Summary of the Novel
The story covers a three-day period in the life of Holden Caulfield. He has been notified that he has just flunked out of prep school, and he begins his journey home, where he must face his parents. He is also considering whether he should simply go out west and start a new life, rather than go home at all.
Before he leaves Pencey, Ackley, the boy who lives in the next room, comes over to visit. Ackley has several personal habits which make him unappealing, but Holden tolerates him. Stradlater, Holden’s roommate, then comes in to freshen up for a date. Although Stradlater is handsome and has the veneer of sincerity, Holden thinks he is a phony. That evening, in New York City, Holden joins three female tourists in a nightclub and gets stuck with the check. Back at his hotel, he accepts an offer from the elevator operator for some female companionship. When the girl arrives, he is depressed by the hollowness of an encounter with a prostitute and tells her that he is not in the mood for sex.
The next day, Sunday, Holden meets two nuns at breakfast. He enjoys their conversation and insists on giving them a contribution. That afternoon, he takes his old girlfriend, Sally, to see a play. Still ambivalent about going home, Holden tries to talk Sally into running away with him. When he insults her, she asks him to leave. Later, he goes home and sneaks into the house to see his sister, Phoebe, before he runs away. After they talk, he decides to spend the night at the home of his former English teacher, Mr. Antolini. Holden suspects that his former teacher is a pervert when he is awakened by Mr. Antolini petting him on the head. Holden makes up a flimsy excuse about getting his bags from the train station and bolts from the apartment.
Holden continues to be obsessed by his plan to go out west. On Monday morning, he writes Phoebe a note at her school asking her to meet him near the Metropolitan Museum. Phoebe meets him with suitcase in hand. She has decided to run away with him, but he tells her that he is not going away after all. They visit the zoo, and then Phoebe wants to ride the carousel in the park. Before she gets on, he confirms to her that he really is going home. While standing in a soaking rain, watching Phoebe ride the carousel, he feels so happy that he is on the verge of tears.
The novel is divided into three sections, with the first chapter as an introduction and the last chapter as an epilogue. The first part includes Chapters Two through Seven, covering the period at Pencey Prep. Chapters Eight through Twenty make up the second part, which recounts Holden’s wandering about New York, and ends with his decision to go home. Chapters Twenty-one through Twenty-five describe his time with Phoebe. Holden is the narrator of the story which is told as a “flashback.”
The period following World War II was a time of hope, change, and puzzlement. Today’s youth have come to know this period through television sitcoms (Happy Days and Ozzie and Harriet), movies (Rebel Without a Cause), and early rock ‘n’ roll music, which is still heard on “oldies” radio stations. Needless to say, these provide a simplistic picture of this complex period (1945-60).
In reality, an estimated 50 million persons had died during the six years of World War II. They died on the battlefield, of starvation, and as a result of genocide. The United States buried its dead along with the rest of the world, but the country emerged from the war intact, even flourishing, from an economic point of view. The “war industries” continued into the postwar years, causing the economy to expand. It was a time of prosperity, unlike any in history.
Whereas the various New Deal programs of the Roosevelt administration had failed to lift the country out of the Depression, the war had energized the national will, sharply expanding employment, productivity, and capital investment. After the war, automobiles and major appliances were suddenly available. Indeed, everybody needed them because, during the war, raw materials had been used for the war effort rather than for “luxuries” like washing machines and refrigerators. Interstate highways and intercontinental airliners made travel easier, cheaper, and, thus, more available to the middle class. Mass-produced tract houses brought home ownership within the reach of the majority of workers. Jobs were plentiful. The American Dream was within the grasp of everyone.
But this is only part of the story. In 1950, America was at war again. This time it was the Korean War. It was also the beginning of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Each side competed with the other in building the biggest and most destructive war machine. Senator Joseph McCarthy heightened the fear of a Communist takeover of this country by recklessly accusing people in government and in the entertainment industry of being Communist subversives. Paradoxically, and of equal importance to the American people, was the competition in space exploration which began with the Soviet launching of Sputnik.
Sputnik was the name for three satellites launched by the Soviet Union in October and November 1957 and in May 1958. Their purpose was to investigate whether living organisms could survive space conditions. Sputnik came as a tremendous shock to the United States, where technology was viewed as an American “exclusive.” Suddenly, Russia—the backward, unsophisticated competitor—had outdistanced the West. Reactions in the United States, in some cases, bordered on hysteria. Although the United States launched a satellite, Explorer I, in January 1958, it was too late. America was now “number two” in the space race. But who was to blame? The schools become the scapegoat. In order to close the alleged gap between the Soviet and American educational systems, federal dollars were pumped into the schools to improve science and mathematics education. Education became a national priority, not only to win the Cold War, but to reestablish the United States as “Number one”.
Most veterans of World War II and Korea were eager to put the war behind them and get on with their lives. Men and women who had never considered the possibility of higher education before the wars were now enrolling in college because of the GI Bill. Other veterans had skills learned in the military which easily transferred to the manufacturing and business world.
African-American veterans came home from World War II to find people of color still walking the streets of America with their heads down and riding at the back of the bus. They asked themselves, “Did we risk our lives so that we could come home to be the porters and janitors of the richest country in the world?” Clearly their answer was no. It was not long before Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama, refused to go to the back of the bus (1955), and the civil rights movement was born.
Many veterans from the Second World War and Korea would never recover from the physical and mental wounds received in military action. Veterans, as well as others who had experienced the horrors of war, were thinking anew about the meaning of life. Some saw no meaning at all.
In the mid-fifties, a counter-culture emerged, called the Beat Generation (beatniks). Many of the beatniks fought in the Korean War, were disillusioned with the American Dream, and rejected the materialism of the conventional consumer society. The Beat Generation of writers, among them Allen Ginsberg Jack Kerouac Gregory Corso, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, created a literature around an unconventional lifestyle of Zen Buddhism drugs, jazz, and a heightened respect for the individual over the masses. They felt that the American way of life was too corrupt to be saved.
