Study Guide Prepared by Michael
J. Cummings...© 2006
Work and Year of Publication
Catcher in the Rye
is a coming-of-age novel (or apprenticeship
novel). Such a novel centers
on the period in which a young person is
struggling to grow up and attempts
to adapt to life around him. Johann Wolfgang von
Goethe (1749-1832) pioneered this type of
novel in Wilhelm Meisters
Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meister's
Apprenticeship). An apprenticeship
novel can also be identified by its German
meaning novel of educational development.
in the Rye was first published in Boston
on July 16, 1951, by Little,
Brown and Company.
Catcher in the Rye
begins in 1950 in California, where the main
character, Holden Caulfield,
is undergoing psychiatric therapy. It then
flashes back to a day in December
1949, when Holden Caulfield leaves Pencey Prep
in the fictional town of
Agerstown in southeastern Pennsylvania after
flunking out. Pencey Prep
is a boarding school for boys of well-to-do
parents. Caulfield leaves Pencey
Prep late at night on a train bound for New York
City, via Trenton, N.J.
In New York, Caulfield checks into a hotel and
spends several days going
to nightclubs and roaming the streets before
going home (an apartment in
a Manhattan building). Salinger may have based
Pencey Prep on Valley Forge
Military Academy in Delaware County,
Pennsylvania, from which he graduated
Intelligent but insecure high-school junior who is
expelled from Pencey
Prepthe fourth boarding school he has
attendedfor failing four out of
five subjects. Although Holden seems likable and
has a good sense of humor,
he has difficulty facing his shortcomings, in
particular his inability
to adjust to his peers and society in general. In
short, his emotional
growth is stunted; he has trouble growing up and
maturing. But instead
of accepting blame for his shortcomings, he
projects them onto others,
calling them phonies. Caulfied is 6 feet,
2½ inches tall. He has
a patch of gray hair on the right side of his
Holden's ten-year-old sister, the only person with
whom he can communicate
while feeling completely at ease . He loves and
admires her, and she seems
destined for success in all of her endeavors
because of her precocity.
However, Phoebe exhibits some of the qualities of
Holden. For example,
she writes books about a girl detective but never
finishes them. Her failure
to complete them parallels Holden's failure to
complete school. Moreover,
when Holden decides to run away, Phoebe
impulsively follows him and insists
that he allow her to accompany him.
older brother, a writer in Hollywood. He served in
the U.S. Army during
World War II, participating in the D-Day landing.
Holden's younger brother. When still only a child,
he died of leukemia.
Allie's death devastated Holden. At the time the
novel begins, Allie has
been dead about four years.
conceited roommate, a senior.
Prep senior whom Holden befriends even though
Ackley annoys him with his
habit of poking through Holden's personal
from back home whom Holden befriended when he was
growing up. He likes
her and worries that Stadlater, who had a date
with her, may have tried
to compromise her virtue.
Holden once dated. He calls her in New York, and
they attend a play and
go ice skating.
and Mrs. Caulfield:
Holden's parents, who live in an apartment
building in New York City. Mr.
Caulfield is a corporation lawyer
history teacher. Before Holden leaves Pencey Prep,
Spencer scolds Holden
about his poor performance in his studies and
attempts to inspire him with
concern for his future.
English teacher at Elkton Hills. He allows Holden
to stay at his apartment
in New York City. However, after Holden falls
asleep, he awakens moments
later after Antolini begins stroking his head.
Shocked, Holden makes an
excuse and leaves.
operator who sends a prostitute named Sunny to
Holden meets on the train to New York. Her son,
Ernest, attends Pencey
of a Roman Catholic religious order. Holden has a
with them and gives them $10.
Young woman Holden encounters in New York. She
once dated Holden's brother,
Students, cab drivers, nightclub patrons, people
on the street, including
a boy singing "Comin' Thro' the Rye."
Holden's Internal Conflicts
Michael J. Cummings...©
year is 1950. Teenager Holden Caulfield introduces his
story by speaking
directly to his readers:
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing
you'll probably want
to know is where I was born, and what my lousy
childhood was like, and
how my parents were occupied and all before they had
me, and all that David
Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going
into it, if you want
to know the truth.
other words, Holden will not do what author Charles
Dickens did when he
wrote David Copperfield: Start at the
beginning of his life, then
tell about his childhood, his family, his home life,
etc. Rather, Holden
will tell readers about the madman stuff that
happened to me around last
Christmas before I got pretty run-down and had to come
out here and take
does not sayat least at this pointwhere here is or
what is wrong with
him. The only other person who knows what happened to
him is his brother,
D.B., a writer in Hollywood. D.B. will be driving
Holden home from here,
in about a month or so.
seventeen, begins his story by flashing back to a
Saturday in December of the
previous year, 1949, when he was a sixteen-year-old
junior at Pencey Prep in
Agerstown, Pennsylvania. He has just flunked out after
failing four of
his five courses. He is scheduled to return home on
Wednesday, for good.
