The Catcher in The Rye

Introduction of The Catcher in the Rye

Jerome David Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye was published as a serial from 1945 to 1946 and instantly caught the attention of teenagers and adults alike. Later it was published as a novel in 1951, creating ripples in the literary market and made Salinger a household name. It was named by Modern Library, as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. The novel depicts the thematic strands of alienation and anger of a teenager against the superficial environment of American society. The story of the novel is about Holden Caulfield, a teenager, going through a bad patch in his school which makes him an outcast, forcing him to engage in intimate relationships, identity crisis, and loss of familial love.

Summary of The Catcher in the Rye

The storyline shows Holden Caulfield narrating his story without divulging his location, saying he is going to be expelled from this fourth school, Pencey Prep School, located in Pennsylvania on account of his failure to pass four out of total five classes, while he has passed the fifth English Composition on account of his previous knowledge. Even though he was expelled, he was not scheduled to leave for Manhattan, his home until Wednesday. So, he visits his history teacher, Mr. Spencer, who tries to make him understand his lethargic attitude toward studies, but he berates him in his heart and leaves him berating himself to gladden Spencer that he has understood his sanguine advice.

When he comes back to his dorm, Ackley, his dirty neighbor, further makes him touchy by inquiring him about his roommate, Stradlater, who has gone to date with Jane Gallagher, a girl Holden used to date earlier. When Stradlater returns in the evening, Holden interrogates him about his date with Jane and if he has had sex with her. Feeling irritated, Stradlater gives him a bloody nose and forces him to run for Manhattan to spend the next three days in some hotel. During his train journey to New York, he meets his friend’s mother and concocts stories about her son’s good reputation at school although he was so spoiled. Subsequently, when he reaches Penn Station, he unintentionally enters a booth and tries to call several people but then comes out without calling anyone for various reasons and takes a cab to Central Park, asking the driver questions about the future of ducks in the icy weather. Then he asks the cab driver to take him to the Edmont Hotel from where he eavesdrops on the guests engaged in private antics that he interprets differently. He, then, engages in smoking and calls Faith Cavendish, an old acquaintance, to enjoy sex with her but she suggests meeting some other day and Holden hangs up because he didn’t want to wait till then.

After some thought, Holden goes downstairs and sees three women with whom he flirts for some time. He feels that he’s ‘half in love’ with the blonde. However, they cracked jokes on him and left him to pay their bill too. . Holden, then, recalls Jane and his meeting with her in Maine where they played golf and checkers. He also recalls kissing her when her stepfather berated her and left for Greenwich Village for the jazz club. When leaving the hotel, Holden repeats the same duck inquiry to the cab driver who becomes furious. After leaving the cab, he enters Enrie’s and meets Lillian Simmons, a brother of his former girlfriend, who invites him but he leaves. Back at Edmont,  when he was in the elevator, the operator Maurice offers to send a prostitute for five dollars and he agrees. He invites the prostitute, ‘Sunny’ into his room but had found himself unable to have intimacy with her but insists on paying her and asks her to leave. Sunny comes back with Maurice demanding another five dollars. He fights with the pimp as well as the prostitute, who takes five more dollars from Holden. Before sleeping, he calls Sally Hayes, his former crush, to meet for a matinee show, but changes his mind and then calls Jane, though, fails to talk to her. After some time, he tries to contact his sister Phoebe but fails again. Then he reaches Biltmore Hotel to meet Sally Hayes to enjoy some time with her.

Finally, he meets her and they enjoy it sometimes. When she refuses to run away with him, Holden berates her and tries to reconcile later but both part ways angrily. Seeing no other way out from his depression, he again calls Jane but finding no answer, calls Carl Luce, his former advisor, with whom he discusses sex. Holden makes snide comments about homosexuals and his Chinese girlfriend. Fed up with his focus on this topic, Luce leaves him at the mercy of the pianist. To kill his time, he again calls Sally but does not find her on the phone. Then visits his sister, Phoebe, talks to her for a while, and admits that he has been kicked out of school, and tries to explain to her why he couldn’t stay in school.

