The Catcher in the Rye

From Academic Kids

The Catcher in the Rye book cover
The Catcher in the Rye book cover

The Catcher in the Rye is a novel by J. D. Salinger.

Published in 1951, the novel remains controversial today, particularly in the United States, where it was the 13th most frequently challenged book of the 1990s, according to the American Library Association [1] ( Its protagonist, Holden Caulfield, has become an icon for teenage angst.

In the book, 17-year-old Caulfield relates his experiences of the previous year (when he was 16). Holden flunks out of Pencey Preparatory School after failing all of his subjects with the exception of English. Holden leaves for New York City, planning on spending a few days in the city before telling his parents that he has been kicked out of yet another school. The book, written in the first person, relates Holden's experiences in those days.

Publishers Weekly reports that today the majority of readers of The Catcher in the Rye are women.


Plot Summary

The book covers the 48 hours in Holden's life after being kicked out of Pencey, a preparatory school, right before the Christmas holidays, circa 1949. Having been kicked out of many schools already and not wanting to face his parents, he decides to leave school early and spend a few days alone in New York City.

Character List

  • Holden Caulfield. The protagonist and narrator of the story, Holden is a 17 year old boy troubled by the transition from childhood to adulthood.
  • Robert Ackley. Ackley occupies the room adjacent to Holden's at Pencey Prep, and Holden portrays him as "pimply" social outcast and a generally obnoxious person to interact with.
  • Allie Caulfield. Allie is Holden's deceased younger brother and possibly the root of Holden's turbulent maturation process.
  • Carl Luce. Carl is a student at Columbia that Holden knows from Whooton, a school he attended before. Holden meets up with him at a bar and is anxious to discuss sex, but his childish and irritating behavior causes Carl to leave.
  • D. B. Caulfield. DB is Holden's older brother who has become a successful writer in Hollywood. Although Holden enjoys his stories, he regards him as a phony.
  • Jane Gallagher. Jane does not appear in the novel, but Holden thinks of her frequently as one of the few girls he felt truly intimate with.
  • Maurice. Maurice is the elevator operator at the Edmont Hotel who procures a prostitute for Holden, and then later barges into Holden's hotel room and forces him to pay more than agreed upon.
  • Mr. Spencer. Mr. Spencer was Holden's History teacher at Pencey. He feels guilty for failing Holden, and he unsuccessfuly attempts to make Holden understand the "game of life".
  • Mr. Antolini. Antolini was Holden's English teacher at Elkton Hills, another school he attended before, who Holden seeks for guidance. Like Mr. Spencer, he too tries to make Holden understand maturity and he almost reaches him, but Holden fears that Mr. Antolini may be making homosexual advances and flees from his apartment.
  • Phoebe Caulfield. Phoebe is Holden's younger sister whom, in Holden's eyes, has retained her innocence. However, she can be even more mature than he, at times criticizing him for his childishness.
  • Sally Hayes. Sally is a girl that Holden asks out on a date, but ultimately he ruins the affair by calling her a "pain in the ass" in frustration and then later phoning her house while intoxicated.
  • Ward Stradlater. Stradlater is Holden's popular roomate, and one of the few sexually active boys at Pencey Prep. Holden is infuriated by his date with Jane and provokes a violent encounter with him.
  • Sunny. Sunny is the young prostitute Holden hires through Maurice, but he is uncomfortable with the prospect of sex with her and she leaves.
  • Edgar Marsalla. Edgar Marsalla farts in the middle of an assembly at Pencey Prep.
  • Ossenberger. Ossenberger is a graduate of Pencey Prep who has become very rich since he left. He started an undertaking business where he would take a dead body away for just five dollars. Holden sarcastically claims that Ossenberger probably just wraps the bodies up in bags and throws them in a river.
  • Mal Brossard. Mal is an acquantaince of Holden's. Holden and Ackley go to see a movie with Mal on Holden's last night at Pencey.
  • Fredrick Woodruff. Fredrick buys Holden's 90-dollar typewriter for $20 as Holden leaves Pencey.
  • Ernest Morrow. Holden meets Mrs. Morrow, Ernest's mother, on a train to New York, and has a conversation with her. Holden describes Ernest as one of the biggest jerks he's ever met (subconciously), but tells Mrs. Morrow that Ernest is kind, sensitive, shy, and smart.
  • Anne Louise Sherman. Anne Louise Sherman is one of Holden's various ex-girlfriends.
  • Faith Cavendish. Holden is told that Faith Cavendish gives up sex to anyone very easily, and therefore decides to call her in New York while he is bored and aroused. They have a phone conversation, but she tells Holden that she cannot go out on a date that night, so Holden gives up on her.
  • Eddie Birdsell. Birdsell is the person that tells Holden that Faith Cavendish is "easy." Holden met him once at a party, but otherwise knows nothing about him.
  • Ernie. Ernie is a very skilled piano player at a bar in New York. Holden believes that Ernie is a "phony" because he is very good at his job and gladly accepts all the positive praise that he receives.
  • Horwitz. Horwitz is a cab driver that picks up Holden. They have a conversation about where ducks go in Winter (a predominant symbol in the novel).
  • Lillian Simmons. Lillian Simmons is an old friend of D.B. Caulfield, whom Holden runs into at a bar that the three of them used to visit often. Holden regards her as a phony.
  • Arthur Childs. While at Whooton, Holden meets Arthur Childs. The two share an interest in tennis, and converse about the sport. Eventually Arthur alters the conversation to where the nearest Catholic Church is located, thus souring their relationship for Holden.
  • George Andover. George Andover is a close friend of Sally Hayes. Sally and George accidentally meet at a theater, while Holden is on a date with Sally. Holden becomes increasingly more bitter towards George while George and Sally have conversations during the intermissions.
  • Hazel Weatherfield. Hazel Weatherfield is a recurring character in stories made up by Phoebe Caulfield.
  • Rudolf Schmidt. Rudolf Schmidt is the janitor on Holden's floor in Pencey Prep. Holden uses Rudolf's name as his own, as a false identity when he meets Mrs. Morrow.
  • Jim Steele. This is another false identity used by Holden. This alias is made up.
  • Valencia. Valencia is a dancer at a The Wicker Bar. Holden tries to make an advance on her, but he is ignored.
  • James Castle. James Castle commits suicide while Holden is attending Whooton. Holden is taking a shower when he hears Castle fall. Holden assumes that it was a TV or a radio, but heads downstairs and finds Castle's bloody corpse on the pavement. as well as observers gathered around it. Mr. Antolini is the only person at the whole scene who comes near Castle's body. Antolini checks Castle's pulse, then puts his coat over Castle, and carries the dead body to the infirmary.
  • Phil Stabile. Phil Stabile is responsible for James Castle's suicide. James Castle had said something about Stabile, and Stabile responded by gathering some friends to go lynch Castle. When they break into his room, Castle refuses to take back his comment, and ends up jumping out of the dorm room window. Stabile is expelled for the death, but receives no further punishment.