He has not yet told his parents that he has been
kicked out and does not
plan to. He will let a letter being mailed from the
school do that. Holden
has just returned from New York with the fencing team,
which he has been
managing. Pencey is the fourth boarding school he has
walks past the football stadium, where a game is under
way, to the house
of Mr. Spencer, his history teacher, who wants to see
him before he leaves
the school. He and Spencer exchange pleasantries
before Spencer gives him
flunked you in history because you knew absolutely
know that, sir. Boy, I know it. You couldn't help it."
reads excerpts from Holdens examination paper, then
notes that Holden
also had problems at the Whooton School and Elkton
Hills. Actually, Holden
says, he did not flunk out of Elkton; he quit. He
doesnt tell Spencer
whynamely, because Holden thought the school was full
of phonies. The
headmaster, Mr. Haas, was the kind of person who would
talk with impressive-looking
parents but ignore parents who were plain or
corny-looking. Spencer continues
lecturing Holden, saying hes trying to help, and
Holden finally excuses
himself and returns to his dorm room.
removing his coat and tie, he puts on a hat he bought
for a dollar that
morning in New York.
was this red hunting hat, with one of those very, very
long peaks, Holden
tells the reader. He likes it even though it looks
odd, especially the
way he wears itwith the peak in the back. I looked
good in it that way.
picks up a nonfiction book, Out of Africa, by
Isak Dinesen, which
he has been re-reading. He likes the book, but his
favorite authors are
his brother, D.B., and Ring Lardner. He also reads
novels like The Return
of the Native, as well as war books and
mysteries, although they dont
knock me out.
Ackley, an annoying fellow from the next room, comes
in. Hes a tall fellow
with a pimply face whos a slob in his personal
habits. Holden cant remember
ever seeing him brush his teeth. Ackley, a senior, has
a talent for aggravating
Holden, always going around his room and picking up
personal items or standing
in his light when he is reading. He asks about the
fencing match, but Holden
says nobody won because he absentmindedly left all the
fencing foils on
the subway. After he and Ackley talk for a while,
Holdens roommate, Ward
Stradlater, comes in from the football game and asks
to borrow Holdens
hounds tooth jacket. Holden says okay as long as
Stradlater doesnt stretch
it out of shape with his big shoulders.
dislikes Stradlater because, Holden says, hes a
phony. Hes a conceited
ladies man who thinks hes doing someone a favor by
talking to him. Hes
also a slob, a secret slobthat is, he always looks
good to the girls
but leaves a mess behind in the bathroom.
instance, Holden says, you shouldve seen the razor
he shaved himself
with. It was always rusty and full of lather and hairs
Stradlater has a date, he asks Holden to write an
English composition for
himsomething descriptive. Holden doesnt want to, but
he agrees to write
it anyway. While Stradlater is putting Vitalis on his
Vitalishe tells Holden his date is a girl from a
nearby school. When he
identifies her as Jane Gallagher, Holden is surprised.
She was a neighbor
of Holdens who used to play checkers with him. After
Holden sits in a chair and thinks about Jane with
Stradlater. The idea
of Jane, a nice girl, with Stradlater makes him
nervous. When Ackley barges
back in, Holden is actually glad to see him, because
he takes Holdens
mind off everything.
Holden, Ackley, and another friend of Holdens, Mal
Brossard, decide to
take in a movie in Agerstown. But when Ackley and
Brossard find out that
they have already seen the movie, they all just get
hamburgers, play a
pinball machine, and return to the dorm about nine.
Holden writes Stadlaters
essay and finishes it about 10:30. Its about Holdens
lefthanded baseball mitt, which had poems written in
green ink on the fingers
and pocket. Allie died of leukemia a few years back,
and Holden tells the
readers, Youd have liked him. He was two years
younger than Holden but
fifty times as intelligent and was also the nicest
member of the family.
Stradlater returns and reads the essay, he flies into
a rage because it
is about a baseball glove, saying it was to be about
a room or a house
argue, and Holden rips up the paper. Moments later,
Holden wondering about
Stradlaters date with Jane, asks, Whatd you do?
Give her the time in
Ed Bankys car?
a professional secret, buddy, Stradlater says.
swings at him, striking a glancing blow. A fight
ensues and Holden winds
up with a bloody face.
night, feeling lonely, Holden decides to leave, four
days ahead of schedule,
and return to his hometown, New York. There, he will
get a hotel room,
rest up, and settle his nerves. In two minutes, he has
his bags packed
and a short while later is on a train to New York.
Trenton, a woman who boards and sits near Holden
notices the Pencey
sticker on his bags. When she asks whether he knows
her son, Ernest Morrow,
Holden tells her Morrow is in his class. Holden thinks
Morrow is one of
the most hateful guys at Pencey. Nevertheless, because
Mrs. Morrow seems
nice, he praises him: "He adapts himself very well to
things. He really
does. I mean he really knows how to adapt himself."
