The Catcher in the Rye

J.D. Salinger

BACKGROUND

The "Catcher in the Rye" is thought to be one of the great modern American books. This novel broke new ground because the characters spoke so realistically and talked about stuff that teenagers related to – relationships, family, school sucking, all of that stuff. Salinger wrote this book back in 1951, but it could take place in any year because all the issues in it are still around today. Salinger was born in 1919 in New York City, and is most famous for this novel although he also wrote a bunch of short stories.

MAIN CHARACTERS

Holden Caufield: The narrator and main guy. He tells the story from Hollywood – we’re not sure quite where he is – could be a loony bin. Holden flunks out of school because he hates it, but he is a smart kid. He is alone most of the time because the other kids really don’t have the same views and smarts that he has.

Mrs. Caufield: Holden’s mom. She really isn’t in the book that much.

Mr. Caufield: Holden’s dad. He is a lawyer.

Phoebe Caufield: Holden’s younger sister. She is smart, and Holden likes her a lot.

Allie Caufield: Allie was Holden’s younger brother, but he died very young.

D.B. Caufield: Holden’s other brother. He really isn’t in the book that much. He’s a writer in California.

Ward Stradlater: Holden’s roommate at prep school. He is a popular dude, handsome, athletic, etc. Holden thinks he is a fake.

Robert Ackley: Robert lives next door to Holden at school. Holden calls him "Ackley kid" just to piss him off. He is a moron and not very nice.

Mr. Spencer: A history teacher at Holden’s school. He cares about Holden failing out and tries to help him.

Mr. Antolini: Holden’s English teacher from a school he went to before. He also cares about Holden’s future.

Jane Gallagher: A girl Holden spent the summer with before school. He really liked her. Holden gets mad because his roommate, Stradlater, has a date with her.

Sally Hayes: A hot babe who Holden used to date. He thinks she is a fake, but she is really hot, so he still likes her.

Carl Luce: Holden’s senior advisor at prep school. Carl talked about sex a lot and Holden thought he was gay because Carl always talked about who was a flit (gay) and who wasn't.

PLOT

Holden Caufield is this 16-year-old kid who flunks out of school, right before Christmas vacation. He is not a good student and has a lot of problems at other schools. He leaves school early and goes to New York City. So then he’s in NYC, and spends time with a bunch of different people. Then he goes back home and sneaks into his house to see his younger sister, Phoebe. She’s mad because he failed out of school. Then Holden has a nervous breakdown and seeks help with his family. It’s up for debate where he winds up – it’s suggested that he tells the story from a hospital in Hollywood.

CHAPTER BY CHAPTER

CHAPTER 1

  • Holden sets up that he’s gonna tell his story.
  • He talks about his brother, D.B. , and how he lives in Hollywood and has some serious cash.
  • D.B. used to be a "serious" writer but now he writes movies and Holden calls him a prostitute because of that.
  • Holden begins telling his story the day he left his school, Pencey Prep, in Agerstown, Pennsylvania.
  • Everyone at the school is watching the last football game of the season except for Holden.
  • He is standing on a hill away from the game making fun of everyone. He hates the school.
  • He then tells how he just got back from New York City. He is the manager of the fencing (sword fighting with those funny looking masks) team.
  • The fencing team had this big match in New York and Holden left all the foils (swords) and other equipment on the subway. They were really mad at him, but Holden thinks it's kind of funny.
  • Then Holden talks about how he is getting kicked out because he doesn't try in his classes and is failing.
  • Holden is going to visit his old history teacher , Mr. Spencer, who is sick (he has the grippe which is influenza).
  • Holden is running and is out of breath. He says he is a heavy smoker.

CHAPTER 2

  • Holden goes in to see Mr. Spencer. Mr. Spencer is almost 70.
  • When he sees Mr. Spencer sitting in his chair with all this medicine around him, Holden wishes he didn't come.
  • Mr. Spencer asks Holden about his conversation with the principle. The principle told Holden that life was a game and you play according to the rules. Mr. Spencer agrees with that.
  • Holden thinks that life is only a game if you are on the accepted team, if you have the popular views and give in to them.
  • Holden tells Mr. Spencer his parents will be mad because this is the fourth school he has gone to.
  • Mr. Spencer starts lecturing Holden about what is wrong with him.
  • Mr. Spencer failed Holden in history because Holden didn't finish an essay on Egyptians on his exam and wrote a note on the bottom saying he found Egyptians boring and couldn't really write about them.
  • Holden talks about why left his old school, Elkton Hills. He says its because he was surrounded by phonies (this is one of Holden's favorite words).
  • Mr. Spencer wants to know if Holden is concerned about his future. Holden can't stand staying around for this so he gets up and makes an excuse that he has to go.

