Written in 1951, The Catcher in the Rye is a novel by J.D. Sallinger. It is his first novel. J.D. Salinger spoke to many people about the fact that he was working on a novel with Holden Cauldfield, who featured in his short story called Slight Rebellion off Madison, as the protagonist.
The plot is simple and is told in the first person. The book follows the experiences of Holden Cauldfield, a high school dropout in New York City.
Holden shares his encounters with the students and faculty at Penecy, a fictional school in Pennsylvania. He criticizes these people as superficial and ‘phony’. After being expelled from school because of low grades and after having a fight with his roommate, Holden packs up and leaves the school in the middle of night without informing anyone. He takes a train to New York City where his family lives. However, he doesn’t visit his family; he rather checks into Edmont Hotel.
Holden spends the night dancing with three tourist girls and has an encounter with a prostitute. His attitude towards her changes when she walks into the room and he finds out that she is as old as him. He asks her to just talk with him. The girl gets annoyed and leaves. Holden pays her for her time, but she asks for more money. When Holden refuses, he is beat up by a pimp named Maurice. Then, Holden walks around the room pretending he’s been shot in his gut.
Holden spends three days in New York, considerably drunk and feeling lonely. He visits a museum where he contrasts his life with the statues of Eskimos. The statues have always remained the same. Unchanged. These thoughts are perhaps largely due to the death of his brother, Allie.
Holden eventually sneaks into his parents’ apartment when they are away. He meets his sister Pheobe who is one of the only people he talks with.
Pheobe views Holden as a hero and is unaware that Holden has the same views about her. Holden shares one of his fantasies with her: he sees himself as the sole guardian of the children playing in a huge rye field on the edge of a cliff, and his job as the ‘catcher in the rye’ is to catch the children if they wander close to the brink and saving them from ‘falling off the crazy cliff’.
After leaving his parents’ apartment, Holden visits his influential English teacher, Mr. Antolini. He tells him that his fantasy about saving children from ‘falling off the crazy cliff’ was actually about saving them from the evils of adulthood. Holden decides to spend his night there but leaves when he is awoken by, what he calls a ‘flitty’ move from his teacher. He later thinks whether his interpretation to Mr. Antolini was actually true.
Holden visits Pheobe’s school and sends her a message that he is running away. She insists on going with him. He declines. This upsets Pheobe. Hence, he tells her that he won’t leave.
Whether he continues to study or runs away is something one should find about after reading the book.
Style of Writing:
The Catcher in the Rye is written in a simple, narrative form. The story is told from the point of view of the protagonist.
The language used is informal and what the teenagers used in the ‘40s and the ‘50s.
This book is truly a unique piece of writing.
What makes the novel a bestseller even today is the theme of family problems, the angst of teens towards the society, and the rebellion. All these make the novel very popular among the teenagers even though it was originally published for adults.