The title refers to a misquote on Holden's part of the line from the lyrical poem Comin' through the Rye by Robert Burns, "gin a body meet a body / comin' thro' the rye". It is a thought born of innocence trying to protect innocence. Holden imagines himself standing in a field of rye in which children are playing. In his imagination, there is a cliff just beside the field. He would stand in the field and catch the children if they came too close to the cliff, saving them from falling over it into adulthood—he would like to be, he says, "the catcher in the rye". This is a metaphor for children losing their innocence and growing up into the "phonies" Holden so despises.

In another example of his need to protect innocent children, Holden was discouraged by all the "Fuck You" graffiti he found and the hopelessness felt that although he worked fervently at eradicating it, undoubtedly even more was being "created" faster than he could get rid of it.

The book also deals with phoniness. Holden despises dishonesty and false pretenses, and throughout the book is frequently picking out the "phonies" he sees around him. As a teenage boy who is deeply troubled by his own depression and personal failings, Holden believes that most of the seemingly happy or successful people he encounters are either liars or ignorant. However, Holden flat-out refuses to consider that other people might have honest reasons for acting the way they do. He calls them "phony", but his entire narrative is a set of categorical judgements he makes without evidence: in other words, he is pretending to himself he is being honest and sees what others do not, presumably to reinforce his feelings of righteousness.