CHAPTER 3

  • Holden talks about how he lies all the time.
  • Then he talks about how he lives in this dorm named after a guy who donated all this money to the school. He tells about how the guy visited once and gave a speech about how all the boys should talk to Jesus and that he talks to Jesus all the time. Holden makes fun of him.
  • Then he tells how in the middle of this guy's speech, one kid let out a huge fart and they all got in trouble.
  • Holden goes back to his room and talks about the books he likes to read. He actually reads a lot.
  • Ackley comes in and starts annoying Holden. Ackley is a loser and hates Holden's roommate, Stradlater.
  • Then Stradlater comes in and asks Holden if he can borrow his coat. Ackley takes off.
  • Stradlater has a date and is going out.

CHAPTER 4

  • Holden goes down to the bathroom with Stradlater while he shaves.
  • Stradlater is a good looking guy.
  • Stradlater asks Holden to write an essay for him because he doesn't have time (he is going out and doesn't do his work).
  • Stradlater tells Holden not to write it too well because Holden is supposed to be a really good writer.
  • Holden finds out that Stradlater is going out with this girl, Jane Gallagher. Holden knows her and really thinks she is a great girl.
  • Holden wants to go say hello to her (she is downstairs) but he can't bring himself to do it.

CHAPTER 5

  • Holden goes to town to see a movie with a buddy of his. He invites Richard Ackley (even though he’s an ass) because Holden feels bad that he has no friends.
  • Holden starts to write Stradlater's essay. He writes it about his dead brother's baseball mitt. You find out he died from Leukemia.
  • He used to write all these poems on his baseball mitt so he would have something to read when no one was up to bat.
  • Holden talks about how great his brother was.

CHAPTER 6

  • Stradlater yells at Holden because he didn’t do the paper according to the assignment and yells at Holden.
  • Holden gets mad at Stradlater for being an ass and tears up the essay.
  • Then Holden and Stradlater talk about his date. Holden starts to get mad because he knows Stradlater got some action off of Jane Gallagher and Holden likes her.
  • Holden takes a swing at Stradlater but misses his face, and Stradlater pins him down.
  • Holden yells all this stuff at Stradlater about how he is a moron and doesn't care about Jane.
  • Stradlater gets pissed and punches Holden in the face and knocking him on his ass.

CHAPTER 7

  • Holden goes over to Ackley's room and Ackley asks Holden what the fight was about.
  • Holden can't stand to be around the dorms anymore so he packs his things and takes off that night to go to New York City.

CHAPTER 8

  • Holden walks to the train station and takes a train to New York.
  • This lady get on the train and sits down next to him. She asks him if he goes to Pencey Prep.
  • She is the mother of one of the guys who goes there. Holden gives her a fake name and starts telling his mom all this stuff about how great her son is and all this other crap. Holden really doesn't like the kid but he has the lady all wrapped up in what he is saying.
  • Holden tells her that he has to leave school early because he has a brain tumor.

CHAPTER 9

  • Holden gets off the train and wants to call someone but it's too late.
  • He goes and gets a cheap hotel room. There are all kind of weird people he can see through his window. One old guy is dressing up like a woman.
  • Holden talks about sex and how he really likes it but it causes him trouble. Now, when Holden says sex, he doesn't necessarily mean that hot steamy sex you see on USA late at night. Holden is referring to all sexual activity when he says sex, such as just kissing.
  • Holden says he is all horny and gets this number of this lady a friend of his once hooked up with. She is supposed to be a slut.
  • He calls her ands she is mad because it's really late but they strike up a conversation. Holden tries to set up a date but she says it's too late.

CHAPTER 10

  • Holden decides to go down to the Hotel bar.
  • He spends a while talking about his sister, Phoebe, and how smart she is. He really likes her.
  • Holden goes to the bar and tries to buy a drink. He is underage and can't get served.
  • He sees three women who he could talk to. He asks them to dance.
  • He dances with the cute blonde one. She is really dumb and Holden tries to sweet talk her.
  • Holden then dances with the other two and he gets them drinks. They leave him with the bill.

