The Catcher in the Rye: Questions for Study and Discussion

J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye is one of the most frequently studied books in American literature. The novel's protagonist, Holden Caulfield, distrusts adults and resents the seeming falseness of life, which he refers to as "phony." He also struggles with the loss of innocence and grapples with the tension between seeking the comforts of childhood and wanting to grow up.

The Catcher in the Rye is a polarizing book. (In fact, it's been the target of numerous book banning efforts—some of which were successful.) At the same time, however, many readers find Holden's outlook and experiences relatable. These tensions make The Catcher in the Rye one of the best books to discuss with others. The following questions for study and discussion will help you deepen your understanding of the classic novel.

Questions for Study and Discussion

  • Where in the novel is the title mentioned, and why is it important? What is the title's overall meaning?
  • What other work(s) in literary history influenced the title?
  • What are the conflicts in The Catcher in the Rye? What types of conflict (physical, moral, intellectual, or emotional) are in this novel?
  • How does J.D. Salinger reveal character in the novel?
  • What are some themes and symbols in the novel? How do they relate to the plot and characters?
  • Is Holden consistent in his actions? Is he a fully developed character? How and why?
  • How does Holden relate to his little sister? Why (and how) does his relationship with her affect his decisions, his philosophy of life, and his actions?
  • Do you find the characters likable? Would you want to meet the characters?
  • Does the novel end the way you expected? How? Why?
  • What is the central/primary purpose of the novel? Is the purpose important or meaningful?
  • How does this novel relate to other coming-of-age novels? How does the novel compare with Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?
  • How essential is the setting to the story? Could the story have taken place anywhere else? In any other time?
  • What is the role of women in the text? Is love relevant? Are relationships meaningful?
  • Why is the novel controversial? Why has it been banned? Do you think the reasons for banning are still relevant?
  • How does the novel relate to current society? Is the novel still relevant?
  • Would you recommend this novel to a friend? Why or why not?