The Catcher in the Rye

By J.D. Salinger

Book Summary

The Catcher in the Rye is set around the 1950's and is narrated by a 16 year old named Holden Caulfield. The event he talks about takes place between the end of the fall school term and Christmas. Holden's story begins on the Saturday after the end of classes at Pencey Prep School in Agerstown in Pennsylvania. Holden has failed out of three schools before coming to Pencey, but he is failing 4 out of 5 of his classes so he is kicked out of Pencey as well with a letter going home to his parents soon. He doesn't have to be back home in Manhattan until Wednesday though some trouble occurs with his roommate Will Stradlater. Stradlater decided to go out with a girl named Jane Gallagher that holden knows and used to date. This causes concern with Holden and when Stradlater gets back from the date he interrogates him trying to find out whether he had sex with Jane. Stradlater sees this opportunity to make fun of Holden and tease him in a way such as maybe I did or maybe I didn't. This enrages him and Holden attacks Stradlater. Stradlater punches Holden in the face several times resulting in a bloody nose. Holden has decided he has had a enough of Pencey after this and leaves to stay in a hotel in Manhattan without telling anyone he's back yet. Holden checks into the Edmont Hotel and heads down to the Lavender room that night and is refused alcoholic drinks because they say he is a minor. He then ends up flirting with three women in their thirties that are just there to see a celebrity. He buys them like a million drinks and dances with the blonde one who he thinks he fell in love with after dancing with her. They end up leaving after the celebrity was a no show and let Holden pick up the whole tab! He then takes a cab to Ernie's jazz club in Greenwich Village. He ran into D.B.'s former girlfriend there so he told her he had to meet someone to get out of there. Holden then heads back to the hotel where he encounters the elevator operator named Maurice who offers to send a prostitute to his room for 5 bucks. Holden agrees and the girl that comes is named "Sunny". She takes her dress off and sits on Holden's lap but he makes up a story saying he had a spinal operation because he was feeling peculiar about her. He ends up paying her anyway and showing her the door. Sunny showed up again later that night with Maurice and he demanded another 5 bucks. Holden refused and Maurice slugged him in the stomach as Sunny grabbed 5 bucks out of his wallet and then they both ran out the door. The next morning Holden called Sally Hayes, a girl he used to date, and sets up a date for a matinee showing of a Broadway play. After he hung up with Sally he went to Central Park to look for his sister Phoebe but only finds her friends who tell him she might be in the museum. He ultimately decides not to look there and takes a cab to go meet Sally. After the play Holden is annoyed that Sally talks with this boy she knows from Andover. Sally then suggests that they should go ice skating in Radio city but they both end up skating badly so they get a table there. Holden then urges Sally to run away with him to go live in a cabin somewhere like Vermont. He calls her a "pain in the ass" for refusing to go with him and she gets super offended and leaves after Holden apologized many times. Holden then calls up Carl Luce, his student advisor from Whooton school to have a drink with him at the Wicker bar in the Seton Hotel. Luce used to talk about sex to many boys often and Holden tries to bring it up by mentioning Luce's chinese girlfriend. Luce says he is acting juvenile and makes up an excuse to leave. Holden ends up getting very drunk and calls Sally up outside the bar and rambles something about Christmas. He then wanders about in Central Park but ends up freezing so he decides to sneak into his apartment building to see Phoebe. She becomes very mad at him when he tells her he had been kicked out again. He explained to her the only thing he would want to be was a "Catcher in the rye" and save little kids right before they fell of the cliff edge. He snuck out later without his parents ever knowing he was there. Holden then calls his old english teacher Mr. Antolini and he tells Holden he can stay at his apartment. Holden then ends up falling asleep on Mr. Antolini's couch after a long conversation about Holden's future. He wakes up in the middle of the night to find Mr. Antolini petting his forehead while staring at him. This freaks him out and he quickly excuses himself and gets out of there. He then sleeps for hours on a bench at Grand Central station. The next day Holden goes to Phoebe's school passing along a note to her that says he is leaving for good and to meet him at lunch at the museum. Phoebe shows up with a fully packed suitcase and says she's going with him. When Holden firmly disagrees she starts crying and runs to the other side of the street giving him the silent treatment. Holden walks to the zoo and ends up at the carousel knowing she would follow him from a distance. When she warms back up to him he buys her a ticket to ride on the carousel. Watching her ride nearly brought him to tears. This is where Holden ends his story and says he is not going to tell you about when he got home. We also find out at the end that he is going to a new school in the fall and is looking forward to his future.
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Character Analysis

Holden - he is the main character and narrator of the story and he is an academic failure at his most recent school Pency Prep, and he always points out all the hypocrisy and ugliness in the world.

Ackley - he is Holden's next door neighbor in the dorm at Pencey and is a pimply boy who has terrible looking teeth and is always barging in to Holden's room unwanted.

Stradlater - is Holden's roommate at Pencey and is a handsome, self satisfied and popular guy.

Jane - she never appears in this book, but is extremely important to Holden because she is a great childhood friend and is one girl who he truly respects and thinks is very attractive.

Phoebe - she is Holden's 10 year old sister who since she is six years younger, listens to everything he has to say more than anyone else does. She is very close to his heart and is very mature for her age.

Allie - he is Holden's younger brother who died of leukemia three years before this book was created. Holden says he was the smartest in the family and that he was very tormented by his death.

D.B. - he is Holden's older brother who wrote a series of short stories that are admired by Holden but he believes D.B. holds back his talents by writing for Hollywood movies.

Sally - she is a girl who Holden has known and dated for a long time.

Mr. Spencer - Holden's history teacher at Pencey who tries to get him to show more effort in school.

Carl Luce - Holden's student advisor at Whooton school who is three years older than him and always had sex advice for the younger boys.

Mr. Antolini - Holden's former english teacher at Elkton Hills school who Holden often looks for guidance from.

Maurice - the elevator operator at the Edmont Hotel who sends a prostitute to his room for 5 bucks.

Sunny - the prostitute sent by Maurice.

My Thoughts and Comments

Overall I thought this was a great book, it made me not want to put it down, ya know, like anticipating what was coming next was so exciting. I thought Holden was a cool guy even though some people might think he's too judgemental and a hypocrite. Personally, I believe most everyone has those kinds of thoughts in their head, they just never speak them aloud. I mean as I read the book I realized I know so many people who probably think the same things that Holden shares aloud and even probably a few of his thoughts have crossed my mind before. This book was nice because it was relatable to me, I am sixteen so I understood most of the stuff he was expressing.

Symbol Analysis

The most important symbol in this book is the idea of the title. Holden wants to be a guy who stands on the edge of the cliff in a rye field catching children before they fall off. This picture described in his head symbolizes Holden's desire to save both himself and the other children from growing up into the "phony" adult world that he tells us about throughout the entire book.

Theme Analysis

Death is a very consistent theme in the novel. This theme is symbolized by the lingering spirit of Allie, Holden's brother who died three years ago. Whenever Holden fears for his existence and that he might disappear, he "talks" to Allie. The thought of Allie in a dreary cemetery surrounded by dead people haunts him all the time. Holden always wishes that time could stand still and there could be no change but he come to the brutal realization that life is change. He is fighting the fact that he will one day become old and die. He just never wants to grow up.