Checked content

The Catcher in the Rye

Related subjects: Novels

Background to the schools Wikipedia

SOS Children have produced a selection of wikipedia articles for schools since 2005. Sponsoring children helps children in the developing world to learn too.

The Catcher in the Rye
Rye catcher.jpg
Author(s) J. D. Salinger
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Novel
Publisher Little, Brown and Company
Publication date 16 July 1951
Media type Print ( Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 277 pp
ISBN ISBN 0-316-76953-3
Preceded by N/A
Followed by Nine Stories (1953)

The Catcher in the Rye is a novel by J. D. Salinger. First published in the United States in 1951, the novel has been a frequently challenged book in its home country for its liberal use of profanity and portrayal of sexuality and teenage angst.

Originally published for adults, the novel has become a common part of high school and college curricula throughout the English-speaking world; it has also been translated into almost all of the world's major languages. Around 250,000 copies are sold each year, with total sales of more than 65 million.

The novel was chosen by Time magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005.

The novel's protagonist, Holden Caulfield, has become an icon for teenage rebellion and defiance. Written in the first person, The Catcher in the Rye follows Holden's experiences in New York City in the days following his expulsion from Pencey Prep, a college preparatory school.


The novel covers a few important days in the life of Holden Caulfield, a tall, skinny, highly critical and depressed teenager who academically flunked out of Pencey Prep, a boarding school. Holden is 17 when he tells the story; he was 16 when the events occurred. Because he is so critical of others, and points out their faults only to exhibit them himself later, Holden is widely considered to be an unreliable narrator, if we take his statement chapter I page1 for granted : "I'll just tell you about this madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas just before I got pretty run-down and had to come here and take it easy." Thus, the details and events of his story are apt to be distorted by his point of view. His penchant for wild exaggeration only serves to exacerbate this.

His story starts on Holden's last day at Pencey Prep. He is standing on the crest of a hill that overlooks the American football field. It is the final game of the season, but Holden has never cared much for established tradition. He instead runs across the street to the residence of Mr. Spencer, his history teacher. It is revealed here that Holden has been expelled, and that he doesn't particularly care.

Holden talks with old acquaintances at school and ultimately leaves for New York City, electing to stay there. He considers hitchhiking out west and building a cabin away from everyone he knows. Through the course of the novel, he propositions an ex-girlfriend he doesn't particularly like to come with him, who declines.

The next day, he arranges to have his younger sister, Phoebe, meet him at lunchtime, she is carrying one of Holden's old suitcases full of clothes. Phoebe tells Holden that she is going with him. He angrily refuses, feeling that he has influenced her to want to go with him instead of staying in school. She cries and refuses to speak to him. Knowing that she will follow him, Holden walks to the zoo, letting her anger lift. Phoebe starts talking to Holden again, and Holden promises to forget about his plan to run away and return home on Wednesday. He buys her a ticket for the carousel in the park and watches her ride an old horse on it. As Holden watches her ride the carousel, his own mood lifts. Soon he is nearly moved to tears with remorse, longing, and bittersweet happiness.

At this point in the book, he explains that he will be going to another school in the fall again but doesn't know for sure if he will start applying himself. He mentions that he is being psychoanalysed and finishes with the words, "Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody".


Holden Caulfield is the protagonist and narrator of the story. Holden is seventeen when he tells the story, but was sixteen years old when the events took place. His narration begins with his expulsion (for academic failure) from a school called Pencey Prep. He is intelligent and sensitive, but Holden narrates in a cynical and jaded voice. He finds the hypocrisy, "phoniness", and ugliness of the world around him unbearable.

D.B. Caulfield is Holden's older brother and lives in Hollywood. Holden professes to despise cinema for he believes it exemplifies his concept of "phoniness", but throughout the book he offers thoughtful and in-depth commentaries on films he has seen.

Allie Caulfield was Holden's younger brother, who died of leukemia when Holden was thirteen. Even though Allie was younger than Holden, Holden idolized Allie. Holden even prays to his deceased brother for safety. The night of Allie's death, Holden smashed all the windows in the family garage with his bare fists leading to permanent damage to his hand. Because of this injury, Holden can no longer make a tight fist with his right hand. It can also be speculated that Allie's death damaged Holden mentally and is the cause of his behaviour in the book.

Jane Gallagher is a girl with whom Holden spent a lot of time one summer, when their families stayed in neighboring summer houses in Maine. Holden likes to remember Jane as a sensitive, innocent girl with a unique approach to checkers. She is Stradlater’s date Saturday evening, which bothers Holden.

Ward Stradlater Holden’s roommate at Pencey Prep. Stradlater is handsome, self-satisfied, and popular, but Holden calls him a “secret slob,” because he appears well groomed, but his toiletries, such as his razor, are disgustingly unclean. Stradlater is sexually active and quite experienced for a prep school student, which is why Holden also calls him a “sexy bastard.”

Robert Ackley Holden’s next-door neighbour in his dorm at Pencey Prep. Ackley is a pimply, insecure boy with terrible dental hygiene. He often barges into Holden’s room and acts completely oblivious to Holden’s hints that he should leave. Holden believes that Ackley makes up elaborate lies about his sexual experience.

Mr. Spencer is Holden’s history teacher at Pencey Prep.

