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The Catcher In The Rye - Analysis

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The Catcher in the Rye – Analysis and Summary

Name of the book: The Catcher in the Rye

Writer: J. D. Salinger.

His complete name is Jerome David Salinger, and he was born the first day of 1919 in Manhattan, New York. He started writing early in secondary school, and he had published several stories before getting interrupted by the Second World War in 1940. In 1951 he published his most successful, and only, novel The Catcher in the Rye that became an immediate success among its readers. After the success with The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger started to publish stories less frequently. He wrote three short stories; “Nine Stories” (1953), “Franny and Zooey” (1961), and “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction” (1963). He published his last work in 1965, called "Hapworth 16, 1924"

Holden Caulfield, who is the narrator and protagonist of the story, begins the narrating in Agerstown, Pennsylvania, at his former boarding school Pencey Prep. The majority of the story later takes place in New York City during Christmas, shortly after the Second World War somewhere between 1940 and 1950. In the story you get to follow Holden through various famous landmarks throughout New York City, such as Central Park, Grand Central Station and Greenwich Village. The physical setting of the story is somewhat important, since it illustrates Holden´s loneliness in such a big city as New York. The whole story is narrated through the main characters point of view in terms with the past, since Holden tells it as a monologue from a mental institution in the future. The whole novel is built up like a flashback of Holden’s last Christmas that eventually led to his mental breakdown.

“I´ll just tell you about this madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas just before I got pretty run-down and had to come out here and take it easy.”

The narrative point of view influences the tone of the story in the way that it seems very effortless, unstrained and humorous, even though there probably lies a great deal of labor behind the sentences. You understand a lot more than the book says, and I think you can compare it with Hemingway’s style of writing. To fully understand the meaning of the book you get to think and analyze a lot by yourself.

Holden Caulfield, who is the narrator and protagonist of the story, is an adolescent who is caught in the middle of adulthood and childhood, and he acts as if he is mature even though is incredibly immature. He is tall and skinny, and has prematurely graying hair. He is the middle child in a working class family in New York City and he is constantly moving from boarding school to boarding school since he keeps getting expelled for failing his classes. Holden is very suspicious and has an extremely cynical view of everyone, particularly of women and people older than him.

Phoebe Caulfield is Holden´s younger sister. She is very mature and intelligent for her age, and one of the few characters in the story that Holden is treating with respect and honesty. Phoebe probably represents childhood and innocence to Holden, and when he is describing her talents or her intelligence, Holden uses no signs of irony like he does with almost all the other characters in the story.

Allie Caulfield is Holden´s younger brother, born two years after him. He died of leukemia when they were young; therefore Holden is seeing him as a symbol of childhood innocence. The night that Allie died, Holden broke all of the windows in their garage with his bare hands. Allies death did considerable damage in Holden´s psyche and his death is still a major issue in his life, and played a big part in Holden´s mental breakdown.

Ward Stradlater is Holden´s roommate at his former boarding school Pencey Prep. Ward is very conceited and arrogant, but still friendly to Holden. For example, Ward is showing of his body build by walking around in the room undressed, and when Holden keeps annoying him by smoking and calling him a moron, Ward actually hesitates a long time before hurting him. Holden refers to him as a “secret slob” since he is so concerned about his appearance, yet he is using a rusty razor that he never cleans.

Jane Gallagher is one of the two people who Holden is describing without any irony or despite. She is a girl that Holden knows from his childhood, they used to play checkers together. He is very concerned about her, for example, he doesn´t want Jane to know that he got expelled from Pencey. When Stradlater arrives to their room after a date with Jane, Holden is worried that he might have had sex with her, since Ward is very good at seducing girls. Maybe Holden is afraid that Stradlater would make Jane a “Phony” as well. You don´t get to know so much about Jane Gallagher in the story, except for that she was Holden´s neighbor in Maine, and that they used to play checkers together. You can figure out that Holden is almost fixated by her though, and he is considering calling her several times throughout the story and thinks about her in almost every chapter. Sadly you don’t get to know much more about Jane, except for that she was a close friend to Holden who used to play checkers with him.

The story is about Holden Caulfield, a tall, skinny seventeen- year- old kid with prematurely graying hair, who is telling the story of his last Christmas. The book starts when Holden is on his way to visit his History teacher Mr. Spencer to say goodbye to him since he just got expelled from his school. After getting lectured by Mr. Spencer about “life being a game” he returns to his room in the Ossenburger memorial wing. Back at his room he has a fight with his roommate Stradlater, and then decides to leave the school four days early. He thinks that it doesn´t matter since he is already expelled, and after selling his typewriter to another student, he walks to the train station. Since his parents’ doesn´t know that he got expelled for the fourth time yet, he decides not to go home to face their wrath.

When he arrives in New York City he is considering calling either his kid sister Phoebe, his old girlfriend Sally Hayes or Jane Gallagher, but he ends up calling neither of them. He finally decides to take a cab to the very cheap Edmonton Hotel, and later tries to hook up with a Prostitute named Faith Cavendish, but gets declined. The following night Holden spends by visiting both the Hotel bar and a nightclub called Ernie´s, but leaves both of them early on contract of phoniness on behalf of the other guests. When Holden gets back to the Hotel, the elevator boy “Maurice” offers him a prostitute for five dollars after Holden is claiming that he is twenty- two. When the prostitute called “Sunny” arrives Holden gets nervous and starts making excuses not to have sex with her. She gets upset and demands ten dollars before she leaves, although Holden is only willing to give her five. Sunny returns later together with Maurice, and takes the money Sunny demanded out of Holden’s wallet while he is crying. Before leaving Maurice punches him in the

stomach, and Holden is now so depressed that the only thing that keeps him from jumping out of the window is that he doesn´t want people staring at his dead body on the pavement.

