|Author||J. D. Salinger|
|Cover artist||E. Michael Mitchell|
|Published||July 16, 1951|
|Publisher||Little, Brown and Company|
The Catcher in the Rye is a story by J. D. Salinger, first published in serial form in 1945-6 and as a novel in 1951. A classic novel originally published for adults, it has since become popular with adolescent readers for its themes of teenage angst and alienation. It has been translated into almost all of the world’s major languages. Around 1 million copies are sold each year, with total sales of more than 65 million books. The novel’s protagonist Holden Caulfield has become an icon for teenage rebellion. The novel also deals with complex issues of innocence, identity, belonging, loss, and connection.
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. In 2003, it was listed at #15 on the BBC’s survey The Big Read.
Holden Caulfield, a teenager, is living in an unspecified institution in Southern California near Hollywood in 1951. Caulfield intends to live with his brother D.B, an author and World War II veteran whom Holden resents for becoming a screenwriter, after his release in one month. As he waits, Holden recalls the events of the previous Christmas.
Holden begins his story at Pencey Preparatory Academy, an exclusive boarding school in Agerstown, Pennsylvania, on the Saturday afternoon of the traditional football game with a rival school. Holden has been expelled from Pencey due to poor work and is not to return after Christmas break, which begins the following Wednesday. He plans to return home on that day so that he will not be present when his parents receive notice of his expulsion. After forfeiting a fencing match in New York by forgetting the equipment aboard the subway, he is invited to the home of his history teacher, Mr. Spencer. Spencer is a well-meaning but long-winded old man. Spencer greets him and offers him advice, but embarrasses Holden by further criticizing Holden’s work in his subject in a rude manner.
Holden returns to his dorm wearing the new red hunting cap he bought in New York. His dorm neighbor Robert Ackley is one of the few students also missing the game. Ackley, unpopular among his peers, disturbs Holden with his impolite questioning and mannerisms. Holden, who feels sorry for Ackley, tolerates his presence. Later, Holden agrees to write an English composition for his roommate, Ward Stradlater, who is leaving for a date. However, Holden is distressed to learn that Stradlater’s date is an old friend, Jane Gallagher, whom Holden had romantic feelings for and feels protective of. That night, Holden decides to go to a Cary Grant comedy with his best friend Mal Brossard and Ackley. Since Ackley and Mal had already seen the film, they end up just playing pinball and returning to Pencey. When Stradlater returns hours later, he fails to appreciate the deeply personal composition Holden wrote for him about the baseball glove of Holden’s late brother Allie, and refuses to reveal whether he slept with Jane. Enraged, Holden punches him, and Stradlater easily wins the ensuing fight. When Holden continues insulting him after the fight, Stradlater knocks him unconscious and leaves him with a bloody nose. After leaving for Ackley’s room, Holden is disappointed when he treats him rudely. Fed up with the so-called “phonies” at Pencey Prep, Holden impulsively decides to leave Pencey early, sells his typewriter to earn money, and catches a train to Penn Station in New York. Holden intends to stay away from his home in a hotel until Wednesday, when his parents would have received news of his expulsion. Aboard the train, Holden meets the mother of a wealthy, obnoxious Pencey student named Ernest Morrow, and lies to her about himself and her son.
In a taxicab, Holden inquires with the driver about whether the ducks in the Central Park lagoon migrate during winter, a subject he brings up often, but the man barely responds. Holden checks into the dilapidated Edmont Hotel. He spends an evening dancing with three tourist women from Seattle in the hotel lounge and enjoys dancing with one, though is disappointed that he is unable to hold a conversation with them. Following an unpromising visit to Ernie’s Nightclub in Greenwich Village, Holden becomes preoccupied with his internal angst and agrees to have a prostitute named Sunny visit his room. His attitude toward the girl changes the minute she enters the room; she seems about the same age as him. Holden becomes uncomfortable with the situation, and when he tells her all he wants to do is talk, she becomes annoyed and leaves. Even though he still paid her the right amount for her time, she returns with her pimp Maurice and demands more money. Holden insults Maurice, and after Sunny takes the money from Holden’s wallet, Maurice punches him in the stomach and leaves with Sunny. Afterwards, Holden imagines that he has been shot by Maurice, and pictures murdering him with an automatic weapon.
The next morning, Holden, becoming increasingly depressed and in need of personal connection, calls Sally Hayes, a familiar date. Although Holden claims that she is “the queen of all phonies”, they agree to meet that afternoon to attend a play at the Biltmore Theater. Holden shops for a special record, “Little Shirley Beans”, for his 10-year-old sister Phoebe. He spots a small boy singing “If a body catch a body coming through the rye”, which lifts his mood. Although Holden’s date initially goes well, it soon sours after Sally introduces her friend George. After the play, Holden and Sally go ice skating at Rockefeller Center, where Holden suddenly begins ranting against society and frightens Sally. He impulsively invites Sally to run away with him that night to live in the wilderness of New England, but she is uninterested in his hastily conceived plan and declines. The conversation turns sour, and the two angrily part ways.