Phoebe gets pretty mad and tells him that he doesn’t like anything.  Holden then explains his fantasy about being ‘the catcher in the rye’ by saving the children on the field from falling off of the edge. She tells him that Robert Burnspoem, Comin thro the Rye has the line ‘if a body meets a body coming through the rye’ but Holden totally misinterprets it as ‘if a body catches a body’. This indicates that Holden doesn’t want to lose the innocence of a child and fall into the reality of this adult world. This is why he also wanted to see the ducks that he used to enjoy watching as a child.

Upset with what has happened he then goes to meet Mr. Antolini, his former English teacher. Antolini tries to calm him down about his expulsion and offers him to sleep on his couch for the night. In the morning, Holden finds Mr. Antolini stroking his forehead making him assume that he was homosexual and was making a move on him. So, he leaves him to sleep on a bench at the central station. After some time, he again calls on his sister, who packs her clothes and insists on taking her with him and after some hiccups, both of them go to have a ride on the carousel. He ends his story on an optimistic note about his future plan of studying in some good school.

Major Themes in The Catcher in the Rye

  1. Painful Experiences: The Catcher in the Rye shows the thematic strand of the painful experiences of a teenager and his resultant detachment from people. When encountering the unsympathetic attitudes of the people and society, Holden Caulfield demonstrates his numbness to such painful encounters and statements. When he goes to meet Mr. Spencer, he berates himself just to satisfy his teacher. He also mentions repeatedly being associated with a person, yet does not show it. When the novel reaches its end, Holden comes to know that he has lost the capacity to speak to others except his own sister, Phoebe, who supports him. It seems that Holden’s existential crisis is this numbness to others and numbness to his own joys and pains of life. When he has not reconciled to the idea of his brother’s sudden death or shares the same love with anyone, be it Stradlater or Jane Gallagher.
  2. Love and Sex: The novel presents the theme of love and sex through the character of Holden Caulfield. Although Holden shows that he is capable of loving as well as intimate relationships, he fails in both. He rather envies his roommate Stradlater, who has the influence in dating Jane, Holden’s sweetheart, and enjoys the intimate relationships. However, Holden merely imagines things and does not muster up the courage to take practical steps. It happens with him in the hotel room that when he calls the prostitute, he does not show the guts to move further. He feels that the things he loves ultimately move out of his reach. Finally, he says goodbye to Pencey, his last school, to find a new identity and new hope for the future that Mr. Spencer has stressed upon during his meeting with him.
  3. Loss of Innocence: The Catcher in the Rye shows the loss of innocence of Holden Caulfield when he comes to realize that he is old enough to be responsible. Yet he chooses to ignore the realities of the world. In not accepting his brother’s untimely death, he has also spurned the world, thinking that all would be well with the passage of time. He thinks that everyone is “phony” without giving a second thought to the own behavior he has adopted toward the world. Once he loses his innocence, he refuses to mature. Even the prostitutes steal from him as he fails to understand the world around him.
  4. Phoniness of the Adult World: The most common word used by Holden also becomes a thematic strand as it signifies the superficiality, pretension, and hollowness of the world around him. He is of the view that almost all the adults are phonies when he discloses his fantasy about his being the catcher of the rye. He means that his history teacher, Mr. Spencer, and all his adult friends are wrong.
  5. Religion: Despite Holden’s unsureness toward religion, he thinks that religion is an anchor in the confusing and ambiguous world. When feminine companionship does not work for him, he thinks about Jesus that appeals to him due to his not being a phony. The commercialization of Christmas rather makes him think about Jesus who is an outcast like him. He imagines that Jesus will cure him of his madness as he has cured lunacy during his time.
  6. Appearances: The mouthpiece of the author states that there are two types of people; those who are pretentious and those who are not. He considers the phony people as having an only interest in the appearance which he also calls go-getters. He calls every other person around him a hotshot or a phony including Strandlater, Mr. Antolinin, and Carl Luce. That is why he says that he doesn’t care about the looks or appearances of such people.
  7. Performance: The thematic strand of performance and Holden’s hatred against it emerges from his brother’s entry into Hollywood that he thinks is based on phoniness that he hates the most. He means that performance is associated with appearance or phoniness and hence all people performing are phony and artificial. He considers prostitutes, Stradlater, and others of the same lot.
  8. Individual Versus Society: The thematic strand of an individual against society emerges as Holden conflicts with the people around him. He failed in four previous schools and did not do well in Pencey, too. Even he has failed in history and considers his teacher, Mr. Spencer, a phony person. Sally fails to impress him, while his roommate and friend, Stradlater, seems to him either dirty or not worthy of friendship.
  9. Rebellion: The theme of rebellion is obvious through Holden who does not understand the adult world around him that seeks him to pay attention to his studies and improve his future prospectus. He, however, chooses not to pay attention to Spencer or Antolinie and does work for Stradlater instead of himself.
  10. Loneliness: The loneliness of a teenager is another theme that sheds light on through the character of Holden Caulfield. Despite living in a dorm in Pencey and with several friends who often visit him and Stradlater, Holden feels utter loneliness. He realizes this loneliness for the first time when Stradlater goes on a date with Jane Gallagher. He, later, feels it with Spencer and then with his sister Phoebe despite talking to them.

