Catcher in the Rye - Study Guide

Topics: The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger, Novel Pages: 64 (23878 words) Published: July 24, 2013

J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield recounts the days following his expulsion from Pencey Prep, a private school. After a fight with his roommate, Stradlater, Holden leaves school two days early to explore New York before returning home, interacting with teachers, prostitutes, nuns, an old girlfriend, and his sister along the way. J.D. Salinger's classic The Catcher in the Rye illustrates a teenager's dramatic struggle against death and growing up. Written by: J.D. Salinger

Type of Work: novel
Genres: coming-of-age
First Published: by Little, Brown and Company on July 16, 1951 Setting: 1950s; Agerstown, Pennsylvania
Main Characters: Holden Caulfield; Phoebe; Allie; D.B.; Mr. Antolini Major Thematic Topics: innocence; death; authentic versus artificial; sexual confusion Motifs: language; ducks in the pond
Major Symbols: preparatory school life; baseball glove; red hunting cap; Radio City Music Hall; the carrousel's gold ring; the coming-of-age genre The three most important aspects of The Catcher in the Rye:

Holden Caulfield is one of the best-loved fictional characters in American literature. Like another popular character, Huck Finn, Holden tells his own story in his own words as if speaking aloud, and it is Holden's "voice" on the page, rather than the plot of The Catcher in the Rye, for which the novel is most remembered. •Although The Catcher in the Rye seems like the unedited thoughts and feelings of an actual teenager, it is nothing of the kind. Actually, J.D. Salinger was in his twenties and thirties when he wrote the novel, which began as a short story and grew, over many years, into a book length work of fiction. •The novel's main thematic conflict pits the innocence and authenticity of childhood, as represented by Holden's sister Phoebe, against the phoniness, as Holden sees it, of most adults (Mr. Antolini, for example). Neither a child nor a grownup, Holden resists maturation, a process he sees as characterized by loss rather than growth.


Holden Caulfield, the seventeen-year-old narrator and protagonist of the novel, addresses the reader directly from a mental hospital or sanitarium in southern California. He wants to tell us about events that took place over a two-day period the previous December. Typically, he first digresses to mention his older brother, D.B., who was once a "terrific" short-story writer but now has sold out and writes scripts in nearby Hollywood. The body of the novel follows. It is a frame story, or long flashback, constructed through Holden's memory. Holden begins at Pencey Prep, an exclusive private school in Pennsylvania, on the Saturday afternoon of the traditional football game with school rival, Saxon Hall. Holden misses the game. Manager of the fencing team, he managed to lose the team's equipment on the subway that morning, resulting in the cancellation of a match in New York. He is on his way to the home of his history teacher, Mr. Spencer, to say good-bye. Holden has been expelled and is not to return after Christmas break, which begins Wednesday. Spencer is a well-meaning but long-winded old man, and Holden gladly escapes to the quiet of an almost deserted dorm. Wearing his new red hunting cap, he begins to read. His reverie is temporary. First, a dorm neighbor named Ackley disturbs him. Later, Holden argues with his roommate, Stradlater, who fails to appreciate a theme that Holden has written for him about Holden's deceased brother Allie's baseball glove. A womanizer, Stradlater has just returned from a date with Holden's old friend Jane Gallagher. The two roommates fight, Stradlater winning easily. Holden has had enough of Pencey Prep and catches a train to New York City where he plans to stay in a hotel until Wednesday, when his parents expect him to return home for Christmas vacation. En route to New York, Holden meets the mother of a Pencey classmate and severely distorts the truth by...
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