American Literature
 

presents

AMERICAN LITERATURE

Comparing

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE
&
MILES TO
GO BEFORE YOU SLEEP

   

The Catcher in the Rye is a great novel that has been read by millions of adults and teenagers who identify with Holden Caulfield's rebelliousness against authority and conformity, his obsession to preserve innocence in what he sees as an often corrupt world, and his cynical attitude toward others.

Recently, Dennis James Browne, a New Jersey college professor, wrote another novel, Miles to Go Before You Sleep, that is completely different from The Catcher in the Rye, but to his surprise, many readers said that his teenage protagonist, Miles Spaulding, reminded them of an evil Holden Caulfield.

Here is what a former executive editor from Turner Publishing said in an email to the author:

 
Dennis, 

I have just finished MILES and love it...Truly, it is a wonderful novel.
Sort of Catcher in the Rye meets Dangerous Liaisons.

Best, 
Rachel Joiner
Acquisitions Editor
Turner Publishing
www.turnerpublishing.com 

And here is an excerpt from a reader's review that appears on amazon.com:

 
(Miles To Go Before You Sleep) is one of those books that will keep you spellbound to the very end. With
meanings on multiple levels, and multidimensional characters, this is destined to be a classic. The character of Miles Spaulding especially is one who has the potential to be dissected and analyzed in future English literature courses.

Teachers and professors around the world are always searching for new material to kindle their students' interest in reading more--and especially reading more critically--so we thought it might be interesting to set up some classroom discussion questions and theme topics comparing The Catcher in the Rye and Miles To Go Before You Sleep.

Most of these questions and themes produce revealing insights into the characters of Holden Caulfield and Miles Spaulding, and many of these insights teach us valuable lessons, not only about how an author creates a multidimensional character, but how that character lures us into his world and seduces us with the same kind of sly deceptions and rationalizations that many of us swallow hook, line and sinker from manipulative adults and friends in our own worlds.

Here are some of these discussion questions and themes that we feel will sharpen a student reader's critical eye and awareness about the different and similar ways that Holden Caulfield and Miles Spaulding grow up, deal with their problems, repulse us and gain our sympathy--even though they are often being deceptive, self-serving and destructive, both to themselves and to others.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. What is the significance of the title, The Catcher in the Rye?

2. What is the significance of the title, Miles To Go Before You Sleep? Hint: Read Robert Frost's famous poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," and especially the last stanza:

 
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Now consider these last lines from the author, Dennis James Browne's Introduction:
 

And sometimes I also have an even more disturbing thought. I wonder if Miles
Spaulding is the man I still really want to be--the person all of us want to be...

Maybe you can help me out with that one.

In a sense, the author is asking a question of the reader that is suggested by the title. We are constantly faced with temptations in our life, and we must follow a good path or an evil path. Compare Miles Spaulding's evil acts as a teenager and his evil acts as a rich, famous adult in Part II. Do you think his great wealth makes him more evil? Support your opinion with examples.

3. In his Introduction, the author tells us that Miles to Go Before You Sleep was written as a modern version of Wuthering Heights, and his own alter ego, Jimmy Andreos, was supposed to be the hero. But when friends started reading his manuscript, they said nothing about Wuthering Heights, and instead were fascinated by Miles Spaulding, whom they called "an evil Holden Caulfield." Do you agree? Do you see any similarities between Miles to Go Before You Sleep and Wuthering Heights? Do you think Jimmy Andreos is the hero of Miles to Go Before You Sleep, or Miles Spaulding?

There are also some strong similarities between J.D. Salinger's life and Holden Caulfield's life. Do some research and point out some of these similarities. Do you think that J. D. Salinger and Holden Caulfield shared any similar personality traits?

4. Read the first page of The Catcher in the Rye and Miles To Go Before You Sleep. How do both Holden Caulfield and Miles Spaulding immediately engage the reader's interest? Is it what they say, or how they say it--their style-- that piques our interest--or is it a combination of the two?

From the very first page, do you have any indication that either Holden or Miles is deceiving us? For example, Holden comments, "...I got pretty run down and had to come out here to take it easy." Where is he taking it easy? Would it affect your attitude toward him and his story if he immediately told you what condition he was in and where he was?