Salinger, too, was grappling with life’s contradictions, perhaps, because of his own war experiences. In his stories, he lamented the emptiness of contemporary culture. He struggled with the conflict between spiritual values and the materialism and selfishness of the times. He mourned the loss of childhood innocence as each person matures and makes compromises with the sinful world. He wrestled with the fact that it is difficult to be in the world without being soiled by the world. Finding genuine love in a society of imperfect men and women is not easy. Salinger was able to articulate the ambiguities in life with which every man and woman must come to terms.
Although Americans were buying automobiles and saving for a house in the suburbs, they worried about the Cold War due to the hostile relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union. But they were also concerned about the meaning of life, the individual’s place in society, and which values mattered, especially with the threat of nuclear destruction hanging overhead. Salinger wrote about every person’s need for meaning and authenticity. This is the reason that The Catcher in the Rye became a best seller.
List of Characters
Holden Caulfield—the protagonist and narrator of the story.
D. B.—Holden’s brother.
Selma Thurmer—the headmaster’s daughter.
Mr. Spencer—Holden’s history teacher at Pencey Prep.
Robert Tichener—one of the boys with whom Holden tossed the football “this time in around October.”
Paul Campbell—one of the boys with whom Holden tossed the football “this time in around October.”
Mr. Zambesi—the biology teacher at Pencey Prep.
Mrs. Spencer—the wife of Mr. Spencer.
Mr. Haas— the headmaster at Elkton Hills School.
Dr. Thurmer—the headmaster at Pencey Prep.
Robert Ackley—the boy who lives in the room next to Holden.
Herb Gale—Ackley’s roommate.
Edgar Marsalla—the student who created a disturbance during a talk by Mr. Ossenburger.
Mr. Ossenburger—an alumnus and benefactor of Pencey Prep, after whom the dormitory wing, in which Holden lives, was named.
Ward Stradlater—Holden’s roommate at Pencey Prep.
Howie Coyle—a student and basketball player at Pencey Prep.
Hartzell—Holden and Stradlater’s English teacher at Pencey Prep.
Fitzgerald—a former girlfriend of Stradlater.
Phyllis Smith—the girl who was supposed to be Stradlater’s date; instead Jane Gallagher is his date.
Bud Thaw—Jane Gallagher is Bud Thaw’s girlfriend’s roommate.
Jane Gallagher—a former girlfriend of Holden’s who goes on a date with Stradlater.
Mal Brossard—a student at Pencey with whom Holden went to Agerstown.
Allie—Holden’s younger brother who died of leukemia.
Ed Banky—the basketball coach at Pencey, owned the car which Stradlater borrowed for his date with Jane Gallagher.
Mrs. Schmidt—the janitor’s wife at Pencey Prep.
Frederick Woodruff—a student who lives in the dorm, to whom Holden sells his typewriter.
Mrs. Morrow—mother of Ernest Morrow, a classmate; the lady whom Holden met on the train.
Ernest Morrow—a classmate of Holden’s, son of the lady whom he met on the train.
Rudolf Schmidt—the name of the janitor at Holden’s dorm and the alias Holden used with Mrs. Morrow on the train.
Harry Fencer—president of Holden’s class at Pencey Prep.
Phoebe—Holden’s ten-year-old sister.
Sally Hayes—a girlfriend with whom Holden went to the play on Sunday afternoon.
Mrs. Hayes—Sally’s mother.
Carl Luce—a student at Columbia, and Holden’s student advisor at Whooton School; they met for drinks at the Wicker Bar.
Faith Cavendish—a former stripper who would not meet Holden for a drink.
Eddie (Edmund) Birdsell—a student at Princeton who gave Faith Cavendish’s name and telephone number to Holden.
Anne Louise Sherman—a girl whom Holden once dated.
Bernice—one of the three girls whom Holden met in the nightclub; the blonde, the good dancer.
Marty—one of the girls whom Holden met in the Lavender Room; the poor dancer.
Laverne—one of the girls whom Holden met in the Lavender Room.
Mrs. Caulfield—Holden’s mother.
Mrs. Cudahy—Jane Gallagher’s mother.
Mr. Cudahy—Jane Gallagher’s step-father.
Horwitz—the cabdriver who takes Holden to Ernie’s and who is unable to tell Holden where the ducks from Central Park go in the winter.
Ernie—the owner of a nightclub in Greenwich Village and the featured pianist there.
Lillian Simmons—a former girlfriend of D. B.’s, whom Holden meets in Ernie’s.
Raymond Goldfarb—a boy with whom Holden got drunk on scotch in the chapel at the Whooton School.
Maurice—the elevator operator who procured the prostitute for Holden.
Sunny—the prostitute procured by Maurice.
Bobby Fallon—a neighbor and friend of Holden’s in Maine several years ago.
Arthur Childs—a student at the Whooton School with whom Holden discusses religious issues.
The Nuns—nuns whom Holden meets in Grand Central Station.
Dick Slagle—a roommate of Holden’s at Elkton Hills School.
Louis Shaney—Catholic boy whom Holden met at Whooton School.
Miss Aigletinger—a former teacher of Holden’s who frequently took her class to the Museum of Natural History.
Gertrude Levine—Holden’s partner when the class went to the Museum of Natural History.
Harris Macklin—a roommate of Holden’s for a couple of months at Elkton Hills School.
George something—an acquaintance of Sally Hayes whom she saw at the play.
Al Pike—Jane Gallagher’s date at a Fourth of July dance.
Bob Robinson—a friend of Holden’s, who had an inferiority complex.
James Castle—the boy who committed suicide at Elkton Hills School.
Mr. Antolini—Holden’s former English teacher at Elkton Hills.
Richard Kinsella—a classmate of Holden’s who digressed a great deal in oral expression class when giving speeches.
Mr. Vinson—the teacher of oral expression at Pencey Prep.
Estimated Reading Time
The average reader should be able to read the book in four to six hours. The colloquial and engaging style of Holden’s narration makes for a quick read. The reading could be broken down into two or three two-hour sittings, though many readers are able, if they have the time, to read the book in one long sitting.