The irony of the book is that Holden exhibits the same "phoniness" he denounces; Holden admittedly puts on pretenses, lies, and makes irrational and contradictory assumptions.

Another theme is Holden's alienation from society, which he has largely created himself by oversimplifying, overgeneralizing, and overreacting in his interactions with those around him. He is idealistic, emotionally immature, and is unable to adapt to the realities and complexities of adulthood. He considers himself a martyr of sorts, a victim of the world, in order to justify his alienation and inability to relate with others.



Though the tone of the novel is gloomy, Holden's sarcastic comments add humor. When Holden watches some men unloading a Christmas tree while taking God's name in vain, he comments: "It certainly was a gorgeous way to talk about a Christmas tree."

Stream of conciousness

This style, used throughout the novel, refers to the use of seemingly disjointed ideas and episodes used in a pseudorandom and highly structured way which is used to illustrate a theme.


The Catcher in the Rye has been shrouded in controversy almost since its beginning. The main reasons for banning it have been the use of offensive language, premarital sex, alcohol abuse, and prostitution. According to some extremist theories the book is the FBI's or CIA's tool for mind control.

Mark David Chapman, murderer of musician John Lennon, was carrying the book when he was arrested immediately after the murder and referred to it in his statement to police shortly thereafter. [2] (

Even though many people like Mark David Chapman and John Hinckley Jr. (Reagan's would-be assassin) have been known to carry this novel, there is a possible and logical reason for this, and not because they are "crazy". For the most part, these "crazy" people love this book because of the main character Holden Caulfield. Throughout the story, Holden is portrayed as a juvenile who rejects and is rejected by many peers and individuals. From this perspective, people like Chapman and Hinckley come to deeply relate themselves to Holden, the person that nobody understands and that can't understand anybody else.

Referring back to a disputed question about this novel; is Holden a hero to be admired? This is where the serial killer relation comes into play. Those who have been known to be obsessed with this story and have gone on to commit criminal acts have done so not because they wish to for the sake of it but rather to glorify the character of Holden. These criminals believe that they personify Holden and that by doing something significant, they will make a hero out of Holden. Quoting Mark David Chapman, "I wanted to become just as famous as John Lennon."

The 1997 film Conspiracy Theory, featuring Mel Gibson, uses the book quite prominently, although it does not explicitly link the book's content to the theme of mind control.

In the 1993 film Six Degrees of Separation, the character Paul (played by Will Smith) pretends to be writing a thesis on the book and gives a brief analysis of it.

The anime series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex has references to the book throughout the series. The main story arc involves the case of a cyber-terrorist known as The Laughing Man, whose name is taken from one of Salinger's short stories, and the use of symbolism referring to the novel as well as some quotes of it. The most notable quote is the one plastered on the Laughing Man's logo: "I thought what I'd do was pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes".

The film Igby Goes Down borrows heavily from the plot of Catcher in the Rye, and contains numerous allusions to the work throughout the film.

Time Period

The Catcher in the Rye clearly takes places in the late 1940s to the early 1950s, which is about the time the novel was written. The death of Allie, Holden's younger brother, is given to be July 18, 1946 and it is stated Holden was thirteen at that time. It follows, therefore, that the bulk of the story takes place in approximately December of 1949 and the story's "present" is the summer of 1950. Given that in 1949 Christmas fell on a Sunday, the two days that consume most of the novel are most likely December 18 and 19 (if it was one week later, the second day of Holden's romp would be Christmas and, if it was one week earlier, Pencey would be letting its students out two full weeks before Christmas.)

Memorable and Significant Quotes

  • "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."
  • "I thought what I'd do was, I'd pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes. That way I wouldn't have to have any goddam stupid useless conversations with anybody."
  • "Anyway, I'm sort of glad they've got the atomic bomb invented. If there's ever another war I'm going to sit right the hell on top of it. I'll volunteer for it, I swear to God I will."
  • "What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff- I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be. I know it's crazy."
  • "If you want to know the truth, I don't know what I think about it....Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody."
  • "I think, even, if I ever die, and they stick me in a cemetery, and I have a tombstone and all, it'll say 'Holden Caulfield' on it, and then what year I was born and what year I died, and then right under that it'll say 'Fuck you.'"

External links


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