The Catcher in the Rye
by J.D. Salinger
Holden Caufield is a self-proclaimed excellent liar who hates phony people. He just recently failed out of Pencey Prep, and this failure is just one in a string of failures. He knows that his parents will be receiving a letter in the next few days, telling them that Holden failed once again. He also knows that they will be upset with him, but he has been there before.
Holden, the narrator of J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye decides to leave school early after learning that his roommate went on a date with Jane Gallagher, a girl that once lived next door to Holden. He makes an impulsive decision 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 in seeing his little sister, Phoebe. It is during a conversation with her that Phoebe reveals that Holden doesn’t really like anything. He says this is not true, 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 is still having an extremely difficult time 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.
The Catcher in the Rye Major Characters
- 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
- 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)
- 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
- 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 Chapter Summaries
Holden Caufield, the narrator, is currently living in California, and begins to tell the story of life following his expulsion from Pencey Prep, a private school in Pennsylvania. He flunked four subjects and was asked to leave. He is asked to visit his teacher, Mr. Spencer, before he leaves.
Holden tells Mr. Spencer that his parents do not know that he has been expelled yet. This is Holden’s fourth school, and he confesses his parents will be angry.
Mr. Spencer tells Holden he learned absolutely nothing in his class. He reads Holden’s essay, which is short and filled with errors. Holden is very angry with him, but remains respectful.
Spencer asks Holden how he feels about flunking out again. Holden lies and tells Spencer he has to go pick up his fencing equipment.
Holden goes to his room and starts reading. Ackley comes into Holden’s room and distracts him. Holden is annoyed because Ackley has a habit of touching his personal belongings and moving them. Holden tries to get Ackley to leave, but he doesn’t pick up on the clues. Ackley finally leaves when Holden’s roommate comes back.
Holden watches Stradlater, his roommate, shave. He asks Holden to write an English composition for him, but he tells Holden to not write the composition too well because the teacher would recognize Holden’s work.
Stradlater tells him that he is dating Jane Gallagher tonight, who was once Holden’s neighbor. Holden drives Stradlater crazy talking about Jane, but Holden won’t go down to talk to Jane himself.
Ackley comes back as soon as Stradlater leaves for his date with Jane.
Holden goes to town with Ackley and another friend. They return to Pencey early, and Ackley returns to Holden’s room. Holden gets Ackley to leave when he tells him he has to write a composition for Stradlater.
Instead of writing about a room, Holden writes a description of Allie’s baseball mitt. Allie died of leukemia when Holden was thirteen. After he died, Holden punched out all the windows in the garage. Holden is still clearly very affected by Allie’s death.
Stradlater returns from his date with Jane. He becomes angry when he reads the composition Holden wrote about the baseball mitt. Holden tears the composition up and smokes in the room to make Stradlater mad.
Holden asks about Stradlater’s date with Jane and then starts physically fighting with Stradlater. Stradlater gives Holden a bloody nose while trying to subdue him.
Holden goes to Ackley’s room after the fight. Ackley’s roommate is gone for the weekend, and Holden asks to sleep there for the night.
Holden keeps thinking about what Stradlater probably did with Jane. He knows Stradlater tends to be rather smooth with the ladies. Holden gets angrier.
Holden leaves Ackley’s room and decides to leave Pencey for good. He decides to stay in a hotel room in New York City until he goes home to face his parents on Wednesday. Holden packs and leaves.
Holden walks through the snow to the train station.
He meets a woman on the train whose son goes to Pencey. He lies and tells her his name is Rudolf Schmidt. This is the name of the dorm janitor. He makes up stories about her son who he really thinks is a jerk because he thinks she is a nice lady who deserves better. When she asks why he is leaving for Christmas break early, tells her he is leaving Pencey because he has a brain tumor.
Holden gets off the train at Penn Station and goes to the phone booth, but realizes he has no one to call. He takes a cab to the Edmont Hotel.
Holden calls a woman named Faith Cavendish, a reported prostitute. She says she would like to meet him, but it is too late tonight. He tells her that he can only meet her tonight and ends the conversation.
Holden thinks about calling his sister, Phoebe, again. He does not call because he is afraid his parents will answer.
He goes down to The Lavender Room, the hotel’s nightclub. He dances with a blonde woman. Holden tries to have a conversation with the woman, but she is not very bright.
Holden sits down with her and her friends. He finds it difficult to talk with them because all they care about are movie stars. Holden hates the movies because they are phony.
Holden leaves The Lavender Room and starts thinking about Jane again. He remembers first meeting her at the country club pool. He also remembers playing chess with her and holding hands while watching movies. At this point, Holden reveals that he never actually dated Jane, but he did "neck" with her once after she was upset by her step-father. However, she never let him kiss her on the lips.
Holden gets in a cab and tells the driver to go to Ernie’s, a nightclub in Greenwich Village.
Holden starts a conversation with Horwitz, a cab driver. He asks Horwitz where the ducks from Central Park go in the winter. Horwitz doesn’t care about the ducks, but says the fish have it harder. Holden asks what the fish do when the lagoon freezes, but Horwitz gets more agitated.
