The Catcher in the Rye

J.D. Salinger

Coming-of-age novel. A young adult, Holden Caulfield, recounts his adventures during the winter of 1951.

What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though.

The Catcher in the Rye is a landmark in American literature. Recalled by Holden Caulfield, a red deerstalker donning teenager who attended the prestigious Pencey Prep, we learn of his actions during the winter of 1951. Holden delights in telling us the details of his life at the academy, giving his insights on his friends, teachers and family. On his travels traipsing around New York Holden has a sticky encounter with a prostitute and her pimp, he reunites with old friends and reminiscences about old times. The main aspect of the plot is Holden concocting a plan for his future. He battles his parents’ expectations with his own ambitions and fears the route his life may take. Salinger has excelled at delivering enough detail to make the character believable and allowing the audience a full grasp of the character’s thoughts and opinions without side-lining the plot.

The true beauty of The Catcher in the Rye is J.D. Salinger’s skill in conversational style writing: we as readers feel as though Holden is talking to us directly. He has a comedic, intelligent and melancholic personality which evokes a sense of companionship between the reader and the central character while incentivizing you to continue the novel. It is an ideal read for any reader who welcomes Holden Caulfield’s opinionated personality. Be warned, this book has caused controversy in the past for its sexual references and use of language.

Do you think Holden recognises his age and limitations?

What do you think his attitude is to adults in general?

How does New York play a part in the novel? Do you think Holden has a particular attachment to this location?

How do Holden’s plans change during the course of the novel and what are main reasons for this?

Do you find any of the characters particularly relatable? If so, which ones?

Do you think Holden gives an accurate representation of the characters or are the descriptions likely warped?

What do you interpret the main message of The Catcher in the Rye to be? Does it have one clear message?

Do you think the society, described in the novel, still exists today?

What do you think is the reason behind Holden continually asking ‘where do the ducks go when the lagoon freezes over in central park?’.

Why do you think Holden refers to other characters as phonies?

What is Holden’s relationship with money? How does Salinger represent wealth in the novel?


Holden returns to his family home and chats with Phoebe, his sister. He tells her that he is planning on leaving New York and going across state. He then leaves to go meet an old acquaintance which shortly ends and then plans to spend the night at a former professor’s house. During the night the professor strokes Holden’s head which Holden interprets as a homosexual advance, he swiftly leaves, feeling doubtful about the action and his teachers’ intentions. Holden spends the rest of the night at grand central station before meeting his sister Phoebe the next morning. He intends to see her during her school lunch break, wanting to return what he has left of the money he borrowed from her and say goodbye. Suggesting that she meet him at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he is surprised when she shows up carrying a suitcase. She tells Holden that she is going with him. Holden, frustrated with Phoebe for wanting to abandon her life and come with him, insults her. Phoebe becomes bitter and refuses to talk, a sign of her anger with Holden, hoping that it will annoy him. Knowing that Phoebe will follow if he leaves, Holden sets off for the Zoo with Phoebe tailing him from the other side of the road. Once there, they reconcile and enjoy a carousel ride with Holden deciding to stay. The novel ends with Holden stating he is in an institution, not many details are given but he suggests that he has even begun to miss Pencey and is starting a new school soon.

The Catcher in the Rye was banned across many US states for its use of strong language and sexual references.

A prequel featuring Holden’s older brother exists. The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls was due to be published in 1949 in Harper’s Bazaar but Salinger withdrew it. The story was donated to Princeton University on the condition that it will not be published until the 50th anniversary of Salinger’s death.

Holden Caulfield first appeared in J.D. Salinger’s short stories ten years before the publication of Catcher in the Rye. In November 1941, Salinger sold the story Slight Rebellion Off Madison, the debut of Holden Caulfield, to The New Yorker. It was not published in the magazine until December 1946, likely due to the war.

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