The Catcher in the Rye

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The Catcher in the Rye is a novel by the American writer J.D. Salinger, first published in 1951.


Holden Caufield, the narrator of the novel, is a cynical, egotistic, yet good-hearted young student from a wealthy family. He claims to be an excellent liar, but paradoxically hates "phony" people. He fails and is forced to quit Pencey Prep School, which subsequently precipitated a string of failures. He knows that his parents will be receiving a letter in the next few days, informing them that Holden failed once again. He also knows that they will be upset with him, but he has been there before.

Holden then decides to leave school early after being informed that his barbaric, violent roommate went out with Jane Gallagher, a girl that once lived next door to Holden. He then went on a journey to spend his last few days before the inevitable confrontation with his parents in New York City.

While in New York City, Holden thinks about what has happened in the past and how those events are still affecting him now. He is still angry that Stradlater, his roommate, dated Jane. However, through a series of flashbacks, it is revealed that he never dated Jane and they were really nothing more than friends. Holden also discusses his disappointment with his older brother, D.B., who he recognizes as a gifted writer. He feels D.B. is wasting his talent for writing by being a successful film writer. Holden hates the movies because they are phony.

Holden is very interested, however, in seeing his little sister, Phoebe. It is during a conversation with her that Phoebe reveals that Holden doesn’t really like anything. He dismisses the remark as untrue, and she asks him to name one thing he truly likes. Holden says he likes his brother Allie, who died several years before of leukemia. Throughout the novel, Holden reveals clues that show that Holden cannot come out from the anguish dealing with his brother’s death.

It is also revealed that Holden is afraid to grow up. He has several encounters with friends from his past who are shocked by the behavior they find when they meet Holden. One girl, Sally, used to date Holden, and meets him for a play. After the play, Holden asks her to run away with him. She tells him they will have plenty of time to travel once they are grown up, but Holden becomes agitated and angry. He tells her they only have now, and then laughs at her as she cries.

Holden’s drinking also impacts his time in New York City. He says that he can handle his liquor, but it is clear that this is not the case. He is also chain smoking and becoming increasingly agitated. His psychological state becomes so deteriorated that his friend suggests to Holden that he seek psychiatric help.

The Catcher in the Rye is a classic novel that explores the struggle of childhood versus adulthood. Holden’s childhood clearly ended with the death of Allie, but he is unable to move to adulthood because he is emotionally crippled. This lost weekend in New York explores the point at which Holden must decide what side he will choose.


Holden Caufield

  • The narrator and main character of the novel
  • Hates phony people, the movies, the theatre, school
  • Has trouble making mature emotional attachments to people
  • Still troubled by the death of his brother, Allie

The protagonist and narrator of the novel, Holden is a sixteen-year-old junior who has just been expelled for academic failure from a school called Pencey Prep. Although he is intelligent and sensitive, Holden narrates in a cynical and jaded voice. He finds the hypocrisy and ugliness of the world around him almost unbearable, and through his cynicism he tries to protect himself from the pain and disappointment of the adult world. However, the criticisms that Holden aims at people around him are also aimed at himself. He is uncomfortable with his own weaknesses, and at times displays as much phoniness, meanness, and superficiality as anyone else in the book. As the novel opens, Holden stands poised on the cliff separating childhood from adulthood. His inability to successfully negotiate the chasm leaves him on the verge of emotional collapse.


  • Holden’s roommate at Pencey Prep
  • Self-confident, especially in his prowess with girls
  • Goes on one date with Jane Gallagher

Robert Ackley

  • A student at Pencey who gets on Holden’s nerves
  • Frequently visits Holden, even though he is not welcome
  • Does not fit in with the other students, but identifies with Holden (to an extent)

Jane Gallagher

  • A girl that once lived next door to Holden a few years ago
  • Goes on a date with Stradlater, which angers Holden
  • Becomes the object of Holden’s obsession

Sally Hayes

  • A girl that Holden dated who is still interested in Holden
  • Interested in dating and is beginning to make decisions about her future


  • Holden’s little sister, who is still in elementary school
  • Looks up to Holden, but recognizes his weaknesses
  • Worries that Holden will be in trouble because he has failed again


  • Holden’s brother who died of leukemia
  • Holden’s feelings regarding his death emotionally stunt him


The Catcher in the Rye is often classified as a "bildungsroman". Themes of this novel include the pain of growing into maturity, teenage anxiety, and hypocrisy in the adult world.



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