CHAPTER 11

  • Holden starts thinking about Jane Gallagher. He spent a lot of time with her as a friend and even made out with her.
  • She had some family problems. Holden really cares a lot about her and you can see why he was jealous at Stradlater.

CHAPTER 12

  • Holden goes to a bar called Ernie's. On the way he has an argument with the cab driver about where the ducks go in the wintertime and what happens to the fish in the lake when it freezes.
  • Ernie is playing the piano and Holden starts going in on how phony he acts and how great he thinks he is.
  • Holden is able to get served and starts drinking.
  • Then this girl, Lillian Simmons, who used to date Holden's brother D.B., comes up to Holden.
  • This is what Holden says about her: "She had very big knockers."
  • She is there with some Navy guy and starts asking Holden all these questions. Holden doesn't want to talk to her so he says he has to leave.
  • When Holden says goodbye to the Navy guy, he talks about how lame it is that you have to say how good it was to meet someone when you actually don’t give a damn.
  • Holden leaves the bar.

CHAPTER 13

  • He walks from the bar back to his hotel. He talks about how he thinks someone at school stole his gloves and how he wished he had them now.
  • Then he thinks about the guy who stole them and talks about how he probably wouldn’t fight him because he doesn’t fight. Then he has some imaginary conversation with the thief.
  • He talks some more about fighting and how he doesn’t fight because he doesn’t want to hurt anybody.
  • Then he gets sad because he realizes that he won’t fight and that he is kind of a coward. He calls himself "yellow."
  • Then Holden talks about how much he can drink and about how one time he drank all this scotch with some friends: "I just got very cool and nonchalant. I puked before I went to bed, but I didn't really have to--I forced myself."
  • Holden gets to his hotel. He takes the elevator up. The elevator operator offers to get him a hooker. Holden says yes.
  • Holden is nervous but feeling sexy. He says he is really a virgin.
  • The hooker arrives and Holden tries to act suave.
  • Her name is Sunny. Holden tries to talk to her but she just wants to do the nasty and get paid.
  • Holden starts to cop out and says he is not in the mood…and makes up a story he just had an operation.
  • Then Sunny gets all friendly and says he is cute.
  • Holden won't do it with her and asks her to leave. She says he still has to pay.
  • Holden gives her $5 and tries to get rid of her. She says it costs $10 but Holden says the elevator guy said it was only $5 and won't pay her any more.

CHAPTER 14

  • After Sunny leaves, Holden talks to Allie (his dead brother...you know how people just kinda talk to a dead person, and hope they’re listening).
  • He tells us that when he gets sad he likes to talk to Allie.
  • Then he talks about Jesus and the disciples. Holden says that Jesus loved everyone regardless of who they were. The disciples didn’t.
  • Then the elevator guy comes back with the whore. He wants another $5.
  • He pushes Holden around a little and Holden starts to cry and calls him a dirty moron. Maurice, the elevator guy punches him in the stomach and then he leaves with Sunny.
  • Holden gets up and starts pretending Maurice shot him and how he is really bleeding. And how he would stagger down the hall and shoot Maurice.
  • Holden talks about committing suicide as he goes to sleep.

CHAPTER 15

  • Holden wants to call Jane Gallagher, but he doesn’t.
  • So he calls Sally Hayes, a girl who is so fake.
  • He makes plans to take her to a play. He leaves the hotel and goes to a coffee shop.
  • Then he talks to some nuns and has a nice conversation about books.
  • Then Holden talks about Catholics and how they are always trying to find out if you are Catholic.

CHAPTER 16

  • Holden is still sad. He says he feels bad for the nuns because they can’t have an expensive meal, but for some reason he likes that about them.
  • He is killing some time until his date with Sally, so he walks down the street.
  • He wants to find a record of a hard to get song for his sister, Phoebe.
  • Holden sees a little boy singing a song that goes: "If a body catch a body coming through the rye." For some odd reason this makes him feel a little better because the boy is having fun and doing his thing without a care in the world. (the actual lyric is "if a body meet a body coming through the rye)
  • He buys the record for Phoebe, then he goes to Central Park to look for his sister.
  • He sees one of her friends and she tells him she might be at the Museum. Then she realizes it is Sunday and she won't be there.
  • Holden starts to go to the museum and on the way talks about what it was like when he went as a kid.
  • He talks about how things never change in the museum. The Eskimo is still catching fish no matter when you go.
  • Holden thinks about how every time his sister visits the museum, the museum will be the same but she will be different. He wishes he could put some things in a glass case so they would never change.
  • He does not go inside the museum.

