Monday, May 25, 2015

The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger - Notes

v     The Catcher in the Rye is considered one of the best novels in English. It's present in every major list of greatest novels, and has been translated into almost every language.

v     It's also one of the most controversial. It's been one of the most widely taught and censored books in US schools, right up to the present. Some even claim it's part of a communist conspiracy.

v     Several assassins have made this book infamous, carrying it while shooting: John Lennon, actress Rebecca Schaeffer, and president Ronald Reagan. The man who shot John F. Kennedy also had a copy at home.


v     This book explores feelings of angst and alienation. Angst means 'fear' in German, specifically, a general feeling of  pessimism and uncertainty, like paranoia. It's not fear for no reason, but for no specific reason. Alienation is the feeling that you don't belong in your culture or society––when no one understands you.

v     The angst in this book stems from a fear of growing up. According to the novel, children are innocent, kind, spontaneous, and generous, all traits that adults lose, as they become "phony".


Holden Caulfield - The main character of the story, he's a seventeen-year-old teenager suffering from depression. He has no ambition in school and little luck with girls. He's intelligent for his age, and articulate, but also very emotional, which gets him in trouble. Everyone tells him he needs to get his act together and be responsible, but he's afraid, even if he does, he'll never be happy.

Stradlater - Holden Caulfield's roommate at boarding school and a womanizer.

Jane Gallagher - an old friend of Holden's, whom he still likes and respects.

Sunny - a young prostitute.

Sally Hayes - another friend of Holden's, but not for long...

Phoebe - Holden's little sister, and best friend.


1.      The story begins with a very bad day at school for Holden. He goes to an expensive private boarding school, named Pencey Preparatory, and it's right before winter break. That morning he loses the school fencing team's equipment, and later that afternoon, he's expelled for his bad grades––and he knew it was going to happen.

2.      He gets the news from his history teacher, who gives him a long lecture about responsibility.

3.      Holden goes to his dorm room to read and to pack his things. When his roommate, Stradlater, comes back from a date with Jane, Holden gets jealous and starts a fight, which Stradlater wins. Holden liked Jane, whereas Stradlater doesn't even remember he name.

4.      Holden then takes a train into New York City, and finds a cheap hotel, the Edmont. Feeling lonely, he goes to the lounge and dances with some older women––who leave him with the check for their drinks.

5.      Holden goes out to a nightclub in Greenwich Village, but finds no one to talk to. When he returns to the Edmont, the elevator operator asks if he'd like a girl to visit him later. Holden says yes...

6.      When the girl, Sunny, enters, Holden realizes two things. First, she's as young as he his. And second, she isn't interested in him at all. She takes off her clothes like it's just another day at work, and Holden, who's still a virgin, and wants it to be special, decides he just wants to talk with Sunny.

7.      Sunny doesn't want to talk, and gets offended by his sympathy - she's especially angry she had to get out of bed at that time of night for nothing. Even though Holden pays her, she returns with a pimp (pasák) who beats up Holden and demands more money, which they take from him.

8.      The next day Holden feels lonely, and calls a friend, Sally, for a date to a play. She agrees and they go. But after the play, Holden asks her to run away with him, and she declines, leading to an argument, and Holden loses his temper. He calls her a "royal pain in the ass" and their friendship ends.

9.      Holden watches a film and then gets drunk, and then wonders where the ducks go in Central Park when it's too cold out. As he explores the park, he breaks his present for Phoebe - a record he'd bought earlier. He has no more money to buy her anything and feels like a total failure.

10.  Holden goes home to talk with Phoebe while their parents are out. He tells her his daydream about being a "Catcher in the Rye". While children run and play, he stands by the cliff, waiting to stop any children who run too close and might fall off. When Holden's parents come home, he sneaks out so they won't see him.

11.  Holden decides to visit his favourite teacher from school, Mr. Antolini, who offers to let Holden stay the night. Mr. Antolini gives Holden some good advice about life, but, at the same time, serves Holden several shots of hard alcohol. When Holden goes to sleep, he soon wakes up to find Mr. Antolini stroking his head. Holden doesn't know if the man was just being nice or wanted to molest him, so he tells him to leave the room, and then gets up before dawn and leaves.

12.  Going back to Phoebe, Holden tells her he wants to run away "out west". Phoebe doesn't like the idea, so he abandons it, and, taking her to the Central Park Zoo, feels happy for the first time in ages when she rides the carousel.

13.  At the end of the novel, Holden briefly describes being "sick" and staying in a mental institution. At present, he's enrolled to start at another school where he should work and study hard - but he has no ambition.

Monday, May 11, 2015

C. S. Lewis - Biography

C. S. "Jack" Lewis (1898-1963)

    C. S. Lewis was an Irish writer, professor, broadcaster, and lay theologian, meaning he studied religion, but wasn't a priest or minister. A lay person is anyone who isn't a priest, monk, or nun.

    He was a good friend  and colleague of J.R.R. Tolkien. Both taught at Oxford University and were members of The Inklings, a literary club.

    He's most famous for writing The Chronicles of Narnia, a series of children's stories in which a family of English children travel through a magical door to a land of witches, monsters, and magic.

    He also wrote The Space Trilogy, a sci-fi work about a war among the planets in our solar system. It combined sci-fi with demons and angels.

    C. S. Lewis was a Christian apologist, supporting a branch of philosophy arguing in favour of the existence of God. He wrote four non-fiction books to explain his beliefs: Mere Christianity, Miracles, The Problem of Pain, and a memoir, Surprised by Joy.

