Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 857
While we recommend reading J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye in its entirety, we understand that your classroom may have time constraints. The following Key Plot Points are meant to guide you and your students to the most relevant parts of the text so you can plan your lessons most efficiently.
Holden Leaves Pencey Prep (Chapters 1–8): Holden Caulfield tells his story, which begins the previous December. He has just been expelled from Pencey Prep—a high school in Pennsylvania—for his failing grades. Holden’s roommate, Stradlater, asks Holden to write an essay for him. Holden agrees. Stradlater also tells Holden that he is going on a date with Jane Gallagher, Holden’s childhood friend. Holden is jealous and nervous that Stradlater will take advantage of Jane. While Stradlater is gone, Holden writes the essay on the topic of his dead younger brother, Allie, and Allie’s baseball mitt. Stradlater returns from his date with Jane and rejects Holden’s essay about Allie’s baseball mitt. Holden and Stradlater fight. Holden leaves Pencey Prep by himself and goes to New York City to spend the three days before winter break. He does not tell his parents about going to New York City or about his expulsion.
Holden Arrives in New York (Chapters 9–14): Holden arrives in New York City and checks into the Edmont hotel. The hotel’s elevator operator, Maurice, convinces Holden to have a prostitute visit his room. They agree on a price, and Holden goes to his room to wait. A prostitute named Sunny arrives. Instead of having sex, Holden just wants to sit and talk with her. When Sunny realizes this, she asks Holden for ten dollars to pay her for her time. Holden gives her five dollars instead, and she leaves. To combat his loneliness, Holden imagines he is talking with his brother Allie. The next morning, Holden is woken by Maurice and Sunny. Sunny takes money from Holden’s wallet, and Maurice punches him. Holden lays in bed afterward, feeling defeated. He contemplates suicide.
Holden Meets with Old Friends (Chapters 15–19): Holden calls his old friend Sally and asks her to meet him for a date. She agrees. While he is waiting for Sally, Holden walks around New York City. He hears a young child singing, “If a body catch a body coming through the rye,” and feels happy. He misses his younger sister, Phoebe, and buys a record for her. Holden meets up with Sally and tries to explain to her how he feels about society, adults, and New York City. Sally does not understand him. He asks her to run away with him, but she turns him down. They argue, and Sally goes home. Holden calls his friend Carl Luce and meets him at a bar. Holden is unable to communicate well with Luce, who tells Holden to go to a therapist before leaving.
Holden Goes Home to See Phoebe (Chapters 20–24): Holden wanders around the city in the cold. He goes to his parents’ home, and wakes Phoebe up. She and Holden talk about Allie, as well as Holden’s future. Holden tells Phoebe about a fantasy he has, inspired by the song he heard. He imagines himself as a “catcher in the rye” who saves children from running off a cliff. Holden explains that he is low on money, so Phoebe gives him her Christmas money. Holden is touched by Phoebe’s kindness and love for him. Not wanting to meet his parents yet, Holden leaves and decides to visit an old teacher of his, Mr. Antolini. Despite the late hour, Mr. Antolini and his wife welcome Holden into their home and allow him to sleep on their couch. In the middle of the night, Holden awakens to find Mr. Antolini stroking his head. Holden believes Mr. Antolini is perverted, and he leaves in a rush.
Holden Plans to Run Away (Chapter 25): Holden continues meandering through New York City. While walking, he imagines that he is going to fall into the street and continue falling, uncontrollably. Out of fear and anxiety, Holden starts praying to Allie. Holden decides that he wants to run away and live across the country. He leaves a note at Phoebe’s school, telling her to meet him so that he can say goodbye to her. When Holden meets Phoebe, he finds her with a suitcase, ready to run away with him. Holden is touched by this but insists that Phoebe cannot join him. They argue, and Holden takes Phoebe to the zoo. Phoebe rides the carousel at the zoo, and Holden watches with joy. The novel ends as Holden finishes his story back in California, in what seems to be a hospital ward. He glosses over his return home to his parents, how he got “sick,” and how he ended up in California. Despite prompting from “this one psychoanalyst guy they have here,” he isn’t sure how his future is going to go, or if he will do well in school when he goes back. He explains that interacting with other people will inevitably lead to missing them.