When Mrs. Morrow adds
that her son is a sensitive boy, Holden thinksyes,
about as sensitive
as a toilet seat.
his arrival at Penn Station, Holden feels like
his brother or his little sisteror Jane Gallaghers
mother to find out
when Janes vacation started. Then he thinks of Sally
Hayes, a girl he
used to see. In the end, though, he decides not to
make any calls. If he
called his sister, his parents might answer. If he
called Sally Hayes,
her mother might answer and then blab to his parents
about the call. Its
also getting pretty late. So he takes a cab to the
Edmont Hotel and checks
in. It is a depressing place that is full of perverts
and screwballs all
over the place. The hotel gives him a crumby room
with a view out the
window that looks onto the other side of the
smoking a few cigarettes, Holden calls a girl named
Faith Cavendish. At
a party, a Princeton student, Eddie Birdsell, had
given Holden her address
and phone number. She was supposed to be hot stuff.
When Holden gets her
on the phone, he identifies himself as a friend of
Birdsell and asks her
out for cocktails. She warms to him after he talks in
a deep voice, but
she declines his invitation, saying its the middle of
the night and she
has to get her beauty sleep. When Holden proposes to
go to her placeanother
hotel in New Yorkshe says her roommate is sick and
cannot entertain a
decides to go down to the Edmonts Lavender Room.
While changing his shirt
to look presentable, he thinks about his little
sister, Phoebe, age 10.
According to Holden, she is the smartest, prettiest
little thing you ever
saw. She writes books about a person named Hazel
Weatherfield, a detective.
But she never finishes them. He thinks too about the
times he and Allie
used to take her to Central Park on Sundays.
the Lavender Room, Holden orders a scotch and soda but
settles for a Coke
after the waiter discovers that he is under age.
Holden dances with three
women, one quite ugly. When the Lavender room begins
to close, Holden leaves.
In the lobby, he begins to think about Jane Gallagher
againthe times they
checkers and tennis. They didnt do much in the way of
love, but Holden
says, She was terrific to hold hands with.
takes a cab to another bar, Ernies. There, he orders
a scotch and soda
and gets it. He observes the people and listens to
and decides that they are phonies. A girl named
Lillian Simmons, who once
dated D.B., approaches and says, Holden Caulfield! .
. . How marvelous
to see you! She asks how Holdens big brother (D.B.)
is doing, and Holden
tells her he is in Hollywood writing. That news
impresses her, Holden thinks,
and she keeps talking to him while ignoring people
that she is holding
up in an aisle even though her date, a Navy man, tells
her that people
are waiting for her to move on. When she compliments
Holden on his looks,
he concludes that she is only trying to get in good
with him so that he
will tell D.B. about her. In other words, shes a
phony. She invites Holden
to her table, but he doesnt want to be bored to
death listening to her.
So he makes an excuse and leaves.
Holden walks back to his hotel, the elevator attendant
offers to send a
girl to his room for $5, and Holden says okay. It was
against my principles,
he tells the readers, but I was feeling so depressed
I didnt even think.
his room, hes feeling nervous, because hes a virgin.
When the girl arrives,
Holden introduces himself as Jim Steele and begins to
feel depressed. So
all he does is talk with her for a while, then pays
her $5. When she says
he owes her $10, he tells her the elevator man,
Maurice, quoted a price
of $5, and thats all he gives her. Later, the girl
returns with Maurice,
who pushes Holden around, hits him, and goes away with
the morning, Holden calls Sally Hayes and asks her to
love to. Grand.
a phony word, grand, Holden thinks.
checking out of the hotel, Holden has breakfast in a
restaurant at Grand
Central Station. Hes to meet Sally nearby, at the
Biltmore Hotel, at 2
oclock. While eating, he talks with two nuns, whom he
and he donates $10 to help them with their work. After
breakfast, he kills
time walking around the city, then returns to the
Biltmore. When Sally
arrives, she looks lovely in a black coat and black
beret, and in their
taxi ride to the theater Holden has a hard time
keeping his hands off her.
They see a play with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine. At
go out for cigarettes, like just about everybody else,
and Sally sees a
guy she knows from Andover College. When he comes over
and talks with her,
Holden pegs him for a phony. Sally and the guyGeorge
saystalk about people they knew and places theyve
jerk had one of those very phony, Ivy League voices,
one of those very
tried, snobby voices, Holden observes.
the play, they go skating and have Cokes in a bar
where they can watch
other skaters. Holden talks about how much he hates
school. In fact, he
talks about how much he hates everythingNew York,
taxicabs, buses, phony
people. At his school, he says, people learn just
enough to earn money
to buy a Cadillac, and all you do is talk about girls
and liquor and sex
out of nowhere, he asks Sally to go away with him to
Massachusetts or Vermont,
telling her he has $180 in the bank. They could live
in cabin camps, and
we could have a terrific time. She refuses, of
course, saying were
both practically children. After they argue about
Holdens idea, he calls
her a royal pain in the ass and she leaves.
calls Carl Luce, a friend from the Whooton School who
now attends Columbia
University, and they agree to meet at 10 oclock at
the Wicker Bar on 54th
Street for a few drinks. To kill time, Holden sees a
movie, then walks
to the Wicker and has a couple of scotches with soda.