Major Characters in The Catcher in The Rye

  1. Holden Caulfield: The narrator, Holden Caulfield, is the central character of The Catcher in the Rye. The story starts with his confession and moves with him when he leaves Pencey Prep to his home three days before the pack-up time. Having failed four out of five courses at school, Holden is catching up to take a breath in the suffocating environment where he feels lonely and worthless. Fed up with Stradlater, his roommate, and Ackley, the neighbor, he leaves for New York, meets Sally and Phoebe, but does not find any solace for his agitated soul. He even recalls his brother, Allie, and visits Spencer and Maurice, yet still, he does not feel psychologically satisfied. Finally, he leaves with his sister Phoebe whom he knows will follow him without finding any permanent solution to his problem of entering adulthood.
  2. Ward Stradlater: Stradlater is Holden’s roommate and a hindrance to his growth, who narrates Holden’s romantic escapades to make him muster up the courage. However, Holden’s reaction to his dating with Jane rather makes him stupefied and both come to a fight. Holden, after this episode, abuses him and uses obscenities against him for his date with Jane Gallagher. Despite this, he does not feel any ill will against Holden and causes him to feel envious of him.
  3. Mr. Antolini: Mr. Antolini is an English teacher who is admired by Holden, an impossible task. Working at the Elkton Hills, he has done a great job of teaching composition to his students after which he has joined the university. The special about him is that he knows that Holden is going to fail and warn him too, yet inwardly he is aware that it is impossible to stop him. Even when the story ends, Holden faces Antolini who is still encouraging.
  4. Phoebe Caulfield: Holden’s only sister, Phoebe, holds a special place in Holden’s heart. They have a great relationship and understanding towards each other’s needs and challenges. She imitates his character and pranks in some way. She listens to him carefully to understand his interrupted conversation and responds to him in kind. She knows that it is difficult for him to concentrate, the reason that he receives a severe rebuke from her.
  5. Jane Gallagher: Despite her brief appearance and more mention, Jane Gallagher is a romantic character of The Catcher in The Rye with her seductive impact on the narrator, Holden. She dates Stradlater but meets Holden when they are in Maine. The major reason for his brawl with Stradlater is also Jane to whom he worships in his imaginations.
  6. Sally Hayes: Despite dating Sally Hayes, Holden thinks unkindly about her that is contrary to what he thinks about Jane, who dates Stradlater, his roommate. She fails to win his admiration for an unknown reason.
  7. Allie Caulfield: An absent younger brother, Allie leaves a deep impact on Holden is succumbs to leukemia at a very young age. The tragedy of his death moves the family as well as Holden. Holden keeps his poetic pieces with him to recall his memories whenever he feels depressed.
  8. Mr. Spencer: The History Teacher, who thinks that Holden could improve in his studies. Mr. Spencer, Holden’s favorite teacher though he rebukes him. Mr. Spencer also teaches him Egyptian history about which he has written a funny piece with comments about the teacher’s authority about awarding grades.
  9. Maurice: Maurice is an operator of the elevator in the hotel that Holden visits when going to his home after his expulsion from Pencey Prep. He arranges a prostitute that Holden does not enjoy and loses five dollars more besides the fees.
  10. Sunny: She is the prostitute who works with Maurice in the hotel and meets Holden when he calls for one. Despite his frigidity, she forces him to sleep with her and taunts him for making accuses.

