The Catcher in the Rye Study Guide

The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye is a novel written by J.D. Salinger in 1951. It is told from the first person perspective of a young boy named Holden Caulfield, who is in a psychiatric facility after the events of the novel. Holden dislikes the world around him and his story reflects that. It explores themes such as growing up, the phoniness that comes with growing up, and alienation from peers as a means of protecting oneself.

Chapter 21 Summary

Brief Summary

When Holden arrives at his apartment building, he convinces the new elevator operator to let him upstairs by telling him he's visiting his neighbors. As soon as he enters his apartment, he looks for Phoebe. She is sleeping in D.B.'s room because of its large size and large furniture. Holden admires her sleeping and reads through her notebook before waking her. She is excited to see him, but then wants to know why he is home so early from Pencey. Phoebe guesses that Holden has been expelled and tells him that Daddy's gonna kill you (165).

Detailed Summary

When Holden arrives at his building, he is able to persuade the new elevator operator to take him up to his floor by telling him he is visiting his neighbors, the Dicksteins. Initially, the elevator operator does not believe Holden because the Dicksteins are at a party on the fourteenth floor. Holden tells him that hes their nephew and therefore expected. He finally convinces the operator to take him upstairs by claiming he has a bad leg and needs to sit down in the chair by their front door. When Holden is taken to his floor of the building, he limps towards the Dickstein's apartment. As soon as the elevator returns to the lobby, Holden enters his own apartment. The entire apartment is dark, but he knows he is home from the smell of cauliflower in the foyer. After hanging his coat in the foyer closet, he heads to Phoebe's room. Then he remembers that she sleeps in D.B.'s room when he's away in Hollywood because of room's considerable size and D.B.'s large furniture.

He doesn't wake Phoebe when he enters the room. He admires her lying in bed and notices her clothes folded nicely on the bedside chair. Holden then sits at the desk and looks through her books, noticing that she when she writes her name, Phoebe substitutes her given middle name with the last name of her detective stories' protagonist, Hazel Weatherfield. He reads her entire notebook, enjoying the nuances that a young kid's notebook possesses. After smoking a cigarette, Holden wakes her up. She is excited to see him and give him a big hug. He's worried about waling up their parents, but Phoebe tells him they are at a party in Norfolk, Connecticut and will not return home until later.

They talk about the Christmas play in which she plays Benedict Arnold as well as The Doctor, a movie she has seen recently with her friend Alice. He tells her about the record he purchased for her and subsequently broke. She asks for the pieces so that she can save them. She tells him about D.B.'s latest project in Annapolis before asking him why he's home that night instead of Wednesday. Before he can tell her a lie about his being home early, she guesses that he has been expelled from Pencey. Holden could not deny her the truth. In a state of shock and with the pillow over her head, Phoebe repeatedly tells Holden that Daddy's gonna kill you (165). Holden tries to assuage her fears by telling her that he is going away to work on a ranch on Colorado. She keeps the pillow over her head which Holden attempts to remove, but she holds on tight. He finally leaves the room to get more cigarettes from the living room.

Chapter 22 Summary

Brief Summary

Phoebe refuses to listen to Holden as he tries to discuss his plans to move west and become a rancher. She scoffs at his plans and begs Holden to tell why he allowed himself to be expelled again. He then explains to her his reasons for not applying himself to school; mainly that he hates Pencey for its seeming promotion of superficial boys. She accuses him of hating everything in life and challenges him to name one thing he doesn't hate. Holden shares with Phoebe that he loves her and Allie, but she dismisses those answers. Loving Allie doesn't count for Phoebe because he is dead and loving her doesn't mean anything.

Detailed Summary

After picking up more cigarettes, Holden returns to Phoebe's room and manages to coax her from beneath the pillow. He wants to talk about light hearted things, but she continues to tell him that their father will kill him. He tells her, again, about his plan to work on a ranch in Colorado. She scoffs at his plan because she knows that he cannot even ride a horse. With a tone of bitterness and disappointment, she guesses that he failed all of his classes. He proudly tells her that he did not fail English. As if she does not hear him, Phoebe pleading asks why he allowed himself to be expelled again.

Holden explains to her that the Pencey is filled with arrogant boys who promote a damaging type of exclusivity. He uses Robert Ackley as an example of the unwelcoming environment at Pencey. He also tells her about the phonies pervading the faculty and alumnae. He recounts several stories about both groups: the first involves Mr. Spencer and his continuously allowing the headmaster to interrupt his classes, the second involves an old alumnus who, on Veteran's Day, wandered into Holden and Stradlater's room looking for the bathroom. As Holden and Stradlater escorted him down the hall, he revealed that he was seeking the initials he carved into the wall when he was student. The man's love for Pencey and incessant gasping for air resonated in Holden's memories. He could no longer handle the demoralizing environment at Pencey. Phoebe's responds by accusing him of being a misanthrope and finding fault with everything in life.

She dares him to name one thing that he likes, but Holden cannot focus. His mind wanders to thoughts about the nuns he met at the lunch counter and a former classmate from Elkton Hills named James Castle. James committed suicide by defenestrating himself after being chased by a group of boys he insulted. They demanded that James apologize, but he chose to jump out of the bathroom window rather than submit to their will. Phoebe asks him, again, to name one thing that he likes and Holden tells her that he likes Allie. He also tells her that he likes being there with her. She dismisses his answers, claiming that they don't count. Holden vehemently rejects her dismissal. He then tells her that what he'd like most in the world is to be a catcher in the rye. He'd like to be the savior of all the children who get to close to the edge of the cliff in a rye patch. Phoebe's only reaction is Daddy's going to kill you (173). Holden gets up to make a phone call. Before leaving the room, Phoebe tells him that she is taking belching lessons from Phyllis Margulies.

