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The Catcher in the Rye is a 1951 novel by J. D. Salinger. Originally published for adults, the novel has become a common part of high school and college curricula throughout the English-speaking world ; it has also been translated into almost all of the world's major languages.Around 250,000 copies are sold each year, with total sales of more than sixty-five million. The novel's antihero, Holden Caulfield, has become an icon for teenage rebellion .

The novel was among the 100 best English-language novels from 1951 to 2005 as chosen by Time, and named by Modern Library and its readers as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. It has been frequently challenged in the United Statesmarker for its liberal use of profanity and portrayal of sexuality and teenage angst.

Plot summary

The first-person narrative follows Holden Caulfield's experiences in New York Citymarker in the days following his expulsion from Pencey Prep, a fictional college preparatory school in the fictional city of Agerstown, Pennsylvaniamarker.

Holden shares encounters he has had with students and faculty of Pencey, whom he criticizes as being superficial, or, as he would say, "phony". After being expelled from the school for poor grades, Holden packs up and leaves the school in the middle of the night after an altercation with his roommate. He takes a train to New York, but does not want to return to his family and instead checks into the dilapidated Edmont Hotel. There, he spends an evening dancing with three tourist girls and has a clumsy encounter with a prostitute; he refuses to do anything with her and tells her to leave, although he pays her for her time. She demands more money than was originally agreed upon and when Holden refuses to pay he is beaten by her pimp, Maurice.

Holden spends a total of three days in the city, characterized largely by drunkenness and loneliness. At one point he ends up at a museum, where he contrasts his life with the statues of Eskimos on display. For as long as he can remember, the statues have been unchanging. These concerns may have stemmed largely from the death of his brother, Allie. Eventually, he sneaks into his parents' apartment while they are away in order to visit his younger sister, Phoebe, who is nearly the only person with whom he seems to be able to communicate. Holden shares a fantasy he has been thinking about (based on a mishearing of Robert Burns' Comin' Through the Rye): he pictures himself as the sole guardian of numerous children running and playing in a huge rye field on the edge of a cliff. His job is to catch the children if they wander close to the brink; to be a "catcher in the rye".After leaving his parents' apartment, Holden then drops by to see his old English teacher, Mr. Antolini, in the middle of the night, and is offered advice on life and a place to sleep. During the speech on life, Mr. Antolini has a number of "highballs," referring to a cocktail served in a highball glass. Holden's comfort is upset when he wakes up in the night to find Mr. Antolini patting his head in a way that he perceives as "flitty." There is much speculation on whether Mr. Antolini was making a sexual advance on Holden, and it is left up to the reader whether this is true. Holden leaves and spends his last afternoon wandering the city. He later wonders if his interpretation of Mr. Antolini's actions was correct.

Holden intends to move out west; he relays these plans to his sister, who decides she wants to go with him. He refuses to take her, and when she becomes upset with him, he tells her that he will no longer go. Holden then takes Phoebe to the Central Park Zoomarker, where he watches with a melancholic joy as she rides a carousel. At the close of the book, Holden decides not to mention much about the present day, finding it inconsequential. He alludes to "getting sick" and living in a mental hospital, and mentions that he'll be attending another school in September. Holden says that he has found himself missing Stradlater and Ackley (his former classmates), and the others—warning the reader that the same thing could happen to them.

Writing style

The Catcher in the Rye is written in 1st person; written as if Holden himself had written it. There is flow in the seemingly disjointed ideas and episodes; for example, as Holden sits in a chair in his dorm, minor events such as picking up a book or looking at a table unfold into discussions about past experiences. Critical reviews agree that the novel accurately reflected the teenage colloquial speech of the time.


Author Sarah Graham notes two connections to David Copperfield: David Copperfield is a famous example of a bildungsroman, a genre under which The Catcher in the Rye falls; and the character David Copperfield was born with a big caul.

Holden is widely considered to be an unreliable narrator
because of his unstable perceptions, which allows for multiple interpretations of many events in the novel.

Writer Bruce Brooks held that Holden's attitude remains unchanged at story's end, implying no maturation, thus differentiating the novel from young adult fiction.In contrast, writer and academic Louis Menand thought that teachers assign the novel because of the optimistic ending, to teach adolescent readers that "alienation is just a phase." While Brooks maintained that Holden acts his age, Menand claimed that Holden thinks as an adult, given his ability to accurately perceive people and their motives. Others highlight the dilemma of Holden's state in between adolescence and adulthood. While Holden views himself to be smarter than and as mature as adults, he is quick to become emotional. "I felt sorry as hell for..." is a phrase he often uses.