After Luce arrives,
Holden makes inane, immature wisecracks that annoy
old Caulfield, he says. When are you going to grow
Holden asks very personal questionsmany having to do
with the woman Luce
is dating, a Chinese sculptress in her late
thirtiesLuce becomes further
annoyed. Luce, whose father is a psychiatrist,
answers several questions
Holden poses about what would take place if Holden
made an appointment
with Dr. Luce. But conversation goes nowhere, and Luce
and leaves. Holden stays and has more drinks and gets
so drunk I could
hardly see straight. He calls Sally Hayes. When she
answers, he tells
her he wants to come over on Christmas Eve and help
her trim her tree.
Realizing how drunk he is, she pacifies him for a
while by saying its
okay to come over on Christmas Eve, then hangs
goes to Central Park to watch ducks in a lagoon, as he
did as a child.
He always wondered what happened to them in the
winter. Later, he goes
homewhich is actually an apartment in a buildingso
he can talk with his
kid sister Phoebe. He enters the apartment very
quietly so as not to wake
his parents. When he awakens Phoebe, she throws her
arms around him. They
talk for awhile. Phoebe says shes in a school play,
acting the role of
starts out when Im dying. This ghost comes in on
Christmas Eve and asks
me if Im ashamed and everything. You know. For
betraying my country and
tells Holden, to his relief, that their parents are at
a party in Norwalk,
Connecticut, and wont return until very late. Then
Phoebe, aware that
Holden was not due home until Wednesday, realizes he
has been expelled
from schoolagain. Holden admits that he flunked
kill you," she says.
Holden says he plans to go away.
I may do, I may get a job on a ranch or something for
a while, " he says.
"I know this guy whose grandfather's got a ranch in
Colorado. I may get
a job out there."
disappointed in Holden, she accuses him of being too
hard to please: You
dont like any schools. You dont like a million
things. Then she challenges
him to name one thing that he likes. After
concentrating for a while, Holden
says, I like Allie. He also says, And I like doing
what Im doing right
now. Sitting here with you, and talking, and thinking
about stuff, and
is not satisfied with the answer, noting that Allie is
dead, but she moves
on to another question: Name something youd like to
be. Holden rules
out several occupationsincluding that of his father,
lawyerbut then thinks
of something crazy.
know what Id like to be? he says.
he asks, You know that song If a body catch a body
comin through the
rye? Id like
corrects him, saying the word should be meet,
and pointing out that the words are from a poem by
Holden then reveals what hed like to be: A person
stationed at the edge
of a cliff while children are playing in a field of
rye. Whenever a child
runs over the edge of the cliff, Holden catches him or
going to kill you, Phoebe says.
wishing to confront his parents, Holden calls up an
English teacher he
had at Elkton HillsMr. Antolini, who now lives in New
Yorkand asks to
stay at his apartment for the night. Antolini says
Holden would be welcome.
his parents return from Connecticut, Holden
hides in the closet while
Mrs. Caulfield looks in on Phoebe briefly. He then
borrows several dollars
from Phoebe and leaves for Mr. Antolini's place. At
his classy apartment
on Sutton place, Antolini does what Mr. Spencer
didgive Holden advice
about life. In a short while, though, Holden falls
asleep on a couch. Moments
later, he awakens when Antolini is sort of petting me
or patting me on
was I nervous! Holden says.
thinks Antolini might be a pervert. After making an
excuse, Holden leaves
and spends the rest of the night on a bench in Grand
next day, Holden leaves a note at Phoebe's school. It
says: "I can't wait
around till Wednesday any more so I will
probably hitch hike out
west this afternoon. Meet me at the Museum of
art near the door at
quarter past 12 if you can and I will give you
your Christmas dough
back. I didn't spend much."
waiting for Phoebe at the museum, two boys ask him
where the mummies are,
so he escorts them to the Egyptian exhibits. He
explains in simple terms
how the Egyptians preserved the dead using a "secret
after noon, he goes to the main door to wait for
Phoebe. While standing
there, he muses about his future life in the west, in
a cabin. He will
not come back east, he says, unless a family member or
relative is dying.
He would allow Phoebe and D.B. to visit him, but
neither would be permitted
to do anything phony while under his roof.
about 12:35 Phoebe arrives with a suitcase, saying she
wants to go away
with Holden. He says no, but she pleads with him. He
refuses again. They
go back and forth on this subject until Holden says,
"I'm not going away
anywhere. I changed my mind. So stop crying, and shut
up." Feeling hurt,
Phoebe doesn't talk for a while. To try to pacify her,
he takes her to
the zoo, where they watch sea lions eating fish, then
see the bears. Later,
they go to Central Park, where Phoebe rides the
carousel while Holden watches
her. During the ride, Phoebe and other children reach
out to grab the gold
ring, and Holden worries that she will fall off the
horse. "But I didn't
say anything or do anything," Holden says. "The thing
with kids is, if
they want to grab the gold ring, you have to let them
do it, and not say
anything. If they fall off they fall off, but it's bad
if you say anything
other words, Holden decides not to be a catcher in the
rye after all. Kids
have to work things out for themselves; one must let
them take chances
if they are to grow up right.
