The Catcher in the Rye is a 1951 novel by J. D. Salinger. Originally published for adults, it has since become popular with adolescent readers for its themes of teenage confusion, angst, alienation, language, and rebellion. It has 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's protagonist and antihero, Holden Caulfield, has become an icon for teenage rebellion.
The novel was included on Time's 2005 list of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923, and it was named by Modern Library and its readers as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. It has been frequently challenged in the United States and other countries for its liberal use of profanity and portrayal of sexuality and teenage angst. It also deals with complex issues of identity, belonging, connection, and alienation.
The majority of the novel takes place in December 1949. The story commences with Holden Caulfield describing encounters he has had with students and faculty of Pencey Prep in Agerstown, Pennsylvania. He criticizes them for being superficial, or, as he would say, "phony." After being expelled from the school for his poor academic performance, Holden packs up and leaves the school in the middle of the night after a physical altercation with his roommate. He takes a train to New York but does not want to return to his family and instead checks into the dilapidated Edmont Hotel. There, he spends an evening dancing with three tourist girls and has a clumsy encounter with a young prostitute named Sunny. His attitude toward the prostitute changes the minute she enters the room. Holden becomes uncomfortable with the situation, and when he tells her that all he wants to do is talk, she becomes annoyed with him and leaves. However, he still pays her for her time. Sunny and Maurice, her pimp, later return to Holden's hotel room and demand more money than was originally agreed upon. Despite the fact that Sunny takes five dollars from Holden's wallet, Maurice punches Holden in the stomach.
Holden calls up his old girlfriend, Sally Hayes, to invite her to see a musical. Sally very excitedly agrees, and they meet for the play. After the play Holden and Sally go skating, and while drinking coffee Holden impulsively invites Sally to run away with him, but she declines. Her response deflates Holden's mood, which prompts a remark: "You give me a royal pain in the ass, if you want to know the truth" , he tells her, regretting it immediately. Sally storms off as Holden follows, pleading with her to accept his apology. Finally, Holden gives up and leaves her there. Holden spends a total of three days in the city, and this time is characterized largely by drunkenness and loneliness. At one point he ends up at a museum, where he contrasts his life with the statues of Eskimos on display. For as long as he can remember, the statues have been unchanging. These concerns may have stemmed largely from the death of his brother, Allie. Eventually, he sneaks into his parents' apartment while they are away, to visit his younger sister, Phoebe, who is nearly the only person with whom he seems to be able to communicate. Phoebe views Holden as a hero, and she is naively unaware that Holden's view of her is virtually identical. Holden shares a fantasy he has been thinking about (based on a mishearing of Robert Burns' Comin' Through the Rye): he pictures himself as the sole guardian of numerous children running and playing in a huge rye field on the edge of a cliff. His job is to catch the children if they wander close to the brink; to be a "catcher in the rye." Although misinterpreted, Holden believes that to be a "catcher in the rye" means to save children from losing their innocence.
After leaving his parents' apartment, Holden then drops by to see a former, and much admired, English teacher, Mr. Antolini, in the middle of the night, and is offered advice on life and a place to sleep. Mr. Antolini tells Holden that it is the mark of the mature man who wants to live humbly for a cause, rather than die nobly for it. This rebukes Holden's ideas of becoming a "catcher in the rye," a heroic figure who symbolically saves children from "falling off a crazy cliff" and being exposed to the evils of adulthood. During the speech on life, Mr. Antolini has a number of "highballs," referring to a cocktail served in a highball glass. Holden is upset when he wakes up in the night to find Mr. Antolini patting his head in a way that he perceives as "flitty." There is much speculation on whether Mr. Antolini was making a sexual advance on Holden, and it is left up to the reader to decide whether this is true. Holden leaves and spends his last afternoon wandering the city. He later wonders if his interpretation of Mr. Antolini's actions was actually correct.
Holden makes the decision that he will head out west, and when he mentions these plans to his little sister, she decides she wants to go with him. Holden declines her offer and refuses to have her accompany him. This upsets Phoebe, so Holden does her a favor and decides not to leave after all. Holden tries to reverse her saddened mood by taking her to the Central Park Zoo. He realizes his mistakes as she rides the carousel that lies within the zoo. While watching Phoebe, Holden realizes that he can’t be the “Catcher in the Rye" and that he is in need of help. At the conclusion of the novel, Holden decides not to mention much about the present day, finding it inconsequential. He alludes to "getting sick" and living in a mental hospital, and mentions that he'll be attending another school in September. Holden says that he has surprisingly found himself missing two of his former classmates, Stradlater and Ackley, and even Maurice the elevator operator/pimp. The last words of the novel are, "Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody."
Art images by David Hart, American Artist
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