The Catcher in the Rye

Reading the novel The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, students trace the themes of fear, innocence and corruption as they follow the narrator through a pivotal three days in his unraveling teenage life.

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New Units For 9th and 10th Grade English

Unit Summary

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger is a coming of age novel in which readers follow the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, through a pivotal three days in his unraveling teenage life. The novel is set in post-World War II Manhattan and Holden, who has been expelled from several prep schools, is struggling to find meaning and truth in a world he sees as full of “phonies.” Holden’s struggles with becoming a young adult make the book a particularly appropriate choice for the beginning of the tenth grade year. Students will grapple with the theme of fear as it is developed in the novel, wrestling specifically with the consequences of making decisions based on fear and anxiety. Additionally, students will trace the themes of innocence and corruption, exploring the impact of corruption on our lives. This first unit of the year will be immediately followed by a unit on Arthur Miller’s The Crucible in which students will explore these same themes in a different setting and in a more complex allegorical text.

Throughout the unit, the teacher should pay particular attention to developing students’ abilities to analyze author’s craft, specifically how to discern tone and investigate how specific choices of diction create tone, character, and theme. The writing focus of this English unit will be connected to this emphasis on diction. Students will be asked to create their own analyses of the text and express them through theme statements supported by brief moments/partial quotations (i.e. specific diction) from the text rather than more extended pieces of evidence. Relying less heavily on extensive quotations from the text is a step in helping students to develop their own arguments and style, rather than following a formulaic approach to writing.

At Match, students have a Composition class 4 days per week in addition to English class. Below, we have included Supplementary Composition Projects to reflect the material covered in our Composition course.  For teachers who are interested in including these Composition Projects but do not have a separate Composition course, we have included a “Suggested Placement” to note where these projects would most logically fit into the English unit. While the Composition Projects may occasionally include content unrelated to English 10, most have both a skill and content connection to the work students are doing in their English 10 class.

Both 10th grade English and 10th grade Composition at Match focus on students developing their own style and approaches to expressing their unique insights into the literature they are reading. In the English lessons, students will focus on analyzing author’s craft, investigating how authors use various techniques to create mood, tone and theme. In these parallel composition projects, students will learn to craft effective literary analysis essays expressing their thoughts on J.D. Salinger’s use of literary techniques to create mood, tone and theme in The Catcher in the Rye. Additionally, students will work to improve their own narrative writing by using these same techniques to create mood, tone and theme in their original pieces. While the writing described in the English unit are exclusively on-demand pieces of writing, the Composition projects are a blend of on-demand writing and process writing so students have exposure to writing for a range of topics, time frames, and purposes.

Note of caution: You made find that some students relate very strongly with Holden, the protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye, to a point where it is painful or difficult for them to read the book. Before beginning the unit, you should consider how to preview this issue for students and possibly alert the mental health counselors at your school as well.

Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Supporting Materials


This assessment accompanies Unit 1 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Key Knowledge

Intellectual Prep


  1. Read and annotate The Catcher in the Rye with the key thematic questions in mind.
  2. Track how Holden copes with this corruption and loss of innocence. Keep in mind your perspective of Holden (as an adult) and what your students’ perspective of him might be.
  3. Read and annotate all of the paired poems, articles, and biblical references.
  4. Take the exam and write your mastery response to the essay portion of the exam.
  5. Read the short story “A&P,” and consider how you might use it to assess students’ reading abilities at the beginning of the year and introduce some key skills necessary for analyzing The Catcher in the Rye.

Essential Questions


  • Fear and Anxiety: How do fear and anxiety drive action?
  • Innocence and Corruption: What is corruption and how does it affect our lives and our decisions?
  • Isolation and Loneliness: What leads one to feel isolated or alone?

Writing Focus Areas


English Lessons Writing Focus Areas

The focus of this unit is primarily on the development of a clear and relevant thesis. In addition, the teacher should focus on layered evidence that is embedded throughout the open response in the form of partial quotations. Teachers should work on eliminating “in the text it says,” “this proves that,” and other similar phrases from all writing during this unit.

Composition Projects Writing Focus Areas

  • Thesis: Clear and relevant thesis (focused on a particular feature of the text)
  • Evidence/Details: Effectively uses best evidence/details to support topic/position
  • Analysis: Context clearly and sufficiently frames evidence
  • Diction: Includes precise language and advanced vocabulary 
  • Professionally Revised: Complete and follows guidelines; adequate revisions

There are narrative and analysis writing projects included with this unit. For each project we detail writing focus areas that we recommend teachers instruct, provide feedback, and assess student writing based on. Each focus area is aligned to a row on our Composition Writing Rubric.



