The Catcher in the Rye Multiple Critical Perspectives Multiple Critical Perspectives

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Multiple Critical
Perspectives
Teaching J.D. Salinger's
The Catcher in the Rye
from
Multiple Critical Perspectives
by
Stephanie Polukis
™
™
Multiple Critical
Perspectives
The Catcher in the Rye
General Introduction to the Work
Introduction to The Catcher in the Rye
S
ince
The Catcher in the Rye was published in 1951, the book has received mixed reviews. While sev-
eral critics commend Salinger’s thorough development of the narrator, the realistic use of vernacular
in the narration, and the accurate portrayal of post-World War II teenage life, others feel that the novel is
perverse and immoral. In fact, The Catcher in the Rye was on the public school’s banned book list for its
use of profane language, depiction of underage drinking, and sexual allusions. However, regardless of the
challenges to the novel, the book was a New York Times Bestseller for thirty weeks, and remains popular
in the twenty-first century.
While the novel in its present form is roughly 214 pages long, the story evolved from short stories
published by J.D. Salinger in the 1940s. “I’m Crazy,” published by Collier’s magazine in 1945, developed
into the conversation with Mr. Spencer in Chapter 2 and Holden’s visit to Phoebe in Chapters 22 and 23.
While the story features Holden, the Spencers, and Phoebe, it also includes Jeanette—the housekeeper—
and Viola—Holden’s youngest sister, who have both been omitted from the novel. Salinger’s “Slight Rebellion Off Madison,” published in the New Yorker in 1946, developed into Chapters 17 and 19 of the novel,
and it featured early prototypes of Sally Hayes, and Carl Luce. In addition, The Catcher in the Rye was
originally to be published as a 99 page novella in 1946, but Salinger backed out of the agreement with the
publishing company and published the book as a full-length novel in 1951.
Even though the book is now more than fifty years old, its universal motifs of teenage angst, sus-
picion of authority, and rebellion against social convention still resonate with modern-day readers. The
book has been translated into several different languages and is still one of the top books taught in high
schools nationwide.
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The Catcher in the Rye
Multiple Critical
Perspectives
Psychoanalytic Theory Applied
to The Catcher in the Rye
Notes on the Psychoanalytic Theory
T
he term “psychological”
(also “psychoanalytical” or “Freudian
Theory”) seems to encompass two almost contradictory critical
theories. The first focuses on the text itself, with no regard to outside
influences; the second focuses on the author of the text.
According to the first view, reading and interpretation are limited
to the work itself. One will understand the work by examining conflicts, characters, dream sequences, and symbols. In this way, the psychoanalytic theory of literature is similar to the Formalist approach.
One will further understand that a character’s outward behavior might
conflict with inner desires, or might reflect as-yet-undiscovered inner
desires.
Main areas of study/points of criticism of the first view:
• There are strong Oedipal connotations in this theory: the son’s
desire for his mother, the father’s envy of the son and rivalry
for the mother’s attention, the daughter’s desire for her father,
the mother’s envy of the daughter and rivalry for the father’s
attention. Of course, these all operate on a subconscious level
to avoid breaking a serious social more.
• There is an emphasis on the meaning of dreams. This is because psychoanalytic theory asserts that it is in dreams that a
person’s subconscious desires are revealed. What a person cannot express or do because of social rules will be expressed and
accomplished in dreams, where there are no social rules. Most
of the time, people are not even aware what it is they secretly
desire until their subconscious goes unchecked in sleep.
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Multiple Critical
Perspectives
The Catcher in the Rye
Activity One
Evaluating the Latent Desires, Fears, and Values Revealed in Holden’s Digressions
1.Copy and distribute the handout: The Catcher in the Rye: Psychoanalytic/Freudian Theory—Activity
One: Latent Desires, Fears, and Values Revealed in Holden’s Digressions
2.Divide the class into small groups and assigned each group (or allow each to choose) one of the
following:
• Holden’s description of Allie’s baseball mitt and of Allie’s death (Chapter 5)
• Holden’s memories of Phoebe and Allie (Chapter 10)
• Holden’s childhood friendship with Jane Gallagher (Chapter 11)
• Holden’s dislike of Jesus’ disciples and his discussion with Arthur Childs (Chapter 14)
• Holden’s flashback of the fight between James Castle and Phil Stabile (Chapter 22)
3.Have each group answer the questions on the worksheet, using thorough explanations as well as
examples from the text.
4. Reconvene the class and have students present their findings to the other groups.
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The Catcher in the Rye
Multiple Critical
Perspectives
Feminist Theory Applied
to The Catcher in the Rye
Notes on the Feminist Theory
F
eminism is an evolving philosophy,
and its application in literature is a relatively new area of study. The basis of the movement,
both in literature and society, is that the Western world is fundamentally patriarchal (i.e., created by men, ruled by men, viewed through
the eyes of men, and judged by men).