A recent discovery has shed light on the interpretation of Holden's immaturity. Peter Beidler, in A Reader's Companion to J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, is the first to identify the movie that the prostitute Sunny refers to in chapter 13 of The Catcher in the Rye. She says that in the movie a boy falls off a boat. The movie is Captains Courageous, starring Spencer Tracy. The reference is important because Sunny says that Holden looks like the boy who fell off the boat. Beidler shows (see p. 28) a still of the boy, played by child-actor Freddie Bartholomew. That shows that Sunny thinks Holden looks like a little boy, not the tough guy he is trying to be.

The death of his younger brother Allie was a catalyst for Holden's fear of change. Phoebe revolving on the carousel can be seen as a symbol for Holden's revelation that change does not always produce negative consequences . Whether this is understood determines the reader's interpretation of Holden's predicament in the final chapter. For instance, the novel has been read as positing only a negative answer to the social problems it criticizes , with its philosophy being negatively compared with that of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Each Caulfield child has literary talent: D.B. writes screenplays in Hollywood; Holden passed his English course while failing everything else; Allie wrote poetry; and Phoebe is a diarist. Phoebe is particularly influential on Holden; her name denotes and derives from the Greek Phoibe—the Greek Titaness associated with the moon, suggesting she is oracle and catalyst for the boy who sees himself as the catcher in the rye at a cliff-side rye field where children play tag, whom he catches, and saves from themselves, when they stray too near the edge.This "catcher in the rye" is an analogy for Holden, who admires in kids attributes he struggles to find in adults, like innocence, kindness, spontaneity and generosity. Falling off the cliff could be a progression into the adult world that surrounds him and that he strongly criticizes. Later, Phoebe and Holden exchange roles as the "catcher" and the "fallen"; he gives her his hunting hat, the catcher's symbol, and becomes the fallen as Phoebe becomes the catcher.


The Catcher in the Rye has been listed as one of the best novels of the 20th century. For The New York Times, James Stern wrote a negative review of the book, while Nash K. Burger called it "an unusually brilliant novel". George H.W. Bush called it "a marvelous book," listing it among the books that have inspired him. In June 2009, the BBC's Finlo Rohrer wrote that, 58 years since publication, the book is still regarded "as the defining work on what it is like to be a teenager. Holden is at various times disaffected, disgruntled, alienated, isolated, directionless, and sarcastic."

Not all reception was positive, however. The book has had a share of critics. Rohrer writes that "Many of these readers are disappointed that the novel fails to meet the expectations generated by the mystique it is shrouded in. J. D. Salinger has done his part to enhance this mystique. That is to say, he has done nothing." Rohrer assessed the reasons behind both the popularity and criticism of the book, saying that it "captures existential teenage angst" and has a "complex central character" and "accessible conversational style" — while at the same time some readers may dislike the "use of 1940s New York vernacular", "self-obsessed central character" and "too much whining".


In 1960 a teacher was fired for assigning the novel in class. He was later reinstated. Between 1961 and 1982, The Catcher in the Rye was the most censored book in high schools and libraries in the United States. In 1981, it was both the most censored book and the second most taught book in public schools in the United States. According to the American Library Association, The Catcher in the Rye was the tenth most frequently challenged book from 1990–1999. It was one of the ten most challenged books in 2005, and has been off the list since 2006. The challenges generally begin with vulgar language, citing the novel's use of words like "fuck" and "goddam", with more general reasons including sexual references, blasphemy, undermining of family values and moral codes, Holden's being a poor role model, encouragement of rebellion, and promotion of drinking, smoking, lying, and promiscuity.Often, the challengers have been unfamiliar with the plot itself. Shelley Keller-Gage, a high school teacher who faced objections after assigning the novel in her class, noted that the challengers "are being just like Holden ... They are trying to be catchers in the rye." A reverse effect has been that this incident caused people to put themselves on the waiting list to borrow the novel, when there were none before.

Mark David Chapman's shooting of John Lennon, John Hinckley, Jr.'s assassination attemptmarker on Ronald Reagan, Robert John Bardo's shooting of Rebecca Schaeffer and other murders have also been associated with the novel.

In 2009, Salinger successfully sued to stop the U.S. publication of a novel that presents Holden Caulfield as an old man. The organization accused Salinger of hypocrisy for being willing to censor another author's work. The novel's author, Fredrik Colting, commented, "call me an ignorant Swede, but the last thing I thought possible in the U.S. was that you banned books". The issue is complicated by the nature of Colting's book, which has been compared to fan fiction. Although commonly not authorized by writers, no legal action is usually taken against fan fiction since it is rarely published commercially and thus involves no profit. Colting, however, has published his book commercially. Unauthorized fan fiction on The Catcher in the Rye has existed on the Internet for years without any legal action taken by Salinger.


