Notes on The Catcher in the Rye Themes

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The Catcher in the Rye Topic Tracking: Empathy

Chapter 2

Empathy 1: Even though Holden is impatient with Mr. Spencer's advice, he's not hostile. He is sympathetic about not hurting the old man's feelings by acting impatient. This is a general trait of Holden's. While he doesn't believe much of what authorities tell him, he does respect individuals almost to a fault.

Chapter 5

Empathy 2: Holden doesn't seem to find much that is sympathetic about Ackley, so it seems strange when he invites him to come along on the Saturday evening out. As with Mr. Spencer, Holden shows he's more likely to be mean and dismissive about people when he's telling his story than he is when he's actually in the company of these people.

Chapter 7

Empathy 3: When Holden is packing to leave Pencey, he thinks about his mother and how she bought him a new pair of skates, which makes him feel sad about letting his parents down by failing out of school again. Even though a lot of things in his life are falling apart, Holden's thinks of how his actions affect others first.

Chapter 9

Empathy 4: Although Holden says the guests at the Edmont Hotel are a "crumby" bunch of sexual perverts and the like, he doesn't categorically dismiss their behavior as ridiculous. By empathizing about their behavior, what it would feel like, for example, to get drunk with a girl and squirt water in her face, he tries to understand the situation rather than dismiss it.

Chapter 11

Empathy 5: A moment of empathy - consoling Jane Gallagher about her drunken step-father - gets Holden closest to genuine human companionship and intimacy.

Chapter 13

Empathy 6: Holden's empathy works against him in fistfights. He's unable to disengage with the real humanity shown on the other guy's face and as a result can't mindlessly attack.

Empathy 7: Holden has similar trouble with Sunny the prostitute that he does with fighting opponents. She looks too real, too human for him to objectify and use as a prostitute.

Chapter 17

Empathy 8: When Holden is baring his honest feelings to Sally Hayes, he shows that he is really longing for someone who can empathize with his confusion about the world. Sally, however, seems either a little too shallow or scared of Holden to provide much empathy.

Chapter 24

Empathy 9: Exasperated, hungover and depressed, Holden really needs some empathy from his old teacher Mr. Antolini. What he gets, however, is first a lecture and then a presumably homosexual advance.

Chapter 25

Empathy 10: When Holden is finally able, at the novel's end, to calm down and simply appreciate the beauty and innocence of his sister riding the carousel, he shows that perhaps he is ready to be a little less confrontational with the world. He's not yet ready to empathize with the causes of what he dismisses as "phoniness," but he may be ready to appreciate the pretty moments a little more and despise the contradictory ones a little less.

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