CHAPTER 17

  • The chapter starts out with Holden waiting for Sally.
  • Sally shows up and asks if she is late. Holden says no because she looks good although she is really ten minutes late.
  • They get in cab to go to the theater and make out in the cab (Go Holden!).
  • Then he goes even further and tells her he loves her. She says she loves him, too, and then she tells him to grow out his hair because his hair is "lovely". Holden says to himself: "lovely my ass."
  • After the play they go ice skating. Sally puts on this little skirt and Holden talks about how cute her ass is.
  • Holden bitches to Sally about how much he hates school. He talks about all the phonies.
  • Then he acts like a psycho and asks her to run away with him. She gets all mad and he calls her a royal pain in the ass.
  • She loses it and gets really upset and cries. Holden laughs and that makes it worse so he leaves.

CHAPTER 18

  • Holden is sad again and all alone. He calls Jane Gallagher but she isn't home. Then he calls some dude he used to know years ago, Carl Luce. They decide to hang out that night.
  • He kills some time again by going to Radio City Music Hall (even though he hates that place).
  • At Radio City, he sees a movie (throughout the book he talks about hating movies, so it’s weird he’s going to see one).
  • Then he talks badly about the audience in the theater.
  • Holden says his brother, D.B., had been in the army and fought in WWII.
  • Then Holden talks about these other books: A Farewell to Arms and The Great Gatsby.

CHAPTER 19

  • Holden goes to the Wicker Bar, the place he is meeting Carl, and has a few drinks.
  • He talks about how Carl was his senior adviser at the Whooton School.
  • Carl talked all about sex and other stuff. He always was talking about who was a flit (fag) and who wasn't. Holden thought Carl was a bit flitty because he was always touching guys.
  • Holden and Carl talk about sex and who Carl is getting on. Carl is going with a Chinese girl and he tells Holden the Eastern philosophy about sex is better than the west.
  • Holden asks Carl all these sex questions and annoys Carl who is all "mature."
  • Carl tells Holden he has an immature mind and should go see a shrink.
  • Then he says he has to go and leaves.

CHAPTER 20

  • Holden stays and keeps drinking.
  • Holden asks the waiter to ask some chick if she wants to join him.
  • Holden gets really drunk.
  • He calls up Sally Hayes and her grandmother yells at him for calling so late. Then Sally gets on the phone and Holden says he will come around on Christmas and help her trim her tree like she asked him to.
  • He is totally hammered and she tells him to call tomorrow and hangs up him.
  • Holden walks and drops the record he bought for his little sister. It breaks up into all these pieces.
  • Then he goes to this lake in Central Park where the ducks are in the summer and sits on a bench. He thinks about what would happen if he died and who would come to his funeral. Then he thinks about his brother's funeral.
  • He wishes he would die because then all his problems would be over.
  • Holden decides to go to his family’s apartment to see Phoebe.

CHAPTER 21

  • Holden heads to the apartment.
  • He sneaks in and goes to Phoebe's room. She is asleep and Holden looks around her stuff.
  • Holden wakes up Phoebe and she is very excited to see him. She tells him all about the play she is in and a movie she saw. His parents are out at a party.
  • Phoebe finds out that Holden got kicked out of school. She is kinda mad because she knows he will get in big trouble with their parents.
  • She puts a pillow over her head and won't talk so Holden goes to go get some cigarettes from the box in the living room.

CHAPTER 22

  • Holden goes back into Phoebe's room and she goes into him again about why he got kicked out.
  • Holden tells her the school sucked and was full of phonies.
  • Phoebe asks him to name one thing he likes in the world.
  • Holden can't concentrate and thinks about this kid (James Castle) he knew at an old school who was being beaten up by some kids so he jumped out his window and died. He was wearing one of Holden's turtlenecks when he died.
  • Holden says he likes Allie (his dead brother).
  • Phoebe wants Holden to say something like he really wants to be a scientist or a lawyer…but instead Holden says he'd like to be a Catcher in the Rye (hence the book title).
  • Basically, Holden says he pictures himself standing on a cliff and catching kids who are about to run off the cliff. He would be the catcher in the rye.