    Lewis was the first president of the Oxford Socratic Club, created to debate religious topics.

    In 1951 he was awarded honours by King George VI, but declined it to avoid taking any political position.

    The Episcopal church made Nov. 22 a feast day in honour of him.

Personal Life:

Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast Ireland. His father was a lawyer and very strict, and his mother was the daughter of a minister. He had an older brother named Warren. The two boys loved to read and created stories together about talking animals. When Clive was four his dog, Jackie, died. Thereafter, he demanded everyone call him Jack, which became his life-long nickname.

When Jack was ten, his mom died of cancer. Between this and his own health problems, followed by his fighting in WWI, Jack became an atheist. He fought for a year in French trenches before being wounded by a bombshell, that killed his friends. His best friend Paddy Moore also died in the war, and Jack had promised to take care of his mother, Jane, if anything should happen to him. While Jack was recovering, his father never came to visit in hospital, but Jane Moore did, and from then on Jack introduced her to all his friends as his mother. They lived together for years, until she had to be put in a nursing home, after which, Jack visited every day till she died.

After the war, Jack studied at University College in Oxford. It was his first time in England, a country he grew to love, although he always looked for Irishmen in England for friendship. Lewis was a star student and soon became a teacher at Magdalen College, a part of Oxford University.

Through his conversations with Tolkien, and his reading of The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton, Lewis converted back to Christianity, joining the English church (and frustrating Tolkien). He described this event in his life:

"You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England."

During WWII, Lewis was too old to fight, so he was placed with the Home Guard, and soon began broadcasting popular lectures on religion for BBC radio. One soldier wrote, "The war, the whole of life, everything tended to seem pointless. We needed, many of us, a key to the meaning of the universe. Lewis provided just that."

In 1956, Lewis married Joy Davidman, an American writer, former communist, and a Christian convert, like Lewis. At first they agreed to marry to allow her to stay in England, but love bloomed when she developed cancer - they were married while she lay in her sick bed. She died soon after, and Lewis wrote a book about it, A Grief Observed. He took care of her two children until his death, from kidney failure in 1963, on the same exact day as the John F. Kennedy Assassination in America. When his brother Warren died ten years later, he was buried in the same grave as Lewis.

Christian Apologetics

Here are some of Lewis's arguments in favor of God and Christianity:

1.      Lewis believed that people all over the world followed a universal code of morality, what he called Natural Law, and that it must come from God. "These then are the two points that I wanted to make. First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in."

2.      Lewis then argues that people all over the world are looking for happiness - for joy, and that nothing on Earth can really provide real, lasting joy. Therefor, people crave God, and how can they crave something that doesn't exist?

3.      Lewis also developed the argument he called The Trilemma, to explain his choice of religion:

"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."

The Brontë Sisters

The Brontë Sisters, by their brother Branwell

v     The Brontë Sisters were writers who lived in Haworth village in Yorkshire England.

v     There were three sisters who became famous as writers: Charlotte (1816-1855), Emily (1818-1848), and Anne (1820-1849). Two other's died young.

v     Their first book was a collection of poems, and they first wrote using male pen names: Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell.

v     Their home, the parsonage at Haworth is now a museum, the Brontë Parsonage Museum. A parsonage is a home for priests and ministers.

Personal Family Life:

The head of the Brontë household was Patrick, an Anglican priest and writer who changed the family name from Brunty to Brontë. Partly it was to honour Admiral Horatio Nelson, who defeated Napoleon and was the Duke of Bronte, but it was also to make his name seem less Irish. Patrick was a loving father, but poor. He cared much about his children's education, buying them many books, and allowing them a great deal of freedom.

Maria, the matriarch, was a very kind and spirited young woman who gave birth to six children in nine years before dying of cancer. The children were Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Patrick Branwell, Emily, and Anne. After their mother's death, their Aunt Elizabeth came to the parsonage to care for them.

Patrick Brontë's greatest mistake was sending his children to Cowan Bridge School, a "charity" boarding school for poor children of the clergy. It had a good reputation, but was hellish for the children who were bullied by cruel teachers, students, and even priests. The children were malnourished, and the two eldest died after a year there from tuberculosis, Maria, age fourteen, and Elizabeth, age ten.

Charlotte was more fortunate. Her father found a better school for her, run by a Miss Margaret Wooler. Charlotte was an excellent student so she became freinds with Miss Wooler. When she graduated, Margaret gave her a job teaching, so her younger sisters could afford to attend. Unfortunately, both Emily and Anne soon became ill and had to return home.

Patrick Branwell was the artist of the family, applying to the Royal Academy of Art. But, for the girls, their only options were marriage, or teaching at a school or as a governess. After trying both jobs for awhile, the girls decided they would open their own school at the parsonage, but first they wanted to improve their education. So they all went to Brussels and enrolled at a school there. Within a few months, they were asked to teach their instead, and became teachers.

When their aunt died, the young women returned home for the funeral, and were all expected to return to Brussels. Only Charlotte came back, for she loved the director there, Mr. Heger, even though he was married. She stayed for an extra year before returning home. After, she wrote him a series of letters that he tore up, but which his wife found and sew back together. These "Heger Letters" are now in a museum.
Meanwhile, their brother Branwell became addicted to alcohol and other drugs and his health failed. Due to his reputation, the girls were never able to open a school. Instead, they turned to publishing stories. In 1847 the three women published Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Agnes Gray. The success they all enjoyed was shortlived because all four remaining children soon died of tuberculosis.