Ernie’s is packed. Holden gets a table and orders a Scotch. Holden sees a girl D.B. used to date. She wants Holden to sit with her and her date, but Holden lies and tells her he has to leave.
Holden walks back to the hotel. Maurice, the elevator operator, asks Holden if he is interested in some action. He makes arrangements to have a woman sent to his room.
Sunny, the prostitute, comes to Holden’s room. Holden tells her he is not interested in sex, and all he wants is to talk. He tells her he just had an operation and is recuperating. She gets mad and leaves.
Sunny and Maurice come to Holden’s room. He tells Holden he owes them five more dollars. Holden refuses to give them the money because he was clearly told before the price was five dollars. Maurice threatens to hurt Holden. They take five dollars from Holden’s wallet, and Maurice punches Holden in the stomach.
Holden thinks about committing suicide.
Holden wakes up and decides to call Sally Hayes, a girl he once dated. He says he doesn’t really like her though, but asks her to the theatre anyway. Holden also says he doesn’t like the theatre.
Holden checks his suitcases in a strong box at Grand Central Station and eats breakfast. He starts talking with two nuns about "Romeo and Juliet" to pass the time. He gives them a $10 donation before they leave.
Holden looks for a record for Phoebe while waiting to meet Sally. He also calls Jane, but her mother answers, and Holden hangs up. He buys tickets for himself and Sally.
Holden takes a cab to Central Park. He hopes to see his sister, but she isn’t there. He asks some children if they know where she is, but it is clear that they have no idea.
Holden meets Sally, and they go to the theatre. Sally is late, loud, and annoying. Sally meets a boy at the play and talks to him, which annoys Holden.
After the play, they go ice skating. Holden tells Sally he hates school and living in New York City. He starts talking loudly about how fake most people are, and Sally becomes uncomfortable.
He asks Sally to leave New York with him. She tells him there will be plenty of time to travel after he finished college. Holden tells Sally they will have too many responsibilities then, and they only have now to live.
Sally and Holden get into a fight. Holden laughs at Sally when she cries. They leave separately.
Holden thinks about calling Jane again to ask her to go dancing. He calls Jane, but no one is home.
He calls Carl Luce, an older friend from another school. They make plans to meet for drinks.
Holden goes to Radio City Music Hall to kill time, and Holden hates the show.
Holden walks to The Wicker Bar to meet Carl. Carl quickly becomes annoyed with Holden, who insists on asking questions about Carl’s sex life. Holden’s voice keeps getting louder and louder, which embarrasses Carl.
Carl tells Holden he is immature and should see a psychoanalyst.
Holden continues to drink at the bar. He is drunk and tries to call Jane, but calls Sally by mistake. She tells him to call tomorrow.
He leaves the bar and goes to Central Park. Holden thinks about what his funeral would be like. He remembers hearing about Allie’s funeral from D.B. Holden did not go because he was put in the hospital after punching out the garage windows.
Holden decides to walk home to see Phoebe.
Holden sneaks into his family’s apartment. It takes him an hour to creep to Phoebe’s room, but she is sleeping in D.B.’s room.
Phoebe is thrilled to see Holden. She asks him if he got kicked out of school again. She hides her head under a pillow and won’t come out, so Holden leaves the room.
He comes back and Phoebe is still upset. She asks him why he failed out again. She is also afraid that their parents will be very angry with Holden again. Holden realizes he no longer really cares.
Phoebe tells Holden he never likes anything. Holden says he likes Allie, even though he is dead. She asks him to name one thing he’d like to be when he grows up. He says he’d like to stand at the edge of a field of rye where children are playing. He would catch the children before they ran through the field and fell off the edge.
Holden calls his former English teacher, Mr. Antolini. He invites Holden to stay at his house.
Holden goes back to Phoebe, and they dance until their parents come home. Holden hides in the closet while Phoebe talks to their mother.
Phoebe gives him her Christmas money before he leaves.
Holden takes a cab to Mr. Antolini’s apartment. He tells Holden he recently had lunch with Mr. Caufield, who is very concerned about Holden.
Mr. Antolini tells Holden he sees Holden falling and worries that Holden will never recover. He tells Holden that he is not alone and could find the answers he is looking for in education.
Holden sleeps on the couch until he wakes up because Mr. Antolini is touching his head. Holden leaves quickly.
Holden sleeps on a bench at Grand Central Station. He leaves the station and starts walking up Fifth Avenue. Holden starts fearing that he will disappear at the end of each block.
He decides he will never return home. He will hitchhike west. Holden writes a note to Phoebe, asking her to meet him at lunch. He wants to say goodbye and give her the money. He gives the note to the school secretary to give Phoebe.
Holden waits for Phoebe, who comes to meet Holden with a suitcase. Phoebe tells Holden she is going with him. Holden tells her she cannot go.
Phoebe refuses to go back to school or take a walk with Holden. He starts walking towards Central Park, knowing she will follow him.
Holden buys Phoebe a ticket for the carousel and watched her ride. He promises he won’t leave her.
Holden says that he doesn’t want to tell anymore of his story. He reveals he is telling his story from a hospital in California where he is seeing a psychoanalyst. He says that telling his story causes him to miss everyone more than before.