The Catcher in the Rye introduces Hoiden Caulfield, who ranks with Huckleberry Finn among the most celebrated adolescent heroes in American literary history. Indeed, the book is a pleasure to read: verbally witty, sardonic, ironic, sometimes sad and poignant, and insightful of young adults and the dilemmas sensitive people face in modern society. The sustained tone and characterization are a fine literary achievement, and the encounters of an adolescent boy unable to adapt to 1950s metropolitan New York upper-class society, commercial business, and exclusive schools occasionally provide uproarious humor. A memorable book with a memorable hero, The Catcher in the Rye is of major importance to post-World War II American history as well as to young adult readers.
Within ten years of publication, the book sold 1 1/2 million copies, was translated into thirty languages, and, according to a survey of leading professors of American literature, was one of the five most influential books by an American author published after World War II. It continues to sell almost 250,000 copies annually.
The book is not without controversy, having been one of the books most frequently censored from school and public libraries, both for its prolific use of profanity and its expression of what many people believe to be an antisocial attitude.
When read more carefully, with a knowledge of its sophisticated literary allusions and its foundation...
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Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
More than most modern novels, The Catcher in the Rye is about identity. It tells of the often frustrating and futile search for self by a young person wandering in an adult urban world. Holden Caulfield’s emotional development has been arrested by the death of his younger brother Allie, and by a series of encounters that have shown him just what a “phony” world he is trying to grow up into. In the weekend in New York City that the novel chronicles, Holden searches for self, and, at the end, finds it.
The only good people in the novel are the innocent (his dead brother, his younger sister Phoebe, a pair of nuns he meets) and the misfits (former classmates Richard Kinsella and James Castle), who violate the rigid rules adults have set up for them. The adults Holden admires (his brother and his former teacher, Mr. Antolini) appear to have sold out. Holden is caught in mid-growth between the purity of childhood and the inevitable fall into adulthood. By the end of the novel, he realizes he has no sanctuary left (the Museum of Natural History he loved to visit has been contaminated), but he somehow feels happy sitting in the rain and watching Phoebe on the carousel in Central Park. It is a closing image of peace and acceptance: “The thing with kids is,” Holden writes tellingly at the end, “if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything.” Holden is not through with his problems—he will soon...
(The entire section is 384 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Holden Caulfield is expelled from Pencey Prep, in Agerstown, Pennsylvania, just before Christmas. Before leaving his preparatory school, Holden says good-bye to Mr. Spencer, one of the Pencey teachers with whom he had good rapport, and has an altercation with his roommate, Ward Stradlater, and a dormitory neighbor, Robert Ackley. A disagreement over a composition Holden agreed to write for Stradlater and Holden’s anger with Stradlater’s treatment of the latter’s weekend date, whom Holden knows and likes, precipitates a fight in which Holden is cut and bruised. Holden sets out by train to New York City. Since he is not expected at his home in the city for Christmas vacation for a few days, he decides to stop at a city hotel and contact some friends.
Holden tries to pick up some women in the hotel bar, takes in a show at Radio City Music Hall, and visits a local café. Upon returning to his hotel, he is approached by the elevator man, Maurice, who arranges for a prostitute to come to Holden’s room. Holden prefers conversation to sex, however, and after he refuses to pay the woman for her services, Maurice arrives and beats Holden. After attending a play with a former girlfriend, Sally, Holden gets drunk in a bar and sits alone in Central Park, thinking, as he often does, about how lonely and depressed he is.
Finally, late at night, Holden goes home. His parents are out for the evening, and he spends some time talking with his...
(The entire section is 487 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger’s only full-length novel, is the work that made him famous and for which he is remembered by high school and college students throughout America and much of the world. It has been translated into nearly every major language and continues to be assigned reading in many high school and college classrooms (though it has also been banned from many high school classrooms for allegedly obscene language and sexual situations). Its utterly convincing portrayal of the thoughts, words, and feelings of a troubled adolescent has permanently influenced entire generations of young people, as well as writers throughout the world.
The book opens with these words from Holden:If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like . . . and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. . . . I’ll just tell you about this madman stuff that happened to me around Christmas just before I got pretty run-down and had to come out here and take it easy.
The opening paragraph is emblematic of the book in several ways. First, it introduces the reader immediately to Holden’s essential character—his cynicism, irreverence, and complicated mixture of frankness and evasiveness. Eventually the reader comes to learn that “out here” is actually a psychiatric hospital in...
(The entire section is 1112 words.)
Part I—Holden Flunks out of Pencey Prep School
The Catcher in the Rye tells the story of Holden Caulfield, a teenage slacker who has perfected the art of underachievement. The novel begins with Holden flunking out of school for the fourth time. During the last days before his expulsion, he searches for an appropriate way to conclude his school experience, but he ends up getting so annoyed with his school and schoolmates that he leaves in the middle of the night on the next train home to New York City. Arriving home a few days earlier than his parents expect him, he hangs out in the city to delay the inevitable confrontation with his parents When his money runs out, he considers hitchhiking out west, but he ultimately returns home, mainly to be with his younger sister Phoebe.
The first few chapters describe Holden's last days at Pencey Prep School in Agerstown, Pennsylvania. Advertisements portray Pencey as an elite school that grooms boys into sophisticated men, but Holden sees it as a nightmare of adolescence run amok. Fed up with everything about Pencey, Holden skips the football game against Pencey's rival to say good-bye to his history teacher, Mr. Spencer. He vaguely hopes that Spencer might give him some comfort and useful advice, but Spencer is a sick old man who simply lectures him with a thousand platitudes about not applying himself. Like Spencer, the other teachers and administrators rarely spend any time mentoring...
(The entire section is 1539 words.)
Summary and Analysis
Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis
Holden Caulfield: the narrator of the story
D.B.: Holden’s brother
Selma Thurmer: the headmaster’s daughter
Mr. Spencer: Holden’s history teacher at Pencey Prep
Robert Tichener: a student at Pencey Prep
Paul Campbell: a student at Pencey Prep
Mr. Zambesi: the biology teacher at Pencey Prep
Mrs. Spencer: the wife of Mr. Spencer, the history teacher
Holden, the narrator, is telling the story from a place in California, near Hollywood. Because he is run down physically, and is probably mentally exhausted as well, it appears that he is in a sanitarium to recover and regain his strength.
