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The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye is the only major and well-known novel written by J. D. Salinger that has been published.

Published in 1951, the novel remains controversial today (it was the 13th most frequently challenged book from 1990-2000, according to the ALA [1]) and its hero, Holden Caulfield, has become an icon for teenage angst.

In the book, seventeen-year-old Holden Caulfield, writing from a mental institution, relates his experiences of the previous year (when he was 16). Holden flunked out from Pencey Preparatory School after failing almost all his subjects. After getting into a fight with his room-mate, Holden leaves for New York City, planning on spending a few days in the city before telling his parents. The book, written in the first person, relates Holden's experiences in those days.

Publishers Weekly reports that today the majority of purchasers/readers of The Catcher in the Rye are women.

Table of contents
1 Plot Summary
2 Themes
3 Characters
4 Controversy
5 ISBN numbers
6 External Links

Plot Summary

Warning: Wikipedia contains spoilers

The book covers about half a week in Holden's life after being kicked out of school. Not wanting to face his parents, he decides to leave school early and spend a few days alone in New York City. (Insert plot here)


The main theme of the Catcher in the Rye (in fact, the one which the book is named after) is one of innocence. At one point, Holden imagines himself standing in a field of rye in which children are playing. In his imagination, there is a cliff just beside the field. His ideal job, he tells his younger sister Phoebe, would be to stand in the field and catch the children if they came too close to the cliff, saving them from falling over it - he would like to be, he says, "the catcher in the rye". This probably refers to children losing their innocence and turning into the "phonies" Holden so despises.

The book also deals with phoniness. Holden despises dishonesty and false pretenses, and throughout the book is frequently picking out the "phonies" he sees around him. As a teenage boy who is deeply troubled by his own depression and personal failings, Holden believes that most of the seemingly happy or successful people he encounters are either liars or ignorant.


The central character of the book is Holden Caulfield, a sixteen-year old teenager, who relates the story. By clever use of slang, Salinger lends to Holden a rare ring of authentism for such a complex character. Holden has been interpreted in many ways, from a cynical but clear-thinking critic of the adult world to a confused boy who isn't as grown up as he thinks he is. He comments continuously, usually cynically, about the people he meets, the places he sees, and so on. He only really likes his sister, Phoebe Caulfield.

Many of the book's most powerful characters never appear. Allie Caulfield, Holden's younger brother, died several years ago. The night he died, Holden broke every single window in the garage, and had to be hospitalised. It is obvious from the novel that Holden has never completely gotten over his death. During his nervous breakdown, Holden calls to Allie to save him.

Another major character is Jane Gallagher. A friend of Holden's from his early teenage years, Jane was a neighbour of Holden's who he grew close to. At the beginning of the novel, Stadlater (Holden's roommate) goes out with Jane. Stradlater has a reputation, and the thought that he might have slept with Jane makes him extremely angry, leading him to a largely one-sided fight with the much stronger Stradlater, and later to leaving his school. He tried to call Jane a few times in New York, but couldn't work up the nerve.


The Catcher in the Rye has been shrouded in controversy almost since it's beginning. A comprehensive history of its censorship can be found here. The main reasons for banning it have been the use of offensive language, premarital sex, alcohol abuse, and prostitution. Mark David Chapman, murderer of musician John Lennon, asked the latter to sign it for him on the morning of the day he killed him. Chapman was carrying the book when police arrested him immediately after the murder, and also referred to it during his statement to the New York Parole Board in 2000 [1].

ISBN numbers

External Links