Genre: Fiction; a Bildungsroman Historical information about the period of publications:
The first Holden Caulfield story was sold to the New Yorker magazine in 1941, which was published in 1946. Fragments of this story were published separately until the full book is finally published on July 16, 1951, changing America’s views on fiction literature.
Biographical information about the author:
Jerome David Salinger was born on January 1, 1919 in NYC. He is the second and last child of Sol and Miriam Salinger, with a sister, Doris, who is 8 years older. He first aspired to be an actor when he was younger, though he was described as a quite, solitary boy. He went to McBurney School in Manhattan in 1932, but struggled in the private school with grades. Seeing this, his parents sent him to Valley Forge Military Academy in Pennsylvania where he took up drama and singing at age 15. He went through several colleges before discovering his interest in writing at a short-story writing course at Columbia University in 1939. Through many rejections, Salinger continued to write and submit stories. He enlisting in the army and taking part in the Normandy Beach raid on D-Day. He marries his wife Claire Douglas on February 17, 1955, and has a daughter, Margaret Ann, and a son, Matthew, but divorces in 1967.
The Catcher in the Rye is told by Holden Caufield, the protagonist, while he is in a mental institution. He narrates a few days in December starting from when he left Pencey Prep, which he was expelled from. He visits his history teacher, Mr. Spencer, to say goodbye, then returns to his dorm, only to be bothered by Ackley, his neighbor, and Stradlater, his roommate. He is extremely disgusted by Stradlater, especially after he finds out about Stradlater’s date with Jane Gallagher, his old friend. Holden ends up taking a train home, to New York City, even though he wasn’t due to leave for another few days. After he arrives in New York, He takes a taxicab to the Edmont Hotel. His room allows him to see into the rooms of others, he sees a transvestite, and a couple spitting at each other and becomes both stirred up and confused by his sexuality. In the downstairs Lavender Room, he meets three women in their thirties and he tries to act mature and older, but ends up having to pay their check. He thinks about Jane Gallagher and then goes to Ernie’s in Greenwich Village but son leaves. Back at the Edmont, he has a prostitute sent for him. She, too, leaves soon, though her boss, Maurice, comes to beat up Holden for more money. The next morning, he phones Sally Hayes to see her, then checks his bags at Grand Central and had breakfast, during which he meets two nuns. Afterwards, he looks for a record for his younger sister, Phoebe and hears a boy singing about a body coming through the rye. Holden goes to a play with Sally the ice skates, but their date ends up in a fight. He goes to a movie, then gets drunk, while trying to talk to his former student advisor about sexuality. He goes to the duck lagoon in Central Park, then home to see Phoebe, where he talks about being “the catcher in the rye.” He leaves without his parents finding out and visits Mr. Antolini, a former teacher, but ends up sleeping there for the night and waking up to the man stroking his head. He has lunch with Phoebe and agrees not to leave so she will not follow him. He takes her to the carousel and watches her ride. The book ends with him in the institution, missing everyone. He is to start school again in September.
Characteristics of the Genre:
It is a Realistic Fiction book and a classic, but most notably, it is a bildungsroman, or a coming-of-age novel. The protagonist goes through many changes, especially psychological, to become an adult. They try to learn through their experiences and the novel itself is their journey to maturity. Often, the protagonist struggles with society’s ideas, even though he or she reaches out to particular characters.
Salinger writes in a colloquial, informal style with simple language. He speaks very frankly and to the point, but so much so that it comes off as ridiculous or humorous. His sentences are generally short and his descriptions are also, but occasionally we encounter some long explanations.
Example that demonstrates the style:
“What I liked about her, she didn’t give you a lot of horse manure about what a great guy her father was. She probably knew what a phony slob he was.”
- It is written in Salinger’s casual and honest style, and it comes off as humorous. Each sentence is very to the point.