Literary Terms

tone, diction, juxtaposition, unreliable narrator, characterization, allusion, irony, symbolism, plot, theme

Roots and Affixes

anim- (unanimous), sad-/Sade (sadist), cog- (incognito)


A&P: mundane, prim, colony, decent

The Catcher in the Rye: corruption, phony (12), ostracized (6), qualm (17), compulsory (20), sadistic (26), exhibitionist (33), rile (39), monotonous (42), unscrupulous (45), pacifist (52), lavish (59), conscientious (62), unanimous (64), modest (64), incognito (68), suave (72), putrid (77), verification (78), crude (78), immaterial (81), witty (84), ignorant (82), humble (94), fiend (95), rake (104), suave (104), premature (109), atheist (112), bourgeois (121), stereotype, conceited (150), sacrilegious (152), sophisticated (157), boisterous (166), economizing (170), ostracizing (184), intellectual (200), digression (202), pedagogical (203), provocative (203), nobly (208), reciprocal (209)

Idioms and Cultural References

The Catcher in the Rye: “ironical” (11), “chiffonier” (13), “give my regards” (48), “chewed the rag” (31), “chew the old bull” (16), “horsing around” (28), monastery (56), “lousy with” (62), jitterbugging (81), “yellow” (100), “dolled up” (102), “clavichord” (102), “rubbernecks” (117), “a king's ransom” (119), “got the ax” (120), Judas (111), “chisel me” (113), Romeo and Juliet (123), Hamlet (130), “Ivy League” (141), “trim the tree” (144), “inferiority complex” (150), “elevator boy” (173), Benedict Arnold (179), “flit” (159), “chewing the fat” (189), “make it snappy” (192), Bloomingdales (217)

A&P: “smooth your feathers,” “people are sheep”

Content Knowledge and Connections


Students will become familiar with the concept of “corruption” and how it impacts us as well as children in society.

Previous Fishtank ELA Connections

While quite different in setting and plot from Purple Hibiscus in  Grade 9 English Language Arts Unit 4: Purple Hibiscus, both novels are examples of coming-of-age novels.

Future Fishtank ELA Connections

Students will continue to discuss how fear and anxiety drives action throughout the year, most importantly, in Grade 10 English Language Arts Unit 2: The Crucible. Students will also continue to discuss tone throughout several works this year and be able to refer back to how Salinger creates Holden’s tone. Lastly, corruption of government ( Grade 10 English Language Arts Unit 2: The Crucible and Grade 10 English Language Arts Unit 5: Macbeth) is brought up throughout the year. 

Lesson Map


  • “A&P”

Identify narrator’s tone based on diction and support with relevant textual evidence. 


  • “A&P”

Explain how the narrator’s final words reveal theme. 


  • The Catcher in the Rye — Chapter 10

Explain how Holden’s view of Phoebe reveals the theme youth. 



Composition Projects




Read the first four paragraphs of the blog post, “What Your Most Vivid Memories Say About You.”

Use the information in the article and your own memories to respond in writing to the following prompt:

According to Dr. Whitbourne, self-defining memories are those that “we remember most vividly and that contribute most heavily to our overall sense of self.” Write a first-person narrative describing a self-defining memory that evokes a sense of nostalgia. 

Remember, a good narrative:

  • Establishes a clear point of view
  • Focuses closely on one character or characters
  • Uses strong sensory details to make the character(s) and event come alive
  • Uses precise language
  • May use dialogue and description to capture the character(s) and event
  • Concludes effectively


3 days



Use your copy of the short story “A&P” by John Updike to respond in writing to the prompt below.

Explain how the author uses diction to characterize Sammy in “A&P” by John Updike. Use evidence from the story to support your answer.

An effective essay:

  • Includes a clear and relevant thesis statement 
  • Uses multiple partial quotations to support a position
  • Provides context that clearly and sufficiently frames the evidence
  • Shows evidence of editing and revision


3 days



Use the piece of writing you crafted for Composition project 1 of this unit as well as the information you read in the article, “What Your Most Vivid Memories Say About You” to write an essay in response to the prompt below. 

Describe a memory that is important to you. Use a variety of narrative techniques to convey the importance of the memory.

An effective essay:

  • Includes vivid descriptions
  • Uses sensory details
  • Describes poignant anecdotes
  • Uses precise diction to establish a specific mood
  • Shows evidence of revision and editing


2 days



Use your analysis of the events of chapter 9 of The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger to answer the prompt below.

Describe how Salinger uses detailed descriptions of the hotel to reveal theme in chapter 9 of the novel. Use multiple pieces of evidence from the text to support your answer.

An effective literary analysis essay:

  • Includes a clear, relevant and unique thesis statement 
  • Uses multiple partial quotations to support a position


2 days



Use the events of chapter 17 and your knowledge of Sally and Holden to write a narrative in response to the prompt below.

Rewrite the scene on p. 144-149 of The Catcher in the Rye with Sally as the narrator. Use relevant and specific details from the text to develop her perspective.

A successful narrative:

  • Establishes a clear point of view
  • Uses strong sensory details to make the character(s) and event come alive
  • Uses precise language
  • May use dialogue and description to capture the character(s) and event


4 days



Analyze Salinger’s development of the theme of fear in chapter 20 of The Catcher in the Rye. Use evidence from both The Catcher in the Rye and the article, “The Complexity of Fear” by Mary C. Lamia to support your answer.

Remember, an effective literary analysis essay:

  • Includes a clear, relevant and unique thesis statement 
  • Uses multiple partial quotations to support your position
  • Integrates evidence from both sources to support the thesis statement
  • Shows evidence of revision and editing

Common Core Standards

Core Standards