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The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger

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The Catcher in the Rye is J.D. Salinger’s best known work, although before he published it, he was a short story writer, his work appearing in the New Yorker. He was urged to complete a novel, and he found this to be a daunting task, so he approached it in the best way he knew how: as a series of short stories. Eventually, these came together to be known as The Catcher in the Rye, a must-read, albeit sometimes controversial, book for most high school students.

Although it is often noted for Holden Caulfield’s relatable teenage angst, there is a lot more to The Catcher in the Rye. He has an astute eye when it comes to noticing the actions of those around him, particularly adults; the word “phony” is a favorite of his. He even uses it to describe his brother D.B., who has become a Hollywood screenwriter. The book begins with Holden seeking treatment in a mental institution, but the real story begins at his prep school. After he learns he is getting kicked out of school, loses the school fencing team’s equipment on the train, and gets into a fight, he travels to a hotel in New York to avoid seeing his parents before they learn of his expulsion.

He has adventures more fitting of an adult than a sixteen-year old, and his descriptions of the people around him are both depressing and accurate; his outlook is not one of optimism. He meets three women in a bar and dances with them, particularly one who he thinks dances well, but they lack the conversational abilities he is looking for. He has an encounter with a prostitute which ends with him telling her he just wants to talk and her pimp punching him and taking more money out of him. He calls several old friends and classmates and shops for a record for his younger sister, Phoebe, who idolizes him. He spends a lot of time thinking about his other brother, Allie, who died.

Holden is at a loss of what to do next, and he sneaks into his house to see Phoebe. He tells her that he sees himself as the “catcher in the rye,” that he is supposed to catch children about to fall off a cliff. Eventually he becomes fed up with what he sees as the futility of trying to live an “authentic” life, and he decides to leave everything he knows and head out west. Before he goes, he meets Phoebe to say goodbye, and she is ready to go with him. He changes his mind and watches her on the carousel. While Holden sees himself as the catcher in the rye, someone who is supposed to save children, it is Phoebe’s innocence and love for Holden that ends up saving him.

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