References to The Catcher in the Rye in media and popular culture are numerous. Works inspired by The Catcher in the Rye have been said to form their own genre. Dr. Sarah Graham assessed works influenced by The Catcher in the Rye to include the novels Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis, A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, and Judith Guest's Ordinary People. Graham also includes the films The Graduate, Dead Poets Society, Tadpole, Igby Goes Down, and Donnie Darko, and music by Green Day and The Offspring. In the decade following its publication, there were more than 70 essays on the novel printed in American and British magazines.

The influence of The Catcher in the Rye can be seen in the films of director Wes Anderson, most notably in his debut film Bottle Rocket. In an early scene the protagonist Anthony goes to visit his precocious sister Grace at her elementary school, shortly after checking himself out of a mental health facility. Both the topic and tone of their conversation mimics the discussions of Holden and Phoebe. In addition to pleading with Anthony to come home and stay with the family, Grace makes insightful observations on her brother's character flaws, as Phoebe does during the talk in D.B.'s room. Although only grade-school age Grace, like Phoebe, is mature beyond her years and acts as the voice of reason. In another parallel of the book, Grace interacts briefly with a friend called Bernice, also the name of a friend mentioned by Phoebe in her diary.

Attempted film adaptations

Early in his career, J. D. Salinger expressed a willingness to have his work adapted for the screen. However, in 1949, a critically panned film version of his short story "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut" was released; renamed My Foolish Heart and taking great liberties with Salinger's plot, the film is widely considered to be among the reasons that Salinger has refused to allow any subsequent movie adaptations of his work. The enduring popularity of The Catcher in the Rye, however, has resulted in repeated attempts to secure the novel's screen rights.

When The Catcher in the Rye was first released, many offers were made to adapt it for the screen; among them was Sam Goldwyn, producer of My Foolish Heart. In a letter written in the early fifties, J. D. Salinger spoke of mounting a play in which he would play the role of Holden Caulfield opposite Margaret O'Brien, and, if he couldn’t play the part himself, to “forget about it." Almost fifty years later, the writer Joyce Maynard definitively concluded, "The only person who might ever have played Holden Caulfield would have been J. D. Salinger."

J.D. Salinger told Maynard in the seventies that Jerry Lewis "tried for years to get his hands on the part of Holden," despite Lewis not having read the novel until he was in his thirties. Celebrities ranging from Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson to Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio have since made efforts to make a film adaptation. In an interview with Premiere magazine, John Cusack commented that his one regret about turning twenty-one was that he had become too old to play Holden Caulfield. Writer-director Billy Wilder recounted his abortive attempts to snare the novel's rights:

In 1961, J. D. Salinger denied Elia Kazan permission to direct a stage adaptation of Catcher for Broadwaymarker. More recently, Salinger's agents received bids for the Catcher movie rights from Harvey Weinstein and Steven Spielberg, neither of which was even passed on to J. D. Salinger for consideration.

In 2003, the BBC television program The Big Read featured The Catcher in the Rye, intercutting discussions of the novel with "a series of short films that featured an actor playing J. D. Salinger's adolescent antihero, Holden Caulfield." The show defended its unlicensed adaptation of the novel by claiming to be a "literary review," and no major charges were filed.

According to a speculative article in The Guardian in May 2006, there are rumors that director Terrence Malick has been linked to a possible screen adaptation of the novel.


  1. According to List of best-selling books. An earlier article says more than twenty million:
  2. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Allusions By Elizabeth Webber, Mike Feinsilber p.105
  3. List of most commonly challenged books from the list of the one hundred most important books of the 20th century by Radcliffe Publishing Course
  4. Alternate URL
  5. Graham, 20.
  6. Graham, 28.
  7. Graham, 33.
  8. Graham, 33–4.
  9. Fogel, Karl. Looks like censorship, smells like censorship... maybe it IS censorship?. 2009-07-07.
  10. Sutherland, John. How fanfic took over the web London Evening Standard. Retrieved on 2009-07-22.
  11. p. 75.
  12. Berg, A. Scott. Goldwyn: A Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989. ISBN 1-57322-723-4. p. 446.
  13. See Dr. Peter Beidler's A Reader's Companion to J. D. Salinger's the Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 7.
  14. p. 93.
  15. Ones that got away, Books


Further reading

External links

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