His expulsion from prep school has pushed him over the edge. He was failing four subjects and clearly not applying himself. The story begins on Saturday afternoon. He is reflecting on getting ready to leave Pencey Prep. He contrasts the reality of life at Pencey with the advertisements he has seen: a picture of boys playing polo with the caption of the school’s mission statement: “to mold boys into splendid, clear-thinking young men.” In truth, he says, there is no more molding here than at any other school, and, furthermore, he says, he has never seen a horse near the place.
About three o’clock in the afternoon on Saturday, Holden is watching the football game from up on a hill. It...
(The entire section is 740 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis
Mr. Haas: the headmaster at Elkton Hills School
Dr. Thurmer: the headmaster at Pencey Prep
Holden is led into the bedroom by Mrs. Spencer, where Mr. Spencer is sitting in a chair, still not fully recovered from the grippe. Holden liked Mr. Spencer as much, if not more than he liked any adult, and was disappointed to find that he was to be lectured. The tone of the lecture was condescending and included reading aloud from Holden’s failing examination paper. Holden was humiliated and disappointed that Mr. Spencer would do this. The lecture was laced with the clichés adults reserve for children when they are scolding them, e.g., how do you feel about flunking out of school? Aren’t you concerned about your future? You’ll care about your future when it is too late. Holden made an excuse to leave and left rather abruptly. He concludes that Mr. Spencer cares about him, even though it is expressed in an awkward manner.
Discussion and Analysis
Holden’s anecdote about the Navajo blanket suggests that he likes Mr. Spencer about as well as he likes any adult. He was attracted by the humanness of Mr. Spencer’s taking delight in a simple thing like an Indian blanket. Despite the fact that Mr. Spencer was old, he still had some appreciation for the little joys in life. Holden, thus, came to visit Mr. Spencer out of affection and respect, as well...
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Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis
Robert Ackley: the boy who lives in the room next to Holden
Herb Gale: Ackley’s roommate
Edgar Marsalla: the student who created a disturbance during a talk by Mr. Ossenburger
Mr. Ossenburger: alumnus and benefactor of Pencey Prep, after whom the dormitory wing, in which Holden lives, was named
Ward Stradlater: Holden’s roommate at Pencey Prep
Holden returns to his room in the Ossenburger Memorial Wing of the dormitory. Ossenburger, an undertaker, is an alumnus and benefactor of Pencey Prep. Mr. Ossenburger spoke to the student body earlier in the year about the role Jesus played in his life. Holden was contemptuous toward Ossenburger because he viewed him as a man who used religion to make more money. When he arrives at his room, Holden decides to read a book, which leads him to a discussion of his favorite authors. Shortly after he began to read, Ackley, a student in the room next door, comes over to visit. Ackley is an unpleasant fellow whose behavior Holden finds annoying. A while later, Stradlater, Holden’s roommate, enters the room. Ackley leaves because he does not like Stradlater, whom he thinks is conceited. Stradlater begins changing clothes and preparing for a date with a girl who is waiting for him in the Annex.
Discussion and Analysis
There are several critical references to phony people...
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Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis
Howie Coyle: a student and basketball player at Pencey Prep
Jane Gallagher: an old friend of Holden’s who goes on a date with Stradlater
Holden engages in conversation with Stradlater while he prepares for his date. Holden makes a point of describing Stradlater as a person who is excessively concerned about his personal appearance, but, in reality, is a “secret slob.” While he is shaving, Stradlater asks Holden to do him a favor: to write a composition for him. He cautions Holden not to make it too good, for fear that the teacher will discover that Stradlater really did not write it. Further discussion reveals that Stadlater’s date is an old friend of Holden’s. Holden, very animated, begins telling him all about her: that she is a dancer, likes to play checkers, and had a rough childhood. Stradlater, however, is not interested because he sees Jane as a mere sexual commodity, just another conquest. It suddenly occurs to Holden that Jane is not safe around Stradlater. After Stradlater leaves, Ackley returns to Holden’s room. Holden is glad to see him because his presence distracts him from worrying about Jane’s well-being.
Discussion and Analysis
Holden’s feelings toward Ackley are characterized by both strong dislike, on the one hand, and a willingness to tolerate him, on the other. Ackley’s physical blemishes and...
(The entire section is 610 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis
Mal Brossard: a friend of Holden’s who is on the wrestling team and with whom Holden goes into Agerstown
Allie: Holden’s younger brother who died of leukemia
After the Saturday night steak dinner at Pencey, Holden makes plans to go to the movies with Mal Brossard and asks Ackley to join them. It happens that both Mal and Ackley have seen the movie, so they have hamburgers, play the pinball machine, and return to the dorm by 8:45 p.m. Brossard goes to look for a bridge game and Ackley comes into Holden’s room and discusses his sexual exploits, which Holden has heard before. Finally, Holden asks him to leave and begins writing the composition for Stradlater. Rather than writing a description of a room or a house, Holden writes a description of his younger brother Allie’s baseball glove. Allie died of leukemia in 1946 when the family was in Maine. Allie has written poetry all over the glove so he has something to read when he gets bored in the outfield. Holden was very fond of his brother and discusses his reaction to Allie’s death. As he finishes the essay, Holden can hear Ackley snoring and comments that one has to feel sorry for Ackley when one considers all the problems he has.
Discussion and Analysis
Holden finds himself unable to resist pointing out phoniness wherever he sees it. Of course, he is always looking for it outside of...
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Chapter 6 Summary and Analysis
Ed Banky: the basketball coach at Pencey; owned the car which Stradlater borrowed for his date with Jane Gallagher
Mrs. Schmidt: the janitor’s wife
Holden has been worried all evening that Stradlater would take advantage of Jane while on their date. By the time Stradlater returns, Holden is furious with him. Holden is made even angrier when Stradlater does not like the essay which Holden had written for him. Holden immediately tears it up and throws it away.
Holden, not very discreetly, tries to find out what happened on the date. When Stradlater sarcastically indicates that what transpired is privileged information, Holden hits Stradlater, and a fight ensues. Holden, his face bloody and clearly defeated, admits that he really is not much of a fighter. The chapter ends with Holden going over to see Ackley.