the ride, Phoebe says to Holden, "I'm not mad at your
anymore." Then she
kisses him before going back for another ride. Holden
says, "She looked
so damn nice, the way she kept going around and
around, in her blue coat
and all. God, I wish you could've been there."
all Im going to tell about, Holden says in the final
he does talk on, saying:
I could probably
tell you about what I did after I went home, and how I
got sick and all,
and what school Im supposed to go to next fall, after
I get out of here
. . . .This one psychoanalyst guy they have here keeps
asking me if Im
going to apply myself when I go back to school next
thinks its a stupid question.
his brother, D.B., visits him, he asks Holden about
all the things that
happened to him. Holden tells the reader that he
didnt know what to say.
But he does mention that he misses the people he told
about in his narrativeeven
Stradlater and Ackley.
of View and Style
writes the novel
in first-person point of view from the perspective
of the main character,
Holden Caulfield. When presenting the narration and
dialogue, the author
convincingly mimics the language of a bright
teenager struggling to grow
up. The style, therefore, is conversational,
deliberately intended to contain
numerous colloquialisms and clichés. In this
respect, the style
in The Catcher in the Rye differs markedly
from the style in such
first-person narratives as Moby Dick
The prose in those two novels is more formal and
more grammatically precise,
more elegant and decorous. In telling his story,
Holden is more akin Huckleberry
Finn, who tells his tale in the language of a
boy who hates school,
than to Melville's Ishmael or Dickens's Copperfield.
Holden also shares
a characteristic with many first-person narrators of
Edgar Allan Poe's
short stories: unreliability. Because of his
immaturity and his reluctance
to see himself as others see him, Holden slants his
narrative so that other
characters appear more reprehensible than he. Poe's
narrators, such as
Montresor in the short story "The
Cask of Amontillado," are unreliable for
another reason: They are deranged,
begins and ends
at a California treatment center in which
seventeen-year-old Holden Caulfield
is undergoing therapy for his mental problems. In
the first paragraph of
Chapter 1consisting of approximately three hundred
fifty wordsHolden announces that he
is going to tell the reader about the "madman stuff"
that happened to him
in December of the previous year before he "got
pretty run-down." In the
second paragraph, he begins telling the story by
flashing back to a Saturday
in that previous December. He continues his tale
until the end of Chapter
25. In Chapter 26, consisting of three short
paragraphs, Holden flashes
back to the present, when he is undergoing treatment
at the California
center. Thus, the plot structure resembles a row of
books kept in place
by bookends on the left and right. The bookends are
the beginning and end
of the novel, when Holden is undergoing treatment;
the books are the chapters
that tell his story. Most of the episodes in the
novelsuch as Holden's
encounters with teachers, fellow students, nuns, a
prostitute and a pimp,
and his sister Phoebeare self-contained stories, in
a manner of speaking,
with their own expositions and climaxes.
Up Is Hard to
Do: In terms of psychological and emotional
development, Holden Caulfield
seems stuck in adolescence, unable to advance. He
envies other teenagers
and young adults who have less trouble adjusting
than he does. But to protect
his ego and preserve his self-esteem (which is
already low), he refuses
to acknowledge his shortcomings and face himself.
Rather, he continually
harps on the shortcomings of others. He thinks the
outer world is at fault
for his problems, not his own inner world. Holden's
refusal to confront
his weaknesses makes it difficult for him to mature
and grow emotionally.
Holden has been unable to make any real friends or
confidants, save for
his little sister, Phoebe, and Jane Gallagher, whom
he befriended in childhood.
Consequently, he feels lonely and depressed. It is
his isolation and depressionalong
with his failure to face his shortcomings (Theme
1)that bring about his
solve his problems, Holden continually escapes from
them. He escapes school
by flunking out. He escapes the company of others by
arguing with them
or insulting them. He even leaves school four days
ahead of schedule to
have a few days on his own in New York City. There,
he asks Sally Hayes
to escape with him to Vermont or Massachusetts. He
wants her to camp out
with him and leave the world behind. When she
refuses, he insults her and
she walks out on him.
Holden aimlessly drifts from school to school and
refuses to commit himself
to definite goals for the future. His father was a
Roman Catholic but fell
away from his religion. D.B. was a writer of promise
but abandoned serious
writing to produce schlock for big bucks in
Search for Identity:
In his effort to "find himself," Holden buys a red
hunting hat. Wearing
it makes him unique. No one else around him has such
a hat. Therefore,
by wearing the hat, he becomes an individual, sui
may feel abandoned for the following reasons: (1)
Time and again, his parents
send him to a boarding school. (2) His brother D.B.
lives on the West Coast,
nearly 3,000 miles away. (3) His brother Allie died.