Holden decides to meet his old classmate, a Columbia student named Carl Luce, for drinks at the Wicker Bar in the Seton Hotel. During the meeting, Holden annoys Carl with his fixation on sex. After Luce leaves, Holden gets drunk, awkwardly flirts with several adults, and calls an icy Sally. Exhausted and out of money, Holden wanders over to Central Park to investigate the ducks, breaking Phoebe’s record on the way. Nostalgically recalling his experience in elementary school and the unchanging dioramas in the Museum of Natural History that he enjoyed visiting as a child, Holden heads home to see Phoebe. He sneaks into his parents’ apartment while they are out, and wakes up Phoebe – the only person with whom he seems to be able to communicate his true feelings. Although Phoebe is happy to see Holden, she quickly deduces that he has been expelled, and chastises him for his aimlessness and his apparent dislikes towards everything. When asked if he cares about anything, Holden shares a selfless fantasy he has been thinking about (based on a mishearing of Robert Burns’s Comin’ Through the Rye): he pictures himself as the sole guardian of thousands of children playing in a huge rye field on the edge of a cliff. His job is to catch the children if, in their abandon, they come close to falling off the brink; to be, in effect, the “catcher in the rye”. Because of this misinterpretation, Holden believes that to be the “catcher in the rye” means to save children from losing their innocence.
When his mother returns home, Holden slips out and visits his former and much-admired English teacher, Mr. Antolini, who is now a New York University professor. Mr. Antolini expresses concern that Holden is headed for “a terrible fall” and advises him to begin applying himself. Although Holden is exhausted, he is courteous and considers his advice. Mr. Antolini also provides Holden a place to sleep. Holden is upset when he wakes up in the night to find Mr. Antolini patting his head, which he interprets as a homosexual advance. Confused and uncertain, he leaves and spends the rest of the night in a waiting room at Grand Central Station, where he sinks further into despair and expresses regret over leaving Mr. Antolini. He spends most of Monday morning wandering Fifth Avenue.
Losing hope of finding belonging or companionship in the city, Holden impulsively decides that he will head out west and live a reclusive lifestyle as a gas station attendant. He decides to see Phoebe at lunchtime to explain his plan and say farewell. While visiting Phoebe’s school to give a forged excuse note, Holden becomes obsessed with graffiti containing the word “fuck”, and becomes distressed by the thought of children learning the word’s meaning. When he meets Phoebe at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she arrives with a suitcase and asks to go with him, even though she was looking forward to acting as Benedict Arnold in a play that Friday. Holden refuses to let her come with him, which upsets Phoebe, so Holden decides not to leave after all. He tries to cheer her up by allowing her to skip school and taking her to the Central Park Zoo, but she remains angry with him. They eventually reach the zoo’s carousel, where Phoebe reconciles with Holden after he buys her a ticket. Holden is finally filled with happiness and joy at the sight of Phoebe riding in the rain.
In a short epilogue, Holden briefly alludes to encountering his parents that night and “getting sick” (implying a tuberculosis diagnosis), mentioning that he will be attending another school in September. Holden says that he doesn’t want to tell anything more because, surprisingly, he has found himself missing his former classmates. He warns the reader that telling others about their own experiences will lead them to miss the people who shared them.
Jerome David “J. D.” Salinger ( January 1, 1919 – January 27, 2010) was an American writer known for his widely read novel, The Catcher in the Rye. Following his early success publishing short stories and The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger led a very private life for more than a half-century. He published his final original work in 1965 and gave his last interview in 1980.
Salinger was raised in Manhattan and began writing short stories while in secondary school. Several were published in Story magazine in the early 1940s before he began serving in World War II. In 1948, his critically acclaimed story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” appeared in The New Yorker magazine, which became home to much of his later work. The Catcher in the Rye was published in 1951 and became an immediate popular success. His depiction of adolescent alienation and loss of innocence in the protagonist Holden Caulfield was influential, especially among adolescent readers. The novel remains widely read and controversial, selling around 250,000 copies a year.
The success of The Catcher in the Rye led to public attention and scrutiny. Salinger became reclusive, publishing new work less frequently. He followed Catcher with a short story collection, Nine Stories (1953); a volume containing a novella and a short story, Franny and Zooey (1961); and a volume containing two novellas, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction (1963). His last published work, a novella entitled “Hapworth 16, 1924”, appeared in The New Yorker on June 19, 1965. Afterward, Salinger struggled with unwanted attention, including a legal battle in the 1980s with biographer Ian Hamilton and the release in the late 1990s of memoirs written by two people close to him: Joyce Maynard, an ex-lover; and Margaret Salinger, his daughter. In 1996, a small publisher announced a deal with Salinger to publish “Hapworth 16, 1924” in book form, but amid the ensuing publicity the release was indefinitely delayed. He made headlines around the globe in June 2009 when he filed a lawsuit against another writer for copyright infringement resulting from that writer’s use of one of the characters from The Catcher in the Rye.
Salinger died of natural causes on January 27, 2010, at his home in Cornish, New Hampshire. In November 2013, three unpublished stories by Salinger were briefly posted online. One of the stories, “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls”, is said to be a prequel to The Catcher in the Rye.