Sally Hayes is a very attractive girl whom Holden has known and dated for a long time. Though Sally is well read, Holden claims that she is “stupid,” although it is difficult to tell whether this judgment is based in reality or merely in Holden’s ambivalence about being sexually attracted to her. She is certainly more conventional than Holden in her tastes and manners.

Phoebe Caulfield is Holden's younger sister. She is in the fourth grade at the time Holden leaves Pencey Prep. In some ways, she can be even more mature than him, even criticizing him for childishness.

Mrs. Morrow The mother of Holden’s contemptible classmate, Ernest, she shares a train ride and creative conversation with “Rudolf Schmidt,” the alias used by Holden.

Horwitz The most interesting of the cab drivers in the novel, he takes Holden to Ernie’s Nightclub and offers unusual zoological insight regarding those ducks and the fish at the lagoon.

Maurice The elevator operator at the Edmont Hotel and Sunny’s pimp, who procures a prostitute for Holden.

Sunny The prostitute Holden hires through Maurice. She is one of a number of women in the book with whom Holden clumsily attempts to connect.

Bernice, Marty, and Laverne Three thirtyish tourists from Seattle, they leave Holden with the tab at the Lavender Room. Bernice is a very good dancer.

Carl Luce A student at Columbia who was Holden’s student advisor at the Whooton School. Luce is three years older than Holden and has a great deal of sexual experience. At Whooton, he was a source of knowledge about sex for the younger boys, and Holden tries to get him to talk about sex at their meeting.

Lillian Simmons All bust and no brains, she and her date ask Holden to sit with them at Ernie’s. She used to date D.B. and oozes her fake charm in hopes of making a good impression.

Ernie A talented pianist at his own club in Greenwich Village, he exemplifies Holden’s concept of an artist who has sold out.

James Castle A student at Elkton Hills, he jumped to his death rather than recant a statement about an arrogant bully.

Mr. Antolini Holden’s former English teacher at the Elkton Hills School. Holden sometimes finds him a bit too clever, but he looks to him for guidance and support.


Bruce Brooks noted that Holden's attitude is the same at the end as it was in the beginning, which implies a lack of growth in distinguishing the story from young adult fiction. On the other hand, Louis Menand claimed that teachers assign it to students because of the optimism at the end, that "alienation is just a phase." While Brooks maintained that Holden acts his age, Menand observed that Holden thinks like an adult with his ability to see through people clearly.

The novel has been interpreted as having only a negative answer to the social problems it expresses. In another type of critique, its philosophy has been negatively compared with that of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Phoebe's character plays an important role of influencing Holden. Her name, Phoebe, is from the Greek Phoibus, referring to the Greek sun and moon god. The comparison suggests that she serves as an oracle figure for Holden, to whom he can confide and seek advice. Phoebe also stands to be a catalytic character for Holden. Holden pictures himself as a catcher in the rye; he imagines himself standing on a cliff in a field of rye with children playing tag around him, and as they strayed too close to the edge, he would be the one to catch them, and save them from falling. Phoebe and Holden seem to exchange roles as the catcher-fallen as well. Holden gives her the symbol of the catcher, his hunting hat, and becomes the fallen just as Phoebe assumes the role of the catcher.

However, in the final few pages of the novel, Holden realizes that he cannot take control of Phoebe's life and attempt to prevent her from growing up. Inevitably, she will make mistakes as she matures, but he sees that he must allow her to grab the "gold ring" on the merry-go-round - a symbol of adolescent errors. Inevitably, this will include some of what he terms "phoniness." Therefore, Holden has indeed changed over the course of the novel, and has come to terms, to some extent, with his inability to be a "catcher" for Phoebe and all other children - he must allow them to grow up for themselves.

It has also been suggested that Holden is telling his story to a Doctor in a hospital due to all the 2nd person narrative and the fact that it is a circle story.


In 1960, a teacher was fired, and later reinstated, for assigning the novel in class. Between 1961 and 1982, The Catcher in the Rye was the most censored book in high schools and libraries in the United States. In 1981, it was both the most censored book and the second most taught book in public schools in the United States. According to the American Library Association, The Catcher in the Rye was the 13th most frequently challenged book from 1990–2000. It was one of the 10 most challenged books in 2005, and came off the list in 2006.

The challenges generally begin with vulgar language, citing the novel's use of words like " bastard" and " goddam", with more general reasons including sexual references, blasphemy, undermining of family values and moral codes, Holden's being a poor role model, encouragement of rebellion, and promotion of drinking, smoking, lying, and promiscuity. Often, the challengers have been unfamiliar with the plot itself. Shelley Keller-Gage, a high school teacher who faced objections after assigning the novel in her class, noted that the challengers "are being just like Holden ... They are trying to be catchers in the rye." A reverse effect has been that this incident caused people to put themselves on the waiting list to borrow the novel, when there were none before.

Mark David Chapman, who assassinated John Lennon, was carrying the book when he was arrested immediately after the murder and referred to it in his statement to police shortly thereafter. John Hinckley, Jr., who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981, was also reported to have been obsessed with the book.


In the decade following its publication, there were over 70 essays on the novel printed in American and British magazines.

Works inspired by The Catcher in the Rye have been said to form their own genre. The novel helped popularize the slang verb "screw up".

Retrieved from ""