In the 1960s, the feminist movement began to form a new approach to literary criticism. Of course, women had already been writing and publishing for centuries, but the 1960s saw the rise of a feminist literary theory. Until then, the works of female writers (or works
about females) were examined by the same standards as those by
male writers (and about men). Women were thought to be less intelligent than men, at least in part because they generally received less
formal education, and many women accepted that judgment. It was
not until the feminist movement was well under way that women
began examining old texts, reevaluating the portrayal of women in
literature, and writing new works to fit the developing concept of the
“modern woman.”
The feminist approach is based on finding and exposing suggestions of misogyny (negative attitudes toward women) in literature.
Feminists are interested in exposing the undervaluing of women in
literature that has long been accepted as the norm by both men and
women. They have even dissected many words in Western languages
that reflect a patriarchal worldview. Arguing that the past millennia
in the West have been dominated by men—whether the politicians
in power or the historians recording it all—feminist critics believe
that Western literature reflects a masculine bias, and, consequently,
represents an inaccurate and potentially harmful image of women. In
order to repair this image and achieve balance, they insist that works
by and about women be added to the literary canon and read from a
feminist perspective.
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The Catcher in the Rye
Multiple Critical
Perspectives
Activity One
Analyzing How Telling the Story from A Female Perspective Alters A Scene
1. Have students reread the following passages independently or in small groups:
• Chapter 8, from “Old Mrs. Morrow didn’t say anything…” until “No kidding. Hours.”
• Chapter 11, from “I remember this one afternoon…” until “Some girls you never practically figure
out what’s the matter.”
• Chapter 17, from “You can’t just do something like that…” until “I was pretty goddam fed up by
that time.”
2.Depending on the time length of your class, ask students to either re-write the passage from the
perspective of the female character (a. Mrs. Morrow, b. Jane Gallagher, c. Sally Hayes) or list ways in
which the scene would be different if narrated by a woman.
3. Ask the students to answer the following questions:
• How does narrating the scene from a female perspective alter the story?
• How does narrating the scene from a female perspective alter the portrayal of the characters involved?
• Is there any new information revealed about the events described?
• Does this new perspective of events reveal any masculine bias in Holden’s narration? If so, what?
• Does this new perspective refute any stereotypes about women that Holden may have made in his
narration?
4. Reconvene as a class and discuss the questions.
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The Catcher in the Rye
Multiple Critical
Perspectives
Marxist Theory Applied
to The Catcher in the Rye
Notes on the Marxist Theory
T
he
Marxist
approach to literature
is based on the philosophy
of Karl Marx, a German philosopher and economist. His major
argument was that whoever controlled the means of production in society controlled the society—whoever owned the factories “owned”
the culture. This idea is called “dialectical materialism,” and Marx
felt that the history of the world was leading toward a communist society. From his point of view, the means of production (i.e., the basis
of power in society) would be placed in the hands of the masses, who
actually operated them, not in the hands of those few who owned
them. It was a perverted version of this philosophy that was at the
heart of the Soviet Union. Marxism was also the rallying cry of the
poor and oppressed all over the world.
To read a work from a Marxist perspective, one must understand
that Marxism asserts that literature is a reflection of culture, and that
culture can be affected by literature (Marxists believed literature
could instigate revolution). Marxism is linked to Freudian theory by
its concentration on the subconscious—Freud dealt with the individual subconscious, while Marx dealt with the political subconscious.
Marx believed that oppression exists in the political subconscious of
a society—social pecking orders are inherent to any group of people.
Four main areas of study:
P
• economic power
• materialism versus spirituality
• class conflict
• art, literature, and ideologies
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The Catcher in the Rye
Multiple Critical
Perspectives
Activity One
Examining How Dialect Conveys Class Oppression in the Novel
1. Divide the class into small groups.
2.Assign each group (or allow each to choose) a character below, and have them re-read the corresponding passages:
• Horowitz (Chapter 12, beginning with “Hey, Horowitz,” and ending with “Everything you said
made him sore.”)
• Sunny (Chapter 13, beginning with, “How do you do” and ending with “So long.”)
• Maurice (Chapter 14, beginning with, “What’s the matter?” and ending with “All I felt was this terrific punch in my stomach.”)
• Mr. Antolini (Chapter 24, beginning with, “Mr. and Mrs. Antolini had this very swanky apartment,”
and ending with, “I can’t stand it.”)
• Sally Hayes (Chapter 15, beginning with “Anyway, I gave her a buzz,” and ending with, “but she
was very good-looking”; Chapter 17, beginning with, “Finally, old Sally started coming up the
stairs,” and ending with, “God I’m a madman”; and Chapter 20, beginning with, “Then there was a
different voice,” and ending with “When I’m drunk, I’m a madman.”)
• Mrs. Morrow (Chapter 8, beginning with, “All of a sudden, this lady got on at Trenton,” and ending
with, “even if I was desperate.”)
3.Have the groups analyze the dialogue of their assigned character and make a list of what words or
phrases reveal the character’s class status and why.
4.Have them also note the impression being created by the representation of each character’s dialect.
What trait is being most emphasized in each character’s speech?
5.Finally, have students note the techniques Salinger uses to recreate each character’s dialect (e.g., italicizing individual syllables, apostrophes to indicate dropped letters, etc.).
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