In Miles To Go Before You Sleep, Miles' first sentence is, "I committed my first murder at the age of fifteen." Who or what was Miles' victim? How does he justify killing this victim? Do you agree? And how does this first sentence foreshadow other, darker crimes in Miles' future?

5. Both these stories are "coming of age" novels that show us how two teenage boys confront their problems as they grow up. But there are some major differences between Holden Caulfield and Miles Spaulding and where and how they grow up. Discuss these differences and how they might affect each protagonist's life.

6. There's a big difference between " Playing on your sympathy," (= feeling sorry for someone who is really trying to take advantage of you) and "Sympathy" (= .feeling sorry for someone who honestly deserves it)

We're sympathetic toward Holden Caulfield because as we read his story, we realize that he's a decent teenager who deserves our compassion. Give some examples of when you feel most sympathetic towards Holden Caulfield.

In contrast, Miles Spaulding repeatedly plays on our sympathy in order to manipulate or deceive us. Give some examples. Do you know of anyone in your own life who repeatedly uses this weapon of deceit to take advantage of others?

7. Although Holden Caulfield is a rebellious teenager, he has many good qualities. He believes in defending innocence, hates pretentiousness, and harms no one except himself. Can the same be said of Miles Spaulding? Give specific instances to support your opinion.

8. Holden Caulfield and Miles Spaulding are exact opposites. Do you feel that this statement is true? Support your opinion with incidents from both novels.

9. Both protagonists use weapons of deceit in their stories. Here are some of them:

1. Lying.
2.Smear campaigns (friends, enemies and strangers alike, e.g., Holden Caulfield's repeatedly calling strangers "phonies.")
3. Spreading false rumors or information.
4. Hatred
5. Fear
6. Setting someone up
7. The ITV Syndrome (" I'm the victim!")
8. Feigned compassion for others
9. Superiority complex
10. Playing on our sympathy.

How many of the above tactics does Holden Caulfield use? Miles Spaulding? Does each protagonist use some of these weapons in the same way, or in different ways? Give examples.

Do you know anyone in your own life who is an expert at manipulating others with some of these same weapons?

The time in which The Catcher in the Rye was written (1951), and Holden Caulfield tells his story, was an era of great prosperity and the golden age of the American middle class. Do you think that if J.D. Salinger wrote The Catcher in the Rye today that Holden Caulfield would have the same experiences he had in 1949? How might they be different?

Today, there is a rising level of violence and fear in our society. Not only do the most horrific crimes make headlines on a daily basis, but to make matters worse, many children, teenagers and adults relish the thrill of seeing innocent people blown to bits in video games, on television and in the movies.

In his comments on his new genre, the filmbook, the author discusses the impact this brave new digital world has had on him:

 

As a college professor, I'm sorry to say that I too have become a digicrack addict.

My computer, my cell phone, my television set, video games, and a torrent of other sweet digicrack hammer away at my brain with over 30 gigabytes of information every day--entertaining me 24/7 with everything that’s tragic, shocking, hilarious, super sleazy and grotesque.

As a result, like most of my students, I crave such entertainment, have the attention span of a gnat, and I've become as jumpy and impatient as a man on a honeymoon with Megan Fox

So how can I blame my students for wanting to watch a Jackass  film  instead of reading Wuthering Heights?

Has there been any effect of this rising level of violence and fear on your life? On our society?

As our technology has grown exponentially since Holden Caulfield's time, and we become more materialistic, do you think mankind is growing spiritually or dying spiritually? A simple definition of "spiritual" might be implied in this observation by Albert Einstein: "It's become appallingly clear that our technology has surpassed our humanity."

Do you think that Miles Spaulding, especially as a rich adult, is a metaphor for the deceitful, greedy robber barons who control our own society? Hint: Remember why Jimmy Andreos never wants to see Miles Spaulding arrested and put on trial for his crimes.

10. Holden Caulfield and Miles Spaulding often use colloquial or slang language. Discuss some of the distinct differences and similarities in the tone and style of their voices. These comparisons help define some of the ways that Holden Caulfield and Miles Spaulding are both alike and different.

