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.

Set in the 1950s, The Catcher in the Rye is narrated by a sixteen years old boy named Holden Caulfield. It is not clear where Holden is when he begins his story, but he does mention he is receiving treatment for an unspecified illness. The story he tells takes place over the span of one weekend just before his Christmas vacation. He first recounts his last day at Pencey Prep, the private school from which he has been expelled. On that day, he is watching, from Thomsen Hill, the annual football game between his school and Saxon Hall. Holden is trying to feel a goodbye to Pencey. He achieves this by remembering an evening when he and his friends are tossing around a football. Shortly after remembering that evening, he leaves the game to say goodbye to his history teacher, Mr. Spencer.

Holden returns to his room in the new dorms which are named after an alumnus turned wealthy funeral home tycoon. While trying to read, he is interrupted by his annoying and unhygienic neighbor Robert Ackley. Ackley invites himself into Holden's room where he touches everything, much to Holden's annoyance. He also insults Holden's roommate Stradlater who is Ackley's nemesis. Stradlater comes home, in a hurry, to prepare for a date with Jane Gallagher, an old friend and neighbor of Holden's. Holden becomes anxious after learning about Stradlater's date and affects the rest of his night.

After dinner, Holden goes to town to catch a movie with his friend, Mal Brossard, and Ackley. However, the trio goes for hamburgers and several rounds of video games, instead. They return to Pencey where Holden writes a composition about his dead brother, Allie's poetry inscribed baseball glove for Stradlater. Stradlater returns from his date to a barrage of questions about his date with Jane. He is then unsuccessfully assaulted by Holden who he ends up injuring in turn.

The fight with Stradlater and the subsequent disappointing search for refuge in Ackley's room leads Holden to leave Pencey before the official end of the fall term. He decides to spend the next several days in Manhattan before facing his parents' disappointment. He boards the late train to New York City where he meets the mother of one of his classmates. Believing her son to be the biggest bastard that ever went to Pencey (54), he tells her lies about her son's social skills, claiming he is well liked yet shy. He considers calling several people upon arriving at Penn Station, but decides against it. He hails a taxi to the Edmont Hotel where he watches, from his window, fascinating sexual activity on the other side of the hotel.

Feeling restless, Holden goes to the Lavender Room, the Edmont's nightclub. He tries to order a cocktail in the Lavender Room, but the waiter asks Holden for identification proving he is legally allowed to drink. Not having any age verification, Holden orders a coke. He sees three women sitting alone whose lack of conversational skills and obsession with celebrities is disappointing. As soon as they finish their drinks, the three women leave Holden in the nightclub. Unable to sleep, Holden goes to Ernie's, a nightclub owned by a black piano player.

Holden walks back to the hotel after having a poor time at Ernie's. When he boards the elevator, Holden is asked by Maurice the operator, if he is interested in hiring a lady for the night. After learning of the price, five bucks for a throw, fifteen till noon (91), Holden agrees. The prostitute, Sunny, comes to Holden's room ready to service him, but Holden declines. He excuses himself with a fictional medical condition. He pays her five dollars, but she tells him that he owes her ten. He refuses to pay and sends her home. Later on, Sunny returns with the elevator operator to collect what she claims she is owed. Holden is assaulted, again, in his hotel room after refusing to pay the balance. The next morning, he checks out of the hotel and leaves his bags at Grand Central. On the way to breakfast, he calls Sally Hayes for a date later that afternoon. While eating bacon and eggs, he encounters two nuns to who he gives a considerable donation.

Holden wanders through the city after finishing breakfast, obsessing over the nuns' surprising genuine altruism. As he walks, he notices a presumably poor family with a little boy amusing himself in the street. The boy is singing If a body catch a body coming through the rye which helps alleviate Holden's depression, if only briefly. Holden then purchases a rare record for Phoebe and looks for her in the park, but does not find her there. He goes to the Museum of Natural History where he muses about his childhood days spent visiting its exhibits.

Holden's date with Sally Hayes ended in an emotional outburst by both. Confused and depressed, he goes to lunch and thinks of calling Jane Gallagher again. He looks for other people to call, settling on Carl Luce, his Student Advisor at Whooton. They agree to meet for drinks at 10 o'clock that night. His meeting with Carl Luce is as unsatisfactory as his date with Sally. Holden becomes increasingly anxious, depressed, and lonely. After getting drunk, he decides to go to his apartment and visits with Phoebe.

She is sleeping in D.B.'s room where he admires her innocence as she sleeps. When he finally wakes her, she is excited to see him, but wants to know why he is home so early from Pencey. Phoebe knows that Holden has been expelled. When his parents return from a party in Connecticut, he leaves for, his former English teacher, Mr. Antolini's apartment in Suffolk Hills. Holden finds their apartment and the Antolinis in disarray from a late dinner party. Mr. Antolini expresses dire concern for Holden and tries to impart his own hard learned lessons on him. Holden is tired and feeling ill so he cannot concentrate on the conversation, though he respects and admires Mr. Antolini. They finish their conversation and Holden retires only to awaken to Mr. Antolini stroking his forehead. Holden dresses and rushes out of the apartment despite his exhaustion and delirium.

He goes directly to Grand Central Station from Mr. Antolini's. There he sleeps on a bench until the noise of the morning commuters wakes him. He leaves the train station to wander along Fifth Avenue making plans to runaway. First, he walks to Phoebe's school to leave her a note asking her to meet him at the Museum of Natural History so that he can say goodbye. She meets him in their in the afternoon, with her suitcase. Holden forbids her from traveling with him, thus making her distraught. Seeing his impact on her, Holden gives up his plans to runaway and takes Phoebe to the zoo and the carousel in Central Park. There he sits on a bench, in the rain, watching her ride around the carousel feeling a happiness he hasn't felt in long time.

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