“You remember I said before that Ackley was a slob in his personal habits? Well, so was Stradlater, but in a different way. Stradlater was moreof a secret slob. He always looked all right, Stradlater, but for instance, you should’ve seen the razor he shaved himself with. It was always rusty as hell and full of lather and hairs and crap. He never cleaned it or anything. He always looked good when he was finished fixing himself up, but he was a secret slob anyway, if you knew the way I did.”
It shows how much Holden can’t stand “phonies.” He can’t stand how neat Stradlater comes off as to others when he personally has seen how big a slob he actually is.
“At the end of the first act we went out with all the other jerks for a cigarette. What a deal that was. You never saw so many phonies in all your life, everybody smoking their ears off and talking about the play so that everybody could hear and know how sharp they were. Some dopey movie actor was standing near us, having a cigarette. I don’t know his name but he always plays the part of a guy in a war movie that gets yellow before it’s time to go over the top. He was with some gorgeous blonde, and the two of them were trying to be very blasé and all, like as if he didn't even know people were looking at him. Modest as hell. I got a big bang out of it.”
This is another example of how Holden can’t stand artificiality. He considers it just as bad to purposefully try to act a certain way as to act modest while feeling smug.
It was a funny thing to say. It sounded like a real kid. You'd think a prostitute and all would say "Like hell you are" or "Cut the crap" instead of "Like fun you are."”
Holden sees Sunny’s innocence, even though she’s a prostitute and he compares her youth to his own.
“Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone. I know that's impossible, but it's too bad anyway.”
This shows Holden is afraid of change.
“What I was really hanging around for, I was trying to feel some kind of good-by. I mean I've left schools and places I didn't even know I was leaving them. I hate that. I don't care if it's a sad good-by or a bad good-by, but when I leave a place I like to know I'm leaving it. If you don't, you feel even worse.”
Holden feels the need for emotion. He is afraid that he’ll be gone from Pencey and realize that it gave him nothing.
"You ought to go to a boys' school sometime. Try it sometime," I said. "It's full of phonies, and all you do is study so that you can learn enough to be smart enough to be able to buy a goddam Cadillac someday, and you have to keep making believe you give a damn if the football team loses, and all you do is talk about girls and liquor and sex all day, and everybody sticks together in these dirty little goddam cliques."
He hated school because everything there was pointless to him- he doesn’t care to be rich enough to buy a Cadillac, and as for the people, they all do those stereotypical high school things. He’d rather be apart from it than pretend to be a part of it.
Name, role in story, significance, adjectives
Holden Caulfield- The seventeen-year-old protagonist of the novel; He is the narrator of the story. Throughout the novel, he travels around New York City, resenting the world of phonies. He is lost and does not feel belonged anywhere. Through his experience as he travels he starts to realize that not everything is the way he sees it from his perspective. He is judgmental and immature at first, but in the end he matures, developing a genuine heart for the people important to him.
Jean Stradlater- Holden’s roommate at Pencey Prep; He fits Holden’s label of a ‘phony’ as he appears to be a well-groomed, handsome boy, Holden sees his unclean sides in the dorm. He angers Holden by disrespecting Holden’s brother’s poems on his sacred baseball glove, and also by going out with Jane Gallagher. Holden describes him as a ‘sexy bastard’; he is superficial and unappreciative.
Jane Gallagher- She shares a past with Holden; they were neighbors one summer and used to hang out together. She is one of the few people who Holden considers very important to him. Being unable to protect her from Stradlater and her alcoholic father, just as he was unable to protect his beloved brother from death, makes him frustrated. She is a sweet, innocent, and idiosyncratic girl.
Phoebe Caulfield- Holden’s ten year old younger sister; Holden feels the closet to her and from observing her he does not find the usual phoniness that he finds in other people, but rather the true, optimistic spirit of an innocent child. Phoebe is the only one who Holden feels true affection and appreciation from. She is smart, imaginative, innocent, and compassionate.
