Match Fishtank is now Fishtank Learning!

Learn More

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.

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

Some of the links below are Amazon affiliate links. This means that if you click and make a purchase, we receive a small portion of the proceeds, which supports our non-profit mission.

Core Materials

Supporting Materials

See Text Selection Rationale


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

Unit Prep

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. 


  • “J. D. Salinger, Literary Recluse, Dies at 91”

Determine the main purpose of paragraphs in a nonfiction text. 


  • “J. D. Salinger, Literary Recluse, Dies at 91”

Characterize Salinger based on his obituary and draw connections between Salinger and Holden. 


  • The Catcher in the Rye — Chapters 1-2

Characterize Holden based on his diction and interactions with peers.


  • The Catcher in the Rye pp. 16 – 26 — Chapter 3

Explain the difference between Holden’s point of view of himself/others and reality. 


  • The Catcher in the Rye — Chapters 4-5

Analyze Holden’s true character based on his relationship with Jane, his treatment of Ackley, and his revelation of Allie’s death.

Infer the effect Allie’s death has had on Holden.


  • The Catcher in the Rye — Chapter 7

  • “Depression: Signs and Symptoms”

Identify signs of Holden’s upcoming breakdown and explain how this contributes to the novel’s overall plot.


  • The Catcher in the Rye — Chapter 9

Explain how Salinger’s description of the hotel reveals theme. 

Write a clear and effective thesis statement in response to a prompt.


  • The Catcher in the Rye — Chapter 10

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


  • “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College”

Analyze and explain how themes from the poem are similar to those found in the novel.


  • The Catcher in the Rye — Chapter 11

Explain the significance of Jane and what Holden’s view of her reveals.


  • The Catcher in the Rye — Chapter 12

Explain the symbolism of the ducks.

Explain the author’s use of juxtaposition in the scene at Ernie’s and how it reveals theme.


  • The Catcher in the Rye — Chapter 13

Explain why Holden feels he is “yellow” and use that explanation to predict Holden’s behavior later in the chapter.


  • The Catcher in the Rye — Chapter 14

  • The Bible (CEV) — Luke 5:1-11

  • The Bible (CEV) — Matthew 10

  • The Bible (NLT) — Mark 5

Explain the impact religion has on Holden’s thoughts by using information from biblical stories.

Explain what the conflict in this chapter reveals about Holden and Sunny both.


  • The Catcher in the Rye — Chapter 15

Independently analyze Salinger’s characterization of Holden in this chapter.


  • The Catcher in the Rye — Chapter 16

Explain how Salinger uses structure to communicate Holden’s state of mind.

Analyze and explain how the displays at the museum reveal theme. 


  • The Catcher in the Rye — Chapter 17

Identify Holden’s changing emotions during his encounter with Sally.


  • The Catcher in the Rye — Chapters 17-18

Craft a written response explaining Holden’s changing feelings in chapter 17. 

Explain how Salinger conveys Holden’s mental state in chapter 18.


  • The Catcher in the Rye — Chapter 19

Explain what we learn about Holden from his interaction with Luce, using both explicitly stated and implicitly implied information.


  • “The Complexity of Fear”

  • The Catcher in the Rye — Chapter 20

Distinguish between Holden’s fears and anxiety based on information from a nonfiction source. 


  • The Catcher in the Rye — Chapter 21

Infer Holden’s motivations by closely reading details.

Analyze the relationship between Phoebe and Holden.


  • The Catcher in the Rye — Chapter 22

  • “Comin thro’ the Rye”

Explain how Holden’s misconception about the poem reveals a larger theme of the novel.


  • The Catcher in the Rye — Chapters 23-24

Explain the significance of Holden’s interactions with Mr. Antolini.


  • The Catcher in the Rye — Chapters 25-26

Analyze and interpret the significance of the last two lines of the novel.



Composition Projects

Common Core Standards

Language Standards
  • L.9-10.3 — Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

  • L.9-10.3.a — Write and edit work so that it conforms to the guidelines in a style manual (e.g., MLA Handbook, Turabian's Manual for Writers) appropriate for the discipline and writing type.

Reading Standards for Informational Text
  • RI.9-10.1 — Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

  • RI.9-10.2 — Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

Reading Standards for Literature
  • RL.9-10.1 — Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

  • RL.9-10.2 — Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • RL.9-10.3 — Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

  • RL.9-10.4 — Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).

  • RL.9-10.5 — Analyze how an author's choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.

  • RL.9-10.9 — Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work (e.g., how Shakespeare treats a theme or topic from Ovid or the Bible or how a later author draws on a play by Shakespeare).

Speaking and Listening Standards
  • SL.9-10.1 — Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9—10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

Writing Standards
  • W.9-10.1 — Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

  • W.9-10.1.a — Introduce precise claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.

  • W.9-10.1.b — Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly, supplying evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience's knowledge level and concerns.

  • W.9-10.3 — Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

  • W.9-10.3.a — Engage and orient the reader by setting out a problem, situation, or observation, establishing one or multiple point(s) of view, and introducing a narrator and/or characters; create a smooth progression of experiences or events.

  • W.9-10.3.d — Use precise words and phrases, telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.

  • W.9-10.5 — Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.

  • W.9-10.6 — Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology's capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.

  • W.9-10.9 — Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

  • W.9-10.10 — Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.