CHAPTER 23

  • Holden calls his old teacher, Mr. Antolini, and asks if he come over to talk. He tells him he got kicked out of school.
  • Mr. Antolini is the teacher who covered up the body of the kid who jumped out of the window (James Castle),
  • Holden goes back and dances with Phoebe. Then their parents come home.
  • Holden hides in the closet (remember, he’s still supposed to be in school).
  • Phoebe talks to her mom and lies to cover up the fact that Holden is home.
  • Holden goes to leave and Phoebe gives him all her money for Christmas presents.
  • Holden starts to cry because of this. Then he leaves.

CHAPTER 24

  • Holden goes to Mr. Antolini’s house. Holden is beginning to feel sick (mentally and physically).
  • Mrs. Antolini gives Holden some coffee and goes to bed.
  • Mr. Antolini has had a few drinks. Holden starts telling him about his classes at Pencey and why he didn't like them.
  • Antolini tells him he is cruising for self-destruction. That is he is going to fall and keep falling.
  • He tells Holden he hates people too much (remember how Holden calls everyone a phony?).
  • He also tells Holden that he has to get his life together and start by trying harder in school.
  • He says he has to find out how big his mind is and what kind of thoughts he should have instead of wasting his time thinking about things he can't understand.
  • Holden starts to yawn so Mr. Antolini starts to make up the couch for Holden to sleep on.
  • Then Antolini asks Holden about his women and also calls him handsome.
  • Holden goes to bed but wakes up to Mr. Antolini petting his head. He freaks out because this guy is touching him and he gets out of there quick.
  • He says he has to go pick up his bags from the station and Mr. Antolini tells him to come back.
  • Holden says: "That kind of stuff's happened to me about twenty times since I was a kid. I can't stand it."

CHAPTER 25

  • Holden goes to the train station where his bags are and then sleeps on a bench for a while.
  • Holden starts wondering if maybe he shouldn't left Mr. Antolini's place and maybe he overreacted. But he still thinks it's weird that he was patting his head.
  • Holden goes to get some coffee and doughnuts, but he can't eat.
  • Holden starts walking down 5th avenue really begins to lose his grasp on reality and starts talking to his dead brother.
  • He goes to Phoebe’s school to give her a note saying he is hiking out west and to meet him at the museum. He sees "Fuck you" on the school wall and erases it because he doesn’t want kids seeing it
  • He sees another "Fuck you" and tries to erase that one, too.
  • Holden goes to the museum and sees two kids who skipped school. They are standing at some exhibit about Egypt. Holden tells them about the Egyptians.
  • Phoebe arrives carrying a suitcase and wearing Holden's hunting hat and tells him she is going with him.
  • Holden tells her no, but she keeps begging. Holden tells her she can't go with him. Then he says he isn't really leaving.
  • He takes her to the zoo. Phoebe goes and rides on the carousel while Holden watches.
  • Phoebe is happy again and she rides the carousel while Holden watches. It starts to rain and Holden starts cry because he is so happy watching his sister ride around on the carousel.

CHAPTER 26

  • Holden has finishes his story and talks a little about how he is going back to school in the fall after he gets out of the hospital.
  • He says he wishes he never told the story because now he misses everybody.
  • His last line: "Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody."

THINGS TO MAKE YOU LOOK SMART

  • Holden is on the verge of falling apart. Salinger created a very real character who has been unable to get over his brother’s death.
  • Holden wants to be a "catcher in the rye," and keep kids from falling off a cliff – he wants so badly to stop death from happening. This is not possible and feeds into his guilt and sadness about Allie.
  • Moments that are happy for Holden, like Phoebe on the carousel, are difficult because he knows the moments will end.
  • Holden fears change because it necessitates endings. He wants to "freeze time" in the hopes that this will ease his pain.
  • Holden has a hunting hat which he wears all the time in the book. It looks kind of goofy and out of place, but Holden likes it. This hat might represent Holden's feeling of himself. He feels out of place and different than others and this hat embodies those feelings by looking funny.
  • The ducks in the pond in Central Park and the fish Holden talks about, might have to do with Holden’s lack of feeling like he belongs. He wonders where the ducks go in the winter just as he has no place to go.
  • Why does Holden like Jane so much? Is it because she has family troubles like he does? Maybe he feels that he can help her (sometime people who are hurt look to help someone else to make themselves feel better).
  • Holden seems to attach himself to people who are weak or defenseless -- the nuns he meets, Jane Gallagher, Ackley, his brother, Allie, and the boy who killed himself (James Castle).
  • Holden is very smart, he just doesn't apply himself. After dealing with the reality of his brother’s death, he finds the day to day things hard to deal with.