Allie Caulfield- Holden’s younger brother who died four years ago from leukemia (in narrative present). He also is a source of hope and comfort for Holden, who talks to him from time to time when he is going through rough time. While Phoebe is alive, she is too innocent to see the dark sides of Holden, so Allie is the one Holden reveals his complications to. Holden keeps Allie’s old baseball glove as a reminder of their connection. Holden describes Allie as being the most intelligent, and the nicest person in the family.
D.B.- Holden’s older brother; Holden used to look up to him, describing his short-stories as “terrific” before he went to Hollywood as a scriptwriter. Holden feels that he has sold himself out for the rewards of writing popular but artificial movies. He is included in the group of people in the world Holden labels as ‘phonies.’
Sally Hays- A girl Holden has been dating for a while; Despite Holden’s hatred for phony people, she represents one of the extreme phonies who say and do things they don’t feel. After their ice-skating date, Holden realizes that she does not share the passions he has and that he is too different from her unimaginative, insensitive, and “stupid” ways.
Mr. Spencer- A history teacher at Pencey Prep; He is one of the few people who Holden acknowledges actually cares for him. He tries to convince Holden to get out of his slump and try hard in school, but Holden just feels sorry for the old man. Holden realizes that they cannot understand each other and leaves. Mr. Spencer is very old, dirty, and sad.
Mr. Antolini- Holden’s favorite teacher who taught him at Elkton Hills, before becoming an English professor at NYU; Holden respects him not only as an intelligent teacher but also as a person with a genuine heart, after observing him carry the bloody body of a suicidal student. He is the only adult Holden does not categorize as ‘phony.’ When Holden makes a rash judgment on Mr. Antolini’s affection, he begins to reflect on his actions, seeing that people are more complex than what he makes them out to be. He is
Setting: Holden begins his narration in Pennsylvania, at his former school, Pencey Prep. The rest of his experiences take place in New York City.
Catcher in the rye- Holden wants to catch children to prevent them from leaving innocence and emerging into the adult world. He imagines a field of rye where he catches the children from stumbling off the edge of the cliff.
Red hunting hat: The hat symbolizes Holden’s uniqueness and separation from everyone else. It represents Holden’s desire to be different from everyone. He usually wears it unless he’s near people he knows. This portrays Holden’s conflict between isolation and companionship. The color of the hat is also red which the color of his sister Phoebe’s hair is. Holden associates Phoebe with innocence and purity.
The museum of Natural History: The museum symbolizes a world that Holden would like to inhabit. He mentions how everything there is frozen and unchanging. Holden feels that every time he goes there, he’s the one who has changed. The museum represents Holden’s desire to live in a world where nothing changes and is simple. This is because Holden is terrified by the unpredictable challenges of the adult world.
The ducks: These ducks symbolize perseverance even in the most inhospitable conditions which is similar to Holden’s situation. The ducks verify that change is temporary. Although the ducks leave every winter, they come back in the spring thus representing change that isn’t permanent. The “partly frozen and partly not frozen part” also symbolizes Holden stuck between childhood and adulthood.
Carousel: Life at its best possibilities. The carousel is a representation of the innocence and happiness of childhood. It is an instance in which Holden could 'catch a body' and 'rescue' her too. It moves and continues in motion, but the journey of a carousel is an illusion.. It's the play of childhood and Holden's fantasy vision of the world.
Reluctance to grow up
Isolation as means of self protection
Phoniness of the adult world
Sexuality and sexual identity
Lies and deceit
Significance of opening scene: At the beginning of the novel, Holden insinuates that he has been hospitalized for a nervous breakdown, the story of which is revealed over the course of the novel. Holden Caulfield writes his story from a rest home to which he has been sent for therapy.
Significance of closing scene: Holden is truly happy at the end of the story. He sees Phoebe on the carousel which nearly makes him bawl from joy. At the conclusion of the novel, Holden has returned to childhood, away from the threats of adult intimacy and sexuality.