Read the conversation between Holden Caufield (16), the protagonist of J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, and his little sister, Phoebe. He has just come back home after escaping from the last college he was expelled from and after wandering around New York City for a few days... "Old Phoebe", 10 years old, wants to know why he escaped and disappeared . She asks him if there is anything he likes in his life, because he doesn't seem to like anything...
The Phoniness of the World
"You can't even think of one thing"
"Yes, I can, I can"
"Well do it, then"
"I like Allie", I said. "And I like doing what I'm doing right now. Sitting here with you, and talking , and thinking about stuff, and - "
"Allie's dead. You always say that! If somebody's dead and everything and in heaven, then it isn't really -"
"I know he's dead! Don't you think I know that? I can still like him though, can't I? Just because somebody's dead, you don't just stop liking them, for God's sake - especially if they were about a thousand times nicer than the people you know that're alive and all"
Old Phoebe didn't say anything. When she can't think of anything to say, she doesn't say a goddam word.
"Anyway I like it now," I said "I mean right now. Sitting here with you and just chewing the fat and horsing-"
"That isn't anything really!"
"It is so something really! Certainly it is! Why the hell isn't it? People never think anything is anything really. I'm getting goddam sick of it."
"Stop swearing. Alright name something else. Name something you'd like to be. Like a scientist. Or a lawyer or something."
"I couldn't be a scientist. I'm no good in Science."
"Well, a lawyer - like Daddy and all."
"Lawyers are all right, I guess - but it doesn't appeal to me," I said. "I mean they're are all right if they go around saving innocent guys' lives all the time, and like that, but you don't do that kind of stuff if you're a lawyer. All you do is make a lot of dough and play golf and play bridge, and buy cars and drink martinis and look like a hot-shot. And besides. Even if you did go around saving guys' lives and all, how would you know if you did it because you really wanted to save guys' lives or you did it because what you really wanted to do was to be a terrific lawyer, with everybody slapping you on the back and congratulating you in court when the goddam trial was over, the reporters and everybody, the way it is in the dirty movies? How would you know you weren't being a phoney? The trouble is, you wouldn't."
I'm not too sure Old Phoebe knew what the hell I was talking about. I mean she's only a little child and all. But she was listening, at least. If somebody at least listens, it's not too bad.
"Daddy's going to kill you. He's going to kill you," she said.
I wasn't listening, though. I was thinking about something else - something crazy. "You know what I'd like to be?" I said. "You know what I'd like to be? I mean if I had my goddam choice?"
"What? Stop swearing".
"You know that song ...'if a body catch a body comin' through the rye'? I'd like -"
"It's 'if a body MEET a body coming through the rye'! " Old Phoebe said "It's a poem. By Robert Burns."
"I know it's a poem by Robert Burns"
She was right, though. It is 'if a body meet a body coming through the rye'. I didn't know it then, though.
"I thought it was 'if a body catch a body' ", I said."Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around - nobody big, I mean - except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going. I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be. I know it's crazy".
Now answer the following questions:
1. Why is Holden considered a rebel by the adults in his life?
2. Why is his relationship with Phoebe so special?
3. Do you think there's something wrong with him and what he thinks?
4. What does his dream of being a catcher in the rye symbolize?
5. Compare Holden's dream to his description of his father (lawyers)
For more about J.D. Salinger and The Catcher in the Rye, read pages. 382/389 in your text book, Cakes and Ale vol. 3.
THE REBEL IN THE RYE (2017)
The true untold story of the birth of Salinger's cult novel