For example, compare these quotes. Here's where Holden describes Robert Ackley, a student who roomed right next to him:

 

...He was one of these very, very tall, round shouldered guys--he was almost six four--with lousy teeth. The whole time he roomed next to me, I never even once saw him brush his teeth. They always looked mossy and awful, and he damn near made you sick if you saw him in the dining room with his mouth full of mashed potatoes and peas or something. Besides that, he had a lot of pimples. Not just on his forehead or chin, like most guys, but all over his whole face. And not only that, he had a terrible personality. He was also sort of a nasty guy. I wasn't too crazy about him, to tell you the truth.

The Catcher in the Rye
Chapter 3

Compare the above quote to how Miles Spaulding describes a classmate who also loves Clare:

 
Like that stupid dago Angelo. He was the first man to make love to Clare, I know he was. She always denied it, but I could tell.

Angelo and I hated each other from the second we met. I swear that he was much older than Clare, but he was still in high school anyway, probably on some kind of ex-convict scholarship. Georgianne would have had a coronary if he knew Clare was dating such a druggie motorcycle dago scumbag, but I guess that's part of the reason she went out with him in the first place.

Miles to Go Before You Sleep
Chapter 2

Point out the ways that the above two descriptions are alike and different and how they reflect each speaker's character..

Here's another comment, where Holden Caulfield admits what a great liar he is:

 
I'm the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It's awful. If I'm on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I'm going, I'm liable to say I'm going to the opera. It's terrible.

The Catcher in the Rye
Chapter 3

Compare the above remark to how Miles Spaulding tells us that he believes in actions rather than words, and that speech is mankind's greatest curse:

 
As I got older, I also came to know that my blood runs back much further than the Plantagenets--to a race of ancient and wise men who ruled by their actions, not their words. Only they knew the truth--that speech is mankind's greatest curse, leading to endless lies, confusion, deceit, misery and war. Without speech politicians would be seen as the impotent little worms they really are. Hitler would have died in obscurity, and slaughters by religious fanatics would end overnight.

Miles to Go Before You Sleep
Chapter 2

But we immediately know that Miles is lying. Why? Hint: What does he use to deceive his own readers? The above quote is therefore an example of what literary device?

There are also many interesting differences and similarities in the ways that Holden Caulfield and Miles Spaulding describe the girls they love.

First, here's how here's how Holden Caulfield describes a girl...

 

I was half in love with her by the time we sat down. That's the thing about girls. Every time they do something pretty, even if they're not much to look at, or even if they're sort of stupid, you fall half in love with them, and then you never know where the hell you are. Girls. Jesus Christ. They can drive you crazy. They really can.

The Catcher in the Rye
Chapter 10

In Miles to Go Before You Sleep, Miles Spaulding describes the girl he loves, his cousin, Clare:

 
And the others--the fools!
Didn't they know that God intended me to be with only one woman in my life?
Clare...
Clare Victoria...
Clare Victoria Rothstein.
The only woman I could ever protect. The only woman I could ever love...
And the only woman I could ever hate.

To know the way I felt, you had to know her. In one way Clare was the prettiest, sweetest person you'd ever meet. I mean even at the age of sixteen she had the kind of face that made men stop right in the middle of the street and gawk at her. She was that beautiful. She had very pale white skin, just the opposite of her mother. And her eyes were blue, but not an ordinary blue. When she got up in the morning and had no makeup on, they seemed ordinary enough--but at night, at night when she dressed up or put on dark eyeliner, those eyes...they'd just take your breath away they were so beautiful. She used to say she was turning on her high beams--and she knew exactly what effect they had on me.

But there was something else. A lot of women are so attractive they seem untouchable, like Deanna Connors. She was so beautiful no one asked her out until she was a junior. With Clare it was just the opposite--and it drove me crazy. And it wasn't her fault either. She was too shy to ever wear sexy clothes--which Georgianne would never allow anyway--and when she went shopping or walked down the street, she always kept to herself.

But that didn't make any difference. Once at the mall some old guy walked right up to her and offered her money--and another time some stranger in a Rolls Royce practically grabbed her right off the street! She just had that look that drove men crazy enough to want to grab her and do terrible things to her...