After having a date with his old girlfriend Sally Hayes which ends with him calling her a “royal pain in the ass” and getting excessively drunk at the wicker bar he finally heads home. He sneaks in to his older brother´s room where his kid sister is asleep. He wakes her up and they talk for a while, but she doesn´t share her brothers’ opinions. She says that “daddy is going to kill you” for getting kicked out again, but Holden defends himself by claiming that Pencey Prep was filled with phonies. She tells him to mention one thing that he actually likes in this world, and he can think of a few things. Firstly a boy named James Castle at his former boarding school Elkton Hills who killed himself after a getting threatened by another boy. He also likes Allie, his deceased brother, and to talk to Phoebe. He also mentions that his dream is to be a ”catcher in the rye” and imagines a lot of children playing in a field of rye, right next to the edge of a steep mountain. He tells phoebe that he would prevent the children from falling out from the edge.

When his parents arrive Holden sneaks out to avoid them, and he calls his former teacher Mr. Antolini to arrange for somewhere to stay for the night. Mr. Antolini welcomes him with open arms, and they have a long talk about the importance of a proper education. He states that Holden still has a good chance of turning out into a brilliant man eventually, but Holden doesn´t really pay attention to anything that he is saying. After going to sleep he wakes up only to find Mr. Antolini touching his head, and Holden runs away to the train station claiming that he needs to retrieve some bags that he previously forgot there. He spends the rest of the night sleeping at a bench, and wakes up with a terrible headache. He worries about anything he reads about in the paper, and every time he comes to the end of the bloc, he´s feeling as if he will never reach the other side of the street. He states that:

"I had the feeling I'd never get to the other side of the street. I thought I'd just go down, down, down, and nobody'd ever see me again."

He also believes that he is with Allie again every time he reaches the curb. He decides that he wants to move out into the woods and live in a little cabin, pretending that he is a deaf-mute “So that I don´t have to deal with any stupid conversations.”

Before leaving he still wants to say goodbye to Phoebe, and arrange for them to meet at the museum. When Phoebe arrive at their rendezvous she has a large suitcase with her, and she desperately wants to come with him. Holden gets mad and tells her to “Shut up” which results in her crying, and Holden decides not to run away but to stay home instead. They take a walk to the zoo and the last scene in the book ends when Holden is crying, watching Phoebe ride the carousel. In the epilogue, when Holden is situated at the mental institution, he says that he will try harder at his next school, and that he is more optimistic about the future nowadays. He even misses some of the people that he earlier detested.

One of the themes in The Catcher in the Rye I figure is the border between Adulthood and Childhood. Holden is neither a child, nor an adult and that puts him in a position where he has to choose between these two. Finally his choice is not to be immature as in childhood or phony as in adulthood. The underlying message that Salinger tries to convey is that there is nothing wrong with growing into an adult, but you don’t have to grow phony.
Holden’s contempt for adults and phoniness comes back in many different themes throughout the story. Since he considers all adults being phony and corrupt he idolizes childhood, this shows in Holden´s dream of becoming a catcher in the rye. He wants to prevent innocent children from falling off a cliff, probably meaning that he wants to save them from growing up.

“God, I love it when a kid's nice and polite when you tighten their skate for them or something. Most kids are. They really are."

This is also obvious when Holden tries to erase foul words from the walls in Phoebe’s school; he wants the children to remain as innocent as children normally are. What Holden can´t understand is the inevitable fact that everyone has to grow up, and since he is unable to accept that, he gets mentally ill.

Salinger’s style of writing is very descriptive, for example he gives the names of the streets even if they aren´t relevant for the story being told. Another remarkable detail is that every minor event gets blown up; when Holden sees a nun with cheap suitcases it unfolds into a long story about a boy at his former boarding school who also had cheap suitcases. In The Catcher in the Rye he is also using a lot of symbolism and an underlying meaning to several expressions. He is using words like “madman”, “phony” or putting an “Old” before other characters names, and for example the ducks in the park, which he asks about so much, have a deeper psychological meaning than Salinger chooses to tell the reader. That is one thing that I really enjoy about this book, the reading between the lines and the symbolism that Salinger is so good at.

The Catcher in the Rye is definitely one of the deepest novels I have read. The story is really good, and Salinger´s way of describing the language and setting in the book makes it both humorous and interesting. I think I might have to read it again, because there are so many details and symbols that you can´t figure out at the first look. Holden is almost the same age as I am now, and I can recognize some of his behavior in this story. That’s one reason why I think it´s so captivating; I can look at what he did and learn from it, because it´s so much that you can learn about life from this book as an adolescent. I do think that it is a little bit silly to live off the royalties of a book published in 1951 though, and i wonder how good of an author he really is since he wasn´t able to publish anything else worth reading. But still, I think this is a fascinating study of human behavior, and to completely understand this novel you would have to be a psychologist, or the author. Even though I am neither, I can still put myself into his position and that´s probably why I enjoyed this book so much.

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