(4) His childhood
crush, Jane Gallagher, has decided to date Ward
Stadlater, a Pencey Prep
ladies' man. (5) His peers continually reject him
because of his abrasive
has perfected the art of rebellionagainst his
school, his peers, his parents,
and society in general.
sees others as phonies because he thinks they
pretend to be what they are
not. However, Holden himself sometimes pretends to
be what he is not. He
also lies frequently about his age and his identity
in order to overcome
adverse circumstances. He also tells Mrs. Morrow, a
train passenger with
whom he converses, that he has a brain tumor.
to be a glimmer of hope for Holden. He reads good
works by Ring Lardner, Thomas Hardy, and W. Somerset
Maugham. He also loves
his parents, in spite of any faults they may have,
noting on the first
page of the novel that "They're nice and all." In
addition, although he
too often generalizes about peoplecalling many of
them phonies even though
he knows little about themhe does seem to recognize
the importance of
sincerity, candor, and modesty.
the episodes in the
novelsuch as Holden's encounters with teachers,
fellow students, a prostitute
and a pimp, and his sister Phoebeare little stories
in themselves, with
their own expositions and climaxes. However, the
climax of the entire novel
appears to occur in Chapter 25, when Holden tells
Phoebe that he has decided
to return home instead of going out west to work on
walking on a New York
street, Holden hears a boy singing the first two
lines of a poem by Robert
Burns: "If a body meet a body, / Comin' thro' the
rye." However, either
the boy is singing it wrong or Holden hears it
wrong, for Holden later
tells the reader that the boy is singing "If a body
catch a body." At any
rate, Holden tells his sister Phoebe that he would
like to become a catcher
in the rye. Here is what he envisions: Children are
playing in a field
of rye near a cliff. Posting himself at the
perimeter of the rye field,
Holden saves children from falling over the edge of
the cliff. It may be
that, symbolically, he would be saving children from
running headlong into
the big bad world of grownups, as he did. Following
is the complete poem
by Robert Burns
Thro' The Rye
body meet a body,
thro' the rye,
If a body
kiss a body,
lassie has her laddie,
they say, ha'e I;
the lads they smile
thro' the rye.
body meet a body,
frae the town,
If a body
greet a body,
lassie has her laddie,
they say, ha'e I;
the lads they smile
thro' the rye.
the train there is
what's his name, or
where's his hame,
choose to tell.
lassie has her laddie,
they say, ha'e I;
the lads they smile
thro' the rye.
Hunting Hat: Holden's
individuality. A red hunting hat is certainly
an oddity at Pencey Prep
and in New York City. And that is precisely what
Holden himself wants to
be: different, unique. In short, the hat is his red
badge of individuality.
Holden's hat could also symbolize his own personal
himself. Further, its color could symbolize his dead
brother, Allie, who
had red hair.
ducks represent Holden in that they remain
isolated, within boundaries,
as does Holden. Unable to grow and develop,
Holden cannot break free
to the adult world. Each year, he ends up at a
boarding school, just as
the ducks end up at the lagoon. However, when Holden
begins to wonder what
happens to them in the winter, he also begins to
wonder what will happen
to him after his latest expulsion from school. Will
he "fly off"? Or will
he return to begin the cycle of failure all over
Carousel: The carousel (Salinger uses the
French spelling, carrousel),
or merry-go-round, represents the carefree days of
seems emotionally stuck in childhood, unable to
develop into a young man.
He goes from one school to another, then another. In
effect, he is going
in circles. Will Phoebe, whom Holden is watching as
she rides the carousel,
end up like Holden?
desire for stability and security. Holden has
never forgotten his childhood,
during which he enjoyed stability and security and
the close friendship
of Jane Gallagher. Apparently, he likes to visit the
museum because it
represents such stability and security. Nothing in
it changes; everything
remains the same.
manager of Pencey Prep's fencing team, Holden has
charge of the foils.
(A foil is a long, thin sword used in sporting
competitions. It has a blunted
tip to prevent injury .) However, Holden
absentmindedly leaves the foils
on a subway. Consequently, a match between Pency
Prep and its opponent
cannot take place. The loss of the foils could
represent Holden's reluctance
to graduate from school to become part of the
competitive business world,
which he thinks is run by phonies.
the skates Holden's mother bought him, hockey
skates, represent society
and socialization in that the the user of them is
part of a team. On
the other hand, the skates Holden wanted, racing
skates, may represent
his isolation in that the user competes as an
Before going home to talk with Phoebe, Holden buys
her a record with a
song entitled "Little Shirley Beans." However, while
walking toward Central
Park, he drops it and it shatters. Perhaps
the record represents Holden. After his latest
failure, he goes home "in
pieces," emotionally distraught.
people around him as phonies. For example, in
Chapter 2, he says, "One
of the biggest reasons I left Elkton Hills was
because I was surrounded
by phonies." Oddly, though, Holden himself
repeatedly does what phonies
do: deceive people. "I'm the most terrific liar you
ever saw in your life,"
he admits to the reader. Nevertheless, he doesn't
seem to deserve being
called a phony. Here's why: Generally, Holden does
not lie to impress people;
rather, he lies (or otherwise deceives people) to
protect his ego or his
identity, to get a drink in a bar, to avoid
confrontations, to make an
excuse to leave, or to play a joke. The true phony,
on the other hand,
uses deceit to impress people. Of course, Holden is
not averse to telling
a whopper, which he does after Mrs. Morrow asks him
(on the train ride
to New York) why he is going home on a Saturday,
four days earlier than
the scheduled Wednesday dismissal. Holden answers,
"I have to have this
operation. . . .It isn't very serious. I have this
tiny little tumor on
the Rye contains numerous profanities, it was
controversial when it
was published and remains controversial today.