Discussion and Analysis
Holden is consumed with worry over Jane Gallagher. He expresses contempt for Stradlater and the way that he treats women. Holden feels very protective of her, almost chivalrous. What is implied, however, is that Jane Gallagher is unable to take care of herself—not a politically correct idea in our age of gender equality. This gallant attitude toward women is more characteristic of the fifties than of our own day. The Women’s Liberation movement was begun symbolically with the publication of Betty...
(The entire section is 558 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary and Analysis
Ely: Ackley’s roommate
Frederick Woodruff: a student, who lives in the dorm, to whom Holden sells his typewriter
After the fight with Stradlater, Holden goes to Ackley’s room looking for comfort, but finds none. Ackley’s only concern is to learn the reasons for the fight. When Holden asks to sleep in Ely’s bed, Ackley is unwilling to give permission because Ely might come back that evening. The truth is that Ely goes home every weekend and will not return until Sunday evening. Holden leaves Ackley’s room and decides on the spur of the moment to leave Pencey Prep immediately, rather than wait until Wednesday. He does not want to get home before his parents receive the letter of expulsion from the headmaster because his mother will be very upset. As he packs, he feels sad at the thought of leaving Pencey Prep. On his way out of the dorm, he pauses at the end of the corridor and “was sort of crying.” But then he “yelled at the top of [his] goddam voice, ‘Sleep tight, ya morons!’” in a feeble attempt to hide the sadness which he feels.
Discussion and Analysis
Paradoxically, once again, Holden seeks out Ackley, the so-called “friend” of whom he is most critical, the person who gets on his nerves most of all. He has been vicious in describing Ackley’s repulsive personal habits and selfish ways, yet when he needs comfort...
(The entire section is 623 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary and Analysis
Mrs. Morrow: mother of Ernest Morrow, a classmate; the lady whom Holden met on the train
Ernest Morrow: a classmate of Holden’s, son of the lady whom he met on the train
Rudolf Schmidt: the name of the janitor at Holden’s dorm and the alias Holden used with Mrs. Morrow on the train
Harry Fencer: the president of Holden’s class at Pencey Prep
When Holden boards a train for New York, he meets the mother of one of his classmates at Pencey Prep, Mrs. Morrow. Because he finds Mrs. Morrow an attractive person, Holden makes up a story about her son, Ernest. Even though Ernest is not very likable, he tells her that Ernest is popular, but shy. In fact, he says, Ernest could have been president of the class, except that he would not allow his classmates to nominate him, out of shyness and modesty. By the time Holden finishes his story, Mrs. Morrow is extremely proud of her son. When Mrs. Morrow asks Holden if he is going home early because someone in his family is sick, he says that he is going home because he needs an operation. She is so sympathetic that Holden begins to feel guilty for the lies he has told.
Discussion and Analysis
Once again, Holden, who is so quick to point out the phoniness in others, can, with equal speed, make up his own phony story. Authenticity is required of everyone except Holden. How is it...
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Chapter 9 Summary and Analysis
Phoebe: Holden’s younger sister
Sally Hayes: a close friend of Holden’s
Mrs. Hayes: Sally’s mother
Carl Luce: an acquaintance of Holden’s from the Whooton School
Faith Cavendish: a former stripper, who would not meet Holden for a drink
Eddie (Edmund) Birdsell: a student at Princeton who gave Faith Cavendish’s name and telephone number to Holden
Anne Louise Sherman: a girl whom Holden once dated
When the train arrives at Penn Station, Holden goes into a phone booth and considers calling his brother, his sister, Jane Gallagher’s mother, Sally Hayes, and Carl Luce. In the end, he decides to call no one. He then takes a cab to the Edmont Hotel—a budget hotel. His room is modest at best, and he can see from his room what is going on in rooms on the other side of the hotel. He describes what he sees as perversions. He is reminded of Stradlater, and how much he would have enjoyed the views from his window. In fact, Holden feels that Stradlater would have fit right in. Holden finally calls Faith Cavendish and asks her to join him for a cocktail. She is offended that a stranger would call her in the middle of the night. After they talk about their “mutual friend,” she begins to mellow and offers to meet him the following day. Holden, however, says he is too busy and later regrets this decision.
(The entire section is 678 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary and Analysis
Bernice: one of the girls whom Holden met in the Lavender Room; blonde and a good dancer
Marty: one of the girls whom Holden met in the Lavender Room; a poor dancer
Laverne: one of the girls whom Holden met in the Lavender Room
Holden spends a considerable amount of time talking to the reader about Phoebe, but dismisses the idea of calling her on the telephone. Instead, he goes downstairs to the Lavender Room, a lounge in the hotel. He is seated next to a table of three girls from Seattle, who are visiting New York City. He dances with them and tries to strike up a conversation, but they show little interest in him. They are interested only in spotting celebrities in the night club. Finally they decide to go to bed because they are going to the first show at Radio City Music Hall the next day. Holden is left to pay the bill.
Discussion and Analysis
Holden contrasts his ten-year-old sister Phoebe’s depth, maturity, and intelligence with the shallowness of three ordinary girls from Seattle. Phoebe sounds like a candidate for sainthood, as did Allie, when Holden described him in an earlier chapter. The innocence of children has a strong attraction for Holden. The adult world is still repulsive to him, counterfeit, and full of pretense. The band was “putrid,” there were “whory-looking blondes” and “pimply-looking guys.”...
(The entire section is 367 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary and Analysis
Mrs. Caulfield: Holden’s mother
Mrs. Cudahy: Jane’s mother
Mr. Cudahy: Jane’s stepfather
Having paid the check, Holden leaves the Lavender Room and begins thinking about Jane Gallagher. He sits down in a chair in the lobby of the hotel and gets upset again, thinking about what might have happened between Jane Gallagher and Stradlater. He is relatively certain that nothing happened, but he still gets disturbed when he thinks about it. He begins to reminisce about how he met Jane. They were neighbors at their summer homes in Maine the summer before last. He spent a good deal of time with Jane that summer, playing tennis and golf. Although their relationship was not especially romantic, it was intimate. Although they shared much, Jane did not share with him the nature of her conflict with her mother’s husband, which was obviously very upsetting to her.