Chapter 23 Summary

Brief Summary

Holden calls his former English teacher form Elkton Hills, Mr. Antolini. Mr. Antolini directs him to come to his apartment once he discovers the Holden has been expelled. He hides in the closet in D.B.'s room when he hears his parents return from a party in Connecticut. His mother wants to know if Phoebe has been smoking because of the heavy smell Holden leaves in the room. Phoebe takes credit for the cigarette smoke, blaming curiosity and ushers her mother out of the room. After several minutes Holden comes out of the closet. He gives Phoebe his red hunting cap while Phoebe gives him her Christmas gift-buying money. They say a tearful goodbye and Holden leaves as quietly as he came in.

Detailed Summary

Holden calls Mr. Antolini, his former English teacher at Elkton hills. He is also the only one who would go near James Castle after he jumped out of the window, so Holden believes that he can turn to him for help. Holden tells him that he has been expelled from Pencey, which shocks him. Mr. Antolini then tells Holden to come to his apartment. After speaking with Mr. Antolini, Holden returns to Phoebe's bedside and starts smoking another cigarette. She's come from beneath covers so Holden asks her if she wants to dance. Although hesitant at first, she agrees to dance with him to the radio. After several songs, Phoebe gets back into bed. She asks him to feel her forehead to see if he can feel it growing hot. She claims to have learned to induce a fever with her thoughts. Holden does not feel anything, but plays along. Suddenly, the front door opens and closes. Their parents have returned home from the party.

Holden jumps up from the bed, stamps out his cigarette, vigorously fans away the fumes, and turns off the lights. He hides in the closet with his shoes. Their mother enters the room and asks Phoebe about the cigarette smoke who claims that she was smoking gout of curiosity. Phoebe is anxious to have her mother leave the room; therefore, she provided short and quick answers to the inquiries about her day. When their mother finally leaves the room, Holden comes out of the closet and asks Phoebe for money. She gives him her entire Christmas allowance. Holden refuses, but she insists he take it and pay her back when comes to see the play that Friday. Phoebe's generosity makes Holden cry. She tries to comfort him with an embrace. As he gets ready to leave, Phoebe invites him to share D.B.'s bed, but Holden declines the offer. He gives her his red hunting cap as a parting gift before taking the back stairs down to the lobby of his building.

Chapter 21-23 Analysis

This section illustrates an interesting juxtaposition between who Holden is when dealing with strangers and the public sphere and who he is when he deals with family and his private sphere. There is a striking difference between the behavior Holden exhibits up to the point he returns home and the behavior he exhibits amount returning home. There is a sudden shift from a volatile tone where events occur in near-rapid succession to a more meditative tone where everything is unhurried.

When Holden sits at the large desk to read Phoebe's notebook, it the first time, since leaving Pencey that, he allows himself to enjoy a reprieve from the antagonism that he faces in the public sphere of his life. For Holden, the notebook epitomizes the innocence and pure nature of children. It is important to note that pure is used to describe children as free from falls pretenses and agendas. They are transparent in everything they do and are, usually, so consumed by the mystery of their world that the brutality of the adult world seems not to interfere with their lives. As he watches his Phoebe sleep, he comments further on the distance between adults and children: You take adults, they look lousy when they're asleepbut kids don't (159).

When Phoebe awakens, there is a slight disturbance in atmosphere. At first she is excited, but being as perceptive as she is, Phoebe soon guesses that Holden was expelled and why. Although, in earlier sections, Holden tells the reader that Phoebe the tremendous ability to understand him and the things he tells her. Yet, his first instinct, as with strangers and those he dismisses as phony, is to erect a delusional wall. This tactic fails with Phoebe. She demands to know why her brother has allowed himself to be expelled. It's almost a pleading for him to tell her why he continues to fail in his life. Immediately, Holden tells her the reasons, not for his expulsion, but or his failure to apply himself. He cannot insult Phoebe with haphazardly constructed lies that he shares with others. Holden goes on a diatribe about his disdain for everyone and everything at Pencey: the arrogance, the exclusivity, the superficiality, etc. The compelling point here is that Phoebe challenges him to name at least one thing he likes as if to say that these are reasons she's heard before. Unfortunately, Holden's mind becomes overwhelmed by thoughts of childhood and the death of childhood. He recalls an incident at Elkton Hills where a young boy, James Castle, defenestrated himself when confronted by his classmates bullying. James Castle's suicide speaks volumes about Holden's situation. Suicide in one of the possible outcomes facing Holden as is the acquiescence exhibited by Sally and Carl Luce.

This memory of James Castle encourages Holden to tell Phoebe that which he claims to want most in the world: And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff (173). The imagery of children running through a field of rye is provocative and reminds of the song the little boy was singing in Chapter 16: If a body catch a body However, Phoebe points out to Holden the actual lyrics of the Robert Burns poem are If a body meet a body coming through the rye (173). This is an interesting point in that Holden may have heard something completely different from what the little boy sang because of his ongoing crisis. This difference in text forces a difference in reading. When using Holden's version of the poem, the tall rye symbolizes the impenetrable borders of childhood. That is to say, childhood is such that children cannot fathom what is beyond it. The cliff's edge represents the dismal fall into adult disillusionment, something from which Holden wants to protect children. When using the original text of the poem, issues are raised about sex and exposing young children to sex. A body meeting another body in a tall field of rye has many implications specifically that two people are meeting for a sexual encounter. In this second reading, the little boy's recitation of the poem becomes disturbing. This is particularly true for Holden because he wants to prevent the loss of innocence that results from premature exposure to sexual intercourse.

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