Parents frequently oppose
its inclusion in high-school curriculums. Why did
author Salinger give
Holden Caulfield such an offensive tongue?
Apparently to show that Holden
is trying to sound grown-up in front of his
peersand the reader. Holden
mistakenly believes that uttering profanities makes
him seem worldly-wise
and mature. However, his swearing has the opposite
effect, revealing him
as a confused adolescent who still has a lot of
growing up to do. Thus,
Salinger writes profanities into the story to serve
a literary purpose.
Not all writers are like Salinger in this respect.
For example, many Hollywood
scriptwriters insert profanities into dialogue
solely to obtain an adults-only
rating, such as "R," to enhance box-office appeal;
the swearing is gratuitous.
the narrator of The
Catcher in the Rye is a teenager who tells his
story in a conversational
style, most figures of speech in the novel are
clichés, such as
for the birds, frozen to death, shoot
crying out loud, gives me a royal pain,
hated his guts,
hound, sharp as a tack, slept like
a rock, and
his cookies. Here and there, however, are
other types of figures of
speech. Among them are the following:
on his lousy tombstone,
and it rained on the grass on his stomach. It rained
all over the place.
occurs with the repetition of it rained at
the beginning of clauses.
grave to a stomach.
just passed by
one of those puddles in the street with gasoline
rainbows in them.
compares the image
in the puddle to a rainbow in the sky.
We can smoke
till they start
really ironical, because
I'm six foot two and a half and I have gray hair. I
really do. The one
side of my headthe right sideis full of millions
of gray hairs. I've
had them ever since I was a kid. And yet I still act
sometimes like I was
only about twelve
explains the irony
here. The hyperbole is "millions of gray hairs."
irony is a dominating figure of speech in the
novel. Although Holden
acknowledges that he has faults and weaknesses, he
fails to realize how
immature and maladjusted he is. However, the careful
reader is aware of
his immaturity throughout the novel.
of Terms From the Novel
epic poem written in Old English. For further
information, see the Beowulf
Guide on this site.
and Holden Caulfield
luxury hotel between 43rd and 44th Streets in New
York. In 1942, the Biltmore
hosted a meeting of Jewish leaders in which David
a resolution supporting the establishment of a
Jewish state in Palestine.
Ben-Gurion (1886-1973) later became the first prime
minister and first
defense minister of Israel after it was established
in 1948. The Biltmore
Hotel was converted into the Bank of America Plaza
As a noun,
member of the middle class; as an adjective, having
the qualities or values
of a member of the middle class. The word is often
used to label a person,
place, or thing as ordinary, commonplace, or
inferior. Example from the
novel: He was always saying snotty things about
them, my suitcases,
for instance. He kept saying they were too new and
Chest of drawers or bureau, usually with a mirror.
in the 1950's to describe an Afro-American
or black. Example
from the novel: Ernie's a big fat colored guy
that plays the piano.
terms Afro-American and black did not
gain currency in America
until the late 1960's.
Great coming-of-age novel written by Charles Dickens
based the book in part on the difficult early years
of his own life. For
further information, see the David
Copperfield Study Guide on this site.
nightclub on East 54th Street, between Second and
Third Avenues. Its main
room was decorated in a zebra-stripe pattern.
overshoes or boots with a warm lining.
traveling bag or suitcase that opens flat to reveal
term for flu, or influenza. Some Americans of the
1950's would call in
sick by saying, "I have the grippe" rather than "I
have the flu."
play that Holden Caulfield, his brother D.B., and
his sister Phoebe saw
in 1948. For complete information on the play, see
Study Guide on this site.
Jacket printed or woven with a pattern of irregular,
My Love: This
Broadway play, by S.N. Behrman (1893-1973), opened
on November 2, 1949,
and closed on June 3, 1950. It is the play that
Holden Caulfield attends
with Sally Hayes. It starred the popular
husband-wife acting team of Alfred
Lunt and Lynne Fontanne.
1940's and 1950's, a lively dance in which a partner
did twirls, lifts,
or splits while holding one or both of the other
of short stories distinguished in part for their
of ordinary American speech and conversation.
manufactured by Cadillac between 1927 and
verbose, long-winded; tending to jabber on. Example
from the novel: She
was sort of muckle-mouthed. I mean when she was
talking and she got excited
about something, her mouth sort of went in about
fifty directions, her
lips and all.