After this digression about Jane Gallagher, Holden decides to go to Ernie’s, a nightclub in Greenwich Village.
Discussion and Analysis
Holden and Jane Gallagher each seem to have had an unhappy childhood. In Maine, they were comfortable with each other, and enjoyed playing golf, tennis, and other games together. Holden said they shared much; he even showed her Allie’s baseball mitt. But there were limits. For example, Jane did not share with him the problem...
(The entire section is 353 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary and Analysis
Horwitz: the cabdriver who takes Holden to Ernie’s
Ernie: the owner of nightclub in Greenwich Village and featured piano player there
Lillian Simmons: a former girlfriend of D.B.’s, whom Holden meets in Ernie’s
Holden takes a cab to Ernie’s, a night club in Greenwich Village. The cab driver, Horwitz, is impatient with Holden, and always sounds angry when he is talking. Holden asks him where the ducks go in the winter. Horwitz answers in an irascible manner that he does not know, but then begins talking about the fish in the lake. Although Holden is upset by his “touchy” manner, and decides that it is no pleasure discussing anything with him, he invites Horwitz to join him for a drink. Horwitz declines, and Holden enters Ernie’s. Holden is irritated by Ernie because he thinks Ernie is a snob. He is irritated by the crowd which fawns over Ernie. He objects to the conversations which he overhears at two tables next to him. Lillian Simmons, a friend of his brother, D.B., says hello to him. He objects to her and her date. Depressed and lonely, he leaves Ernie’s.
Discussion and Analysis
Robert Burns has a line in his poem, “To a Louse,” “Oh wad some power the giftie gie us/ To see oursels as others see us!” This should be Holden’s motto. Consider this. He is appalled by the behavior of the Joe Yale-looking guy...
(The entire section is 526 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary and Analysis
Raymond Goldfarb: the boy with whom Holden got drunk on scotch in the chapel at the Whooton School
Maurice: the elevator operator who procured the prostitute for Holden
Sunny: the prostitute procured by Maurice
Holden walks back to the hotel from Ernie’s. On the way, he fantasizes about the student at Pencey Prep who stole his gloves. Holden admits that he would not have the courage to confront the thief without appearing weak. His lack of courage depresses him, and he decides to stop in a bar for a drink. For some unknown reason, he changes his mind and goes straight back to the hotel. The elevator operator at the hotel asks Holden if he would like some female companionship. Too embarrassed to decline but also because he was feeling so depressed, he says yes. When the girl comes to his room, he first asks her to stay and just talk with him, but then begs off with the excuse that he has just had surgery and is still recuperating. The girl demands more money from Holden than was agreed upon with the elevator operator. But Holden refuses to pay it. She leaves in a snit.
Discussion and Analysis
The theme of this chapter is Holden’s inability to act on his beliefs. He bemoans the fact that he would not be able to confront the person who stole his gloves and tell him exactly how he feels. His lack of inner strength...
(The entire section is 496 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary and Analysis
Bobby Fallon: a neighbor and friend of Holden in Maine several years ago
Arthur Childs: a student at the Whooton School with whom Holden discusses religious issues
After Sunny leaves his room, Holden feels miserable and depressed. He begins reminiscing about Allie. When he finishes the story, he goes to bed. Holden feels like praying, but does not. He says that he cannot always pray when he feels like it. Instead, he reflects on discussions he has had with Arthur Childs about Jesus and the disciples. He again tries to pray but is obsessed by thoughts of Sunny calling him a crumb-bum. Suddenly there is a knock at the door. When he opens the door, he sees Sunny and Maurice, who have come to collect the additional five dollars. Maurice and Holden argue. Sunny takes the money from Holden’s wallet and is ready to leave the room. Maurice continues to argue with Holden and punches him in the stomach on the way out. Holden, with the wind knocked out of him, fantasizes that he has been shot by Maurice. The fantasy ends like a movie, with Holden shooting his attacker and his girlfriend, Jane Gallagher, bandaging his wounds. The chapter concludes with Holden entertaining the notion of suicide. But it is clear that he is not serious.
Discussion and Analysis
Holden says that when he is depressed, he thinks about Allie, and talks to him. Mostly he talks...
(The entire section is 738 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary and Analysis
The Nuns: two nuns whom Holden meets in Grand Central Station
Dick Slagle: Holden’s roommate at Elkton Hills School
Louis Shaney: a Catholic boy at Whooton School whom Holden met in the infirmary
Holden awakens at about 10:00 a.m. on Sunday. He considers having breakfast sent up to his room, but he is afraid that Maurice may be the one to bring it. Instead, he thinks about calling Jane Gallagher, decides against it, and then calls Sally Hayes. He arranges to meet Sally for an afternoon show. Concerned about his luggage, he decides to rent a locker at Grand Central Station. Once there, he has breakfast at the counter in the restaurant. While he is eating, two nuns come along and sit down next to him. Holden engages them in conversation. Both are teachers, one of English and one of history and American government. They discuss literature and all seem to enjoy the discussion. Holden, however, is a little uneasy because he thinks the nuns may try to find out whether he is Catholic. As the nuns leave, Holden is greatly embarrassed because he accidentally blows cigarette smoke in their faces. Once they are gone, he regrets not giving them more money.
Discussion and Analysis
Holden continues his self-imposed alienation in this chapter. He thinks about calling Jane Gallagher and dismisses the idea. Of course, he is still not “in the...
