. These inconsistencies show another aspect of Holden's character that has, up to this point, been overshadowed by his bitterness and cynicism. He is someone to who the reader can relate on two levels: the first level is that his tendency to make rash, surface judgments does not preclude him from being kind and the second level is that his intense introspection does not preclude him from enjoying even the most banal of activities.

The reader then learns about the defining traumatic event from Holden's youth: his brother, Allie's death from leukemia. Allie, who the reader is told is very intelligent and sensitive for a young child, is one of Holden's heroes. The poetry inscribed baseball glove of which Holden writes in Stradlater's composition, symbolizes these two characteristics. The night Holden learns of Allie's death, he reacts violently by punching out the windows in the garage where spent that night. He claims he broke the windows just for the hell of it, knowing it was a very stupid thing to do (39) but also acknowledges his feeling justified to react this way because his brother enriched his life. Allie's death and its impact on Holden becomes a dominant theme in the text. It is also revealed to be one of the causes of Holden's search for lost childhood innocence and eventual nervous breakdown.

It is important to take note of the dramatic shift in tone that occurs in this section. Holden moves from quiet passivity to vocal and confrontational. The author transforms Holden's dorm from a sanctuary, as in the previous section, to a prison. Ackley will not leave Holden alone when they return from the movies and suffocates him with fictional tales of sexual exploits. Stradlater returns from his date and attacks Holden for making Allie's baseball glove the subject of his composition. Much to Stradlater's surprise and disappointment, Holden tears up the composition and throws the pieces in the trashcan. His reserve finally cracks from the interpersonal claustrophobia leading him to insult Stradlater's intelligence; an issue that he knows is sensitive for his roommate. This erupts into physical violence which leaves Holden injured. He vainly seeks refuge in Ackley's room, but Ackley does not welcome him as Holden expects. He leaves Pencey believing that it is the source of his distress. However, he fails to realize his distress is a product of internal suffering from which he cannot easily escape.

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