Writing Style of The Catcher in The Rye

The style of The Catcher in the Rye suits a young boy’s conversational tone that is vernacular and also self-conscious. Written in the first-person narrative, the novel shows the use of teenage vocabulary by Holden Caulfield. The voice he adopts, in the beginning, stays true to his personality until the end. The book contains profanities, abuses, and obscenities, making it unsuitable for young readers. It is corny yet has the flavor that makes the readers enjoy the narration of a teenager. Full of generalizations and hyperboles, Holden resorts to the use of occasional phrases and repetitions to bring home his supposed listeners.

Analysis of Literary Devices in The Catcher in The Rye 

  1. Action: The main action of the novel comprises the narrative of Holden Caulfield and his failure in different schools. The rising action occurs when he calls Maurice to call a prostitute for him and she visits him. The falling action occurs when he asks Phoebe to come with him but she refuses.
  2. Anaphora: The Catcher in The Rye shows the use of anaphora as shown in the examples below,
    i. Where I want to start telling is the day I left Pencey Prep. Pencey Prep is this school that’s in Agerstown, Pennsylvania. (Chapter-1)
    ii. It rained on his lousy tombstone, and it rained on the grass on his stomach. It rained all over the place. All the visitors that were visiting the cemetery started running like hell over to their cars. (Chapter-20)
    These sentences from the novel show the repetitious use of “Pencey Prep” and “It rained.”
  3. Antagonist: The Catcher in The Rye shows two antagonists obstructing the path of Holden Caulfield; the first is his goal and the second is society.
  4. Allusion: There are various examples of allusions given in the novel such as,
    i. I was born, an 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. (Chapter-1)
    ii. I remember around three o’clock that afternoon I was standing way the hell up on top of Thomsen Hill, right next to this crazy cannon that was in the Revolutionary War and all. (Chapter-1)
    iii. “Four.” I moved my a** a little bit on the bed. It was the hardest bed I ever sat on. “I passed English all right,” I said, “because I had all that Beowulf and Lord Randal My Son stuff when I was at the Whooton School. (Chapter-2)
    The first example alludes to David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, the second to the Revolutionary War, and the third to Beowulf, the English epic.
  5. Conflict: The are two types of conflicts in the novel. The first one is the external conflict that is going on between Holden and society and the second is the internal conflict that is also the mental conflict of Holden.
  6. Characters: The Catcher in The Rye presents both static as well as dynamic characters. The young boy, Holden Caulfield, is a dynamic character as he changes during the course of the novel. However, the rest of the characters do not see any change in their behavior as they are static characters such as Phoebe, Stradlater, Ackley, and Spencer.
  7. Climax: The climax takes place when Holden goes to his younger sister, Phoebe, and she becomes furious over his expulsion from the school.
  8. Foreshadowing: The novel shows the following examples of foreshadowing,
    i. They’re quite touchy about anything like that, especially my father. They’re nice and all–I’m not saying that—but they’re also touchy as hell. (Chapter-1)
    ii. Some things are hard to remember. I’m thinking now of when Stradlater
    got back from his date with Jane. (Chapter-6)
    These quotes from The Catcher in The Rye foreshadow the coming events.
  9. Hyperbole: Hyperbole or exaggeration occurs in the novel at various places as given in the below example,
    i. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them. (Chapter-1)
    ii. He started parting his hair all over again. It took him about an hour to comb his hair. (Chapter-4)