(The entire section is 530 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary and Analysis
Miss Aigletinger: a former teacher of Holden’s who frequently took her class to the Museum of Natural History
Gertrude Levine: Holden’s partner when the class went to the Museum of Natural History
When Holden finishes breakfast, he goes for a long walk. He thinks about the nuns collecting money for the poor. It makes him sad that the nuns never go anywhere nice for lunch. He walks toward Broadway, looking for a record store where he can buy Little Shirley Beans, a hard-to-find recording he wants to give to Phoebe. He notices a poor family, on their way home from church, and is intrigued by the six-year-old boy, who is singing, “If a body catch a body coming through the rye.” The song lifts Holden’s spirits. He observes many people on their way to the movies and is puzzled by the popularity of movies. The first music store he comes upon has Little Shirley Beans. He is delighted with his purchase and eager to give his gift to Phoebe. Holden goes into a drugstore and calls Jane Gallagher. But when her mother answers, he hangs up. He is still “not in the mood.” After looking in the theater section of the newspaper, he decides to buy two tickets for I Know My Love. Holden says that this will impress Sally, the “queen of the phonies.” In order to kill time, Holden takes a cab to the park and watches the children play. He has a short...
(The entire section is 737 words.)
Chapter 17 Summary and Analysis
Harris Macklin: a roommate of Holden’s for a couple of months at Elkton Hills School
George something: an acquaintance of Sally Hayes whom she saw at the play
Holden sits in the lobby at the Biltmore Hotel and does some girl-watching while he waits for Sally Hayes to arrive. He muses about what will become of these girls. On the one hand, he considers that many will marry boring guys who are not intelligent. Then he remembers an old roommate of his, Harris Macklin, who was intelligent and boring too. Holden concludes that it may not be so bad if the girls marry boring guys, just so long as they are nice. Finally, he sees Sally coming up the steps. They greet each other and immediately take a cab to the theater. Naturally, Holden does not like the play. He dislikes the small-talk which he overhears during the intermissions. He especially was exasperated with the conversation between Sally and her friend, George. After the show, Sally suggests that they go ice skating at Radio City. Holden says that they are the worst skaters on the ice. He suggests that they stop skating and have a drink inside. Once they sit down, Holden quickly maneuvers the conversation to what he wants to talk about: that he is bored, depressed, and wants to move to Vermont and settle down with Sally. The absence of practical considerations from his plan frightens Sally. Holden says that he does not want...
(The entire section is 570 words.)
Chapter 18 Summary and Analysis
Al Pike: Jane Gallagher’s date at a Fourth of July dance
Bob Robinson: a friend of Holden’s who had an inferiority complex
Holden leaves the skating rink and goes to a drugstore to get something to eat. He considers calling Jane Gallagher to ask her to go dancing. Thinking of Jane reminds him of a story about Jane and her date, Al Pike, at a Fourth of July dance. Not surprisingly, Holden was critical of Al in front of Jane, labeling him as a show-off. Jane excused Al’s behavior by saying he was not a show-off, but had an inferiority complex. In an effort to explain to the reader the difference between someone with an inferiority complex and a show-off, Holden describes his friend Bob Robinson. He really did have an inferiority complex since he felt inferior because his parents were uneducated and not wealthy.
Holden calls Jane but there is no answer. He then calls Carl Luce, a fellow whom Holden remembers (but, of course, does not like) from Whooton, who is now attending Columbia University. They agree to meet at 10:00 p.m. at the Wicker Bar for drinks.
In order to pass the time until then, Holden goes to Radio City to see a movie. He is critical of the Christmas show as well as the movie. The Christmas show is a gaudy pseudo-religious spectacle. The movie is about an Englishman, who was wounded in the war and loses his memory. But in the end he...
(The entire section is 679 words.)
Chapter 19 Summary and Analysis
Holden arrives at the Wicker Bar before Luce. While he is waiting, he describes the Wicker Bar as a sophisticated place which is frequented by phonies and homosexuals. Holden regards the bartender as a snob. Luce finally arrives and makes it clear that he cannot stay for very long. The conversation goes from bad to worse. Holden is able to irritate Luce with every statement he makes and every question he asks. Although Holden recognizes that many of his questions are too personal, he continues asking them and justifies his behavior to himself by arguing that Luce, as student advisor, used to ask questions that were too personal. Finally, Luce repeats the advice which he gave Holden the last time they were together: that Holden should consult a psychoanalyst. They continue to trade insults (Holden’s are oblique; Luce’s are direct). As Luce leaves, Holden, desperately lonely, practically begs him to stay and have another drink with him. Luce, however, declines because he is already late for a date.
Discussion and Analysis
Although Holden can hardly wait to tell us how pseudo-sophisticated the Wicker Bar is, he includes the fact that he himself used to go there frequently. Needless to say, this contradictory behavior is in character for Holden. For example, he dislikes movies and plays, but goes to them frequently. He finds Ernie’s night club in the Village disgusting, but he goes there. Now the...
(The entire section is 465 words.)
Chapter 20 Summary and Analysis
Luce escapes from the irascible Holden. Holden remains at the bar, watches the entertainment, and gets drunk. Because he is drunk and under age, he is careful not to draw attention to himself. He once again begins to fantasize about having a bullet in his stomach. Holden decides to call Jane Gallagher and leaves the bar. But as one might expect, he changes his mind because he is not “in the mood.” Instead, he calls Sally Hayes and tells her that he will come to her house on Christmas Eve and help decorate the tree. Afterwards, though, he regrets having made the call. In an effort to become sober, he goes into a restroom and dunks his head in a sink of cold water. Still feeling depressed and lonely, he goes to the checkroom and gets his coat and the record he purchased for Phoebe. Holden walks to Central Park to see what has happened to the ducks. As he arrives at the park, he drops Phoebe’s record and it breaks on the ground. Clearly upset, he picks up the pieces of the record, puts them in his pocket, and walks into the park. He finds the lagoon, but there are no ducks. As Holden sits shivering on a bench, he worries that he will come down with pneumonia and die. This leads him to thinking about his funeral and that of his brother, Allie. Holden feels sorry for his mother and father, particularly his mother since she is still grieving for Allie. The whole notion of being buried with dead people and visitors coming to the cemetery...
(The entire section is 568 words.)