Miles To Go Before You Sleep
Chapter 2

Discuss the different things about these two girls that drive Holden Caulfield and Miles Spaulding crazy. Do you think that the word "crazy" means the same thing to Holden Caulfield that it does to Miles Spaulding? How might they be different?

11. Discuss the major symbols in The Catcher in the Rye and how they relate to some of the novel's themes.

12. Does either (or both) authors use any poetic devices, such as alliteration, to enhance the poetic effect of his narration?

13. Professor Browne calls Miles to Go Before You Sleep the first in a new genre that he has created, the filmbook. Do you see any similarities between Miles to Go Before You Sleep and a screenplay? Could Miles Spaulding's entire story be considered a long monologue?

14. How does Holden Caulfield's sister, Phoebe, look at him? How is she important to him?

15. Why is Holden Caulfield so upset when Stradlater dates Jane Gallagher?

16. Is Clare an innocent victim in Miles To Go Before You Sleep? Discuss why or why not.

17. Is Jimmy Andreos an innocent victim in Miles to Go Before You Sleep Discuss his role in the story.

18. Describe Clare's mother, Georgianne, and her importance in Miles To Go Before You Sleep.

19. Who are "the beautiful witches" in Miles to Go Before You Sleep, and what role do they play in the story?

20. Discuss the theme of justice in The Catcher in the Rye and Miles to Go Before You Sleep. Do you think that Holden Caulfield deserved to end up the way he did? Do you think that Miles Spaulding deserved to end up the way he did?

21. "The sins of the father are visited upon the son," is a famous quote. But in the case of Angela Stein, it's "The sins of the father are visited upon the daughter." Explain some of these sins and how they affect the conclusion of the novel.

22. Do both novels end the way you expected?

23. There is a major change in Miles Spaulding's narrative voice in Part II of Miles to Go Before You Sleep compared to Part I. What do you think is the reason, or reasons, for this change? Do you think this change is effective, or should the author have continued Miles' narrative in the same voice as Part I? How does this different narrative voice enhance or complement Miles Spaulding's evil character as an adult?

For example, would the young Miles Spaulding have spoken like this, as he does in Part II of the novel?

 

And you.

You had me completely written off, didn't you?

Dead and buried.

I love the way you sit there, nibbling on your high moral standards and passing judgment on me. But I see through you--down deep I know who you really are--your suffocating, boring life tightening around your skull like a chain. Just another brick in the wall, waiting to explode, aren't you?...

No, it's better this way, believe me. Just sit back and watch. Let me do it--and when it's all over, I'll be the one who's still standing, reading your epitaph:

HYPOCRITE LECTEUR,
MON SEMBLABLE,
MON FRERE.

Miles to Go Before You Sleep
Chapter 30

Originally the above epitaph is from a line from a poem in Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs Du Mal (Flowers of Evil), but it also appears in another famous poem. What poem?

24. When Holden Caulfield visits Manhattan before going back home, he runs into several girls, and when he does, we see several different sides to his personality, both good and bad. Describe some of these characteristics.

In Part II of Miles to Go Before You Sleep, Miles Spaulding has become very rich because his father died, and he's also the owner of a famous jewelry store. What does his attitude toward the women he dates tell you about him? How else has his great reputation and wealth affected Miles Spaulding?

THEMES

Here are some themes in The Catcher in the Rye and Miles to Go Before You Sleep that teachers and professors might expand into discussion questions, essay topics and other projects:

1. Good and Evil.
2. Revenge
3. Alienation
4. Growing up
5. Innocence and Corruption
6. The Death of Innocence
7. Victims
8. Justice
9. Love and Sex
10. Conformity
11. Self Defense Mechanisms
12. Points of View

The Catcher in the Rye is available at book stores, and online as a hardbound or paperback at such places as amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. It is not currently available as an e-book.

Miles to Go Before You Sleep is available only as an ebook on amazon.com and elsewhere for $4.99, which includes a free Kindle reader that can be downloaded to a desktop, laptop or flash drive.

Cambridge Fine Arts Associates

fmillercambridge@aol.com