Study Guide

The Catcher in the Rye Mortality

By J. D. Salinger

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You’d expect a seventeen-year-old boy to be a lot more interested in sex than death, but… not Holden. Can you blame him? His younger brother died of leukemia four years before we meet him. He witnesses a young boy’s suicide at prep school. And then there’s the whole little problem of World War II. It seems like one of Holden’s major issues in Catcher in the Rye is that people—phonies—go around pretending like major tragedies don’t happen every day: they cry at sad movies, but they don’t cry about the atomic bomb. No wonder he thinks his screenwriter brother D.B. is such a phony.

Questions About Mortality

  1. There are two major events in Holden's past related to death: his brother Allie dying from leukemia, and James Castle's suicide at Elkton Hills. How has each of these affected Holden and his thoughts about mortality?
  2. Where does Holden envision his brother Allie to be now? Does he seem to believe in an afterlife? Why is Holden so bothered by Allie's burial in a cemetery?
  3. Holden thinks about death a lot, but does he ever think about his own death? Is that secretly what he’s worried about?

Chew on This

Holden has a major death wish.

Holden is only obsessed with death and mortality because he cherishes life so much.

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