Chapter 21 Summary and Analysis
Holden enters the family apartment, unrecognized, because there is a substitute elevator boy, whom he deceives. He sneaks into the apartment and finds Phoebe, not in her own room, but asleep in D.B.’s room. Holden says he feels good being home. He wakes up Phoebe, and both are obviously happy to see each other. Phoebe immediately asks him if he received her letter, in which she invited him to attend her play. He assures her that he is, indeed, coming to her play. They talk about where their parents have gone for the evening, the movie Phoebe saw that afternoon, the broken record, whether D.B. is coming home for Christmas, and that she had hurt her arm. But when Phoebe gets Holden to admit that he has been kicked out of school again, she explodes with anger and rejects him. Completely exasperated, she puts her head under a pillow and refuses to talk to him.
Discussion and Analysis
Phoebe clearly brings out the best in Holden. He says that he actually feels good for a change. He is glad to be home and is resigned to the fact that if his parents find him, he will just have to accept it. In fact, it almost appears that he wants to be caught, given the fact that he is smoking and willing to take a chance on waking up his mother who is a light sleeper. Before Holden wakes Phoebe, he goes about the room looking at her clothes and things with affection and pride. As he reflects on these accouterments of...
(The entire section is 294 words.)
Chapter 22 Summary and Analysis
James Castle: the boy who committed suicide at Elkton Hills School
After leaving Phoebe to get cigarettes in the living room, Holden returns to the bedroom. Phoebe’s response to Holden’s expulsion is “Daddy’ll kill you.” Holden says that his dad will either send him to a military school, or that nothing will happen because Holden will be on a ranch in Colorado. Phoebe continues to press Holden as to why he was expelled. He resents the questioning and says that he is tired of everyone asking him that question. Holden, however, does tell Phoebe how bad it was at Pencey. He mentions all the phonies and mean guys there. Holden sums up his feelings when he exclaims, “I can’t explain. I just didn’t like anything that was happening at Pencey. I can’t explain.” Equally exasperated, Phoebe sternly says to Holden that he does not like anything. Phoebe challenges him to name one thing that he likes a lot. The challenge takes him by surprise, and the only things that come to mind are the nuns he met in the restaurant and James Castle, a boy at Elkton Hills who committed suicide. Finally, he responds that he likes Allie and likes being with Phoebe. Phoebe asks Holden to think of what he would like to be. She suggests that he might become a scientist or a lawyer. But he rejects them both. Holden then announces to Phoebe that he would like to be “the catcher in the rye,” the...
(The entire section is 595 words.)
Chapter 23 Summary and Analysis
Mr. Antolini: Holden’s former English teacher at Elkton Hills
It is after 1:00 a.m. when Holden calls Mr. Antolini, who graciously invites him to come over to his apartment right away. Holden returns to the bedroom and dances with Phoebe to four songs on the radio. After they finish, Phoebe hears the front door open. Their parents have returned. Holden quickly hides in the closet. Mrs. Caulfield comes into the bedroom and announces that she saw the light on. Phoebe says that she had trouble sleeping. Her mother then mentions that she smells cigarette smoke. Phoebe covers for Holden by saying that she just took one puff. When her mother leaves the room, Holden comes out of the closet and prepares to leave for Mr. Antolini’s. Holden is almost out of money and asks to borrow some money from Phoebe. She gives him all the money that she had saved to buy Christmas presents. This boundless generosity causes Holden to cry, and Phoebe comforts him by putting her arm around him. Holden gives her his hunting hat and leaves the apartment.
Discussion and Analysis
In this last section of the book (Chapters 21–26), Phoebe becomes the catalyst for Holden’s metamorphosis. Phoebe is a child, overflowing with love for Holden, and untouched by the corrupting influences of the world. Her boundless love allows her to tell him the truth about himself, namely that he is...
(The entire section is 434 words.)
Chapter 24 Summary and Analysis
Richard Kinsella: a classmate of Holden’s who digressed a great deal in Oral Expression class when giving speeches
Mr. Vinson: teacher of Oral Expression at Pencey Prep
Holden takes a cab to Mr. Antolini’s apartment. It was clear to Holden that Mr. Antolini had been drinking quite a lot that evening, since he and his wife had had a party that evening. Mr. Antolini questioned Holden about his difficulties at Pencey and more specifically how Holden did in his English class. This led to a discussion of Richard Kinsella, a student at Pencey, who was in the same Oral Expression class as Holden. Holden was particularly annoyed with Mr. Vinson, the teacher of the class, because of the way he would interrupt Richard while giving a speech. Although Richard tended to stray from the main topic of his speech, Holden felt that it was rude of Mr. Vinson to be so critical of his digressions. Mr. Antolini tried to defend Mr. Vinson’s behavior, but Holden was not interested. Mr. Antolini then lectures Holden on the merits of a good academic education. Holden is visibly tired, and Mr. Antolini realizes that it is time for Holden to go to sleep. They prepare a bed on the couch for Holden, and he quickly falls asleep. Suddenly, Holden is awakened by Mr. Antolini’s hand on his head. Holden is frightened by this apparent display of affection and jumps to his feet. As he hurriedly dresses,...
(The entire section is 527 words.)
Chapter 25 and 26 Summary and Analysis
Holden takes the subway to Grand Central Station and sleeps there on a bench until 9:00 a.m. He begins to have second thoughts about whether Mr. Antolini is a homosexual. To distract himself from these thoughts, Holden reads some magazine articles about hormones and cancer. In no time at all, Holden begins wondering whether he has hormone problems and whether he has cancer. He leaves Grand Central Station and looks for a place to have breakfast. He finds a place, but has only coffee because he is still too upset about Mr. Antolini to eat. Holden decides again that he will go out west. He leaves a note for Phoebe at her school, instructing her to meet him at the museum during her lunch period so he can say good-bye to her. While waiting for Phoebe, Holden meets two young boys, who ask him where the mummy exhibit is. Holden takes them into the tomb, but they get scared and leave him alone. Leaving the tombs, Holden gets sick with diarrhea, then passes out. When he comes to, he reports that he no longer feels dizzy, as he had all morning.
At the appointed time, Phoebe meets him with suitcase in hand because she wants to go with him. Holden gets angry and makes her cry. He then tells her that he has decided to go home, not out west. They both walk to the zoo, but on opposite sides of the street because Phoebe is pouting. After they look at the sea lions and the bears, they leave the zoo and walk over to the carousel. Phoebe...
(The entire section is 890 words.)