    Both of these examples exaggerate things; the first exaggerate the patience of his parents and the second about his friend’s combing of the hair.
  10. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example,
    i. You couldn’t see the grandstand too hot, but you could hear them all yelling, deep and terrific on the Pencey side, because practically the whole school except me was there, and scrawny and faggy on the Saxon Hall side, because the visiting team hardly ever brought many people with them. (Chapter-1)
    ii. It was this red hunting hat, with one of those very, very long peaks. I saw it in the window of this sports store when we got out of the subway, just after I noticed I’d lost all the goddam foils. It only cost me a buck. (Chapter-4)
    iii. But I just thought something fell out the window, a radio or a desk or something, not a boy or anything. Then I heard everybody running through the corridor and down the stairs, so I put on my bathrobe and I ran downstairs too, and there was old James Castle laying right on the stone steps and all. (Chapter-22).
    These three examples from the novel show the images of sound, color, and sight.
  11. Metaphor: The Catcher in The Rye shows good use of various metaphors as given in the below examples,
    i. Nobody was around anyway. Everybody was in the sack. For me, the sky was the color of Jews. (Chapter-8)
    ii. I damn near sent a telegram to old Stradlater telling him to take the first train to New York. He’d have been the king of the hotel. (Chapter-9)
    iii. Most girls if you hold hands with them, their goddam hand dies on you, or else they think they have to keep moving their hand all the time. (Chapter-11)
    The first example shows the sack used for the beds, then the second shows Stradlater compared to a king, and the third shows the hands of girls compared to motionless things.
  12. Mood: The novel shows a funny mood in the beginning but it turns out ironic and satiric in the middle and somewhat serious in the end.
  13. Motif: Most important motifs of the novel are books, schools, a hotel room, prostitutes, and ducks.
  14. Narrator: The novel, The Catcher in The Rye, is narrated by the protagonist, Holden Caulfield in the first-person point of view.
  15. Protagonist: Holden is the protagonist of the novel. The novel starts with his entry into the story and moves with him until the end.
  16. Rhetorical Questions: The novel shows good use of rhetorical questions at several places as given in the examples below,
    i. “The ducks. Do you know, by any chance? I mean does somebody come around in a truck or something and take them away, or do they fly away by themselves–go south or something?” (Chapter-11)
    ii. Okay. How ‘bout handing over those gloves?” Then the crook that had stolen them probably would’ve said, his voice very innocent and all, “What gloves?” (Chapter-12)
    iii. “Well! How’s Connecticut?” or “How’s Florida?” It was a terrible place, I’m not kidding. I cut out going there entirely, gradually. (Chapter-19)
    This example shows the use of rhetorical questions posed by different characters not to elicit answers but to stress upon the underlined idea. Most of these questions have been posed by Holden himself.
  17. Setting: The setting of the novel, The Catcher in The Rye, is New York.
  18. Simile: The novel shows good use of various similes as given in the below examples,
    i. You take somebody old as hell, like old Spencer, and they can get a big bang out of buying a blanket. (Chapter-2)
    ii. I read a lot of classical books, like The Return of the Native and all, and I like them, and I read a lot of war books and mysteries and all, but they don’t knock me out too much. (Chapter-3)
    iii. “What’s the matter? Wuddaya want?” I said. Boy, my voice was shaking like hell. (Chapter-14)
    These are similes as the use of the word “like” shows the comparison between different things. The first example shows old age with that of the age of Spencer, the second a book with the novel, and the third his voice with the sound of the hell.