Novel by W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965). It centers
on an orphan with
a clubfoot who attends several schools, tries
several careers, and finally
becomes a country doctor after marrying the wife of
Nonfiction book by Isak Dinesen (1885-1963), penname
of Danish writer Karen
the qualities of a pedagogue, a teacher who shows
too much concern for
minor details; picky, fussy.
a person who pretends to be more important,
talented, or accomplished than
Return of the Native: Novel by Thomas
Hardy (1840-1928) depicting
a failing marriage. The characters in this novel and
other Hardy novels
live in a world Darwinian determinism in which
persons are dominated by
forces beyond their control.
As you are
no doubt well aware, no music CD's existed in the
1950's. All music recordings
were on records, disks that spun on a turntable
while a needle on an armlike
apparatus was positioned in a circling groove on the
disk to produce sound.
There were several types of recordssome spinning
fast on the turntable,
some spinning more slowly. Records spinning more
slowly were programmed
with more music (or speeches, sound effects, etc.).
Records spinning at
33 revolutions per minute (rpm) were called
LP'sthat is long-playing records.
Other records would spin at 45 rpm and 78 rpm.
Records that would spin
at lower speeds were made of vinyl and would not
shatter when dropped.
Records spinning at 78 rpm were brittle and would
shatter when dropped.
It is likely that Holden Caulfield's "Shirley Beans"
record was a 78 rpm.
When he dropped it, it shattered into many
Shakespeare play that Holden Caulfied discusses with
nuns. For complete
information on this play, see the Romeo
and Juliet Study Guide on this site.
mislead, or persuade a person through flattery, glib
talk, or specious
argumentation. Holden Caulfield says of Ward
Stradlater: "What he'd do
was, he'd start snowing his date in this very quiet,
as if he wasn't only a very handsome guy but a nice,
sincere guy, too.
nightclub at 3 East 53rd Street. It opened in 1929
and closed in 1965.
of cool, awesome, or great. Examples
from the novel: swell
guy, swell song, swell girls, swell to see you.
pattern of dark squares on a light background.
Example from the novel:
my right there was this very Joe Yale-looking guy,
in a gray flannel suit
and one of those flitty-looking Tattersall vests.
film of mystery and intrigue directed by Alfred
Hitchcock and starring
Robert Donat. It is Phoebe Caulfied's favorite
in The Return of the Native. (See above.)
Stage show featuring music, beautiful chorus girls,
comedians, and elaborate
sets. Florenz Ziefeld debuted his follies in New
York in 1907.
author J. D. Salinger,
who was born in 1919, apparently drew upon his own
experiences when bringing
Holden Caulfield to life. In the following, note the
events in the life of the fictional Caulfield and
events in the life of
raised in New York
schools but does not graduate
Himself From Others
raised in New York
from Valley Forge
Military Academy; attended several colleges but did
Were of Different
After Serving in World War II
Reclusively in New
Questions and Essay Topics
Caulfield go on to a successful life in a worthy
career? Or will he continue
grow up like Holden, isolated and lonely, or
will she continue to be a
good student who looks forward to a promising
career? When preparing an
answer to this question, consider the following
information that Holden
discloses about Phoebe: (1) She writes books
(the girl-detective stories)
but never finishes them. (2) She is very
emotional. (3) She impulsively
decides to run away with Holden.
Holden's parents keep sending him away to
passages from the noveland your interpretations
of these passageswrite
a profile of the Caulfield
family as it was when Holden was growing up with
Allie and Phoebe. Among
the questions you might address in your essay
are the following: Was the
Caulfield home a happy one? Did Mr. and Mrs.
Caulfield devote enough attention
to their children? Did they attempt to instill
in their children strong
extent did Holden's New York environment shape
his character when he was
a child. Keep in mind that his home was an
apartment on the 12th floor
of a building in New York City. Keep in mind,
too, the kinds of material
advantages (or disadvantages) to which he had
access. The novel is full
of clues about the financial status of Holden's
parents. An example of
a clue is this sentence: "The week before that,
somebody'd stolen my camel's-hair
coat right out of my room, with my fur-lined
gloves right in the pocket
and all." Holden also points out that his father
is a corporation lawyer.
extent did author J.D. Salinger base Holden
Caulfield's experiences on
his own? While researching this question, you
will discover that Salinger
grew up in New York City (as did Holden),
graduated from a boarding school
(Valley Forge Military Academy, in the same part
of Pennsylvania as fictional
Agerstown), and attended several colleges but
did not graduate from any
of them. (Holden, of course, attends several
boarding schools without graduating.)
Salinger's background is similar in other
respects to Holden's. Find as
many of these similarities as you can. (See the
above to get a start.) Then discuss
whether Holden Caulfield is actually
write an essay on this subject.
Catcher in the Rye was published in the
middle of the 20th Century.
Is the novel still relevant today? Do some
teenagers continue to face the
kinds of problems Holden faces?