The Catcher in the Rye Book Summary - The Catcher in the Rye Book explained in key points

The Catcher in the Rye summary

J.D. Salinger

A Coming-Of-Age Classic on Belonging and Teenage Alienation

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What is The Catcher in the Rye about?

The Catcher in the Rye (1951) is J. D. Salinger’s classic coming-of-age novel, telling the story of the troubled young Holden Caulfield. Holden has just been expelled from school, and spends several days traversing New York City, sharing his opinions of the world around him.

About the Author

J. D. Salinger (1919–2010) was born in Manhattan and served in World War II. The Catcher in the Rye was his first novel, published in 1951. The reclusive writer wrote many more shorter works, including Franny and Zooey, a short story and a novella, but remained best known for Catcher, which is one of the most popular American novels.

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    On the wintry Saturday afternoon that Holden’s story begins, everyone else at Pencey Prep is at the final football game of the year.

    Holden, though, has made his way up to the top of the hill, so he can see the whole stadium down below. He isn’t much feeling like cheering his school on, because – as he eventually says – he’s been kicked out. It’s about the fourth school he’s been kicked out of.

    All Holden has to do that weekend, then, is begin packing up his things and saying his goodbyes, before he goes home to his parents in New York on Wednesday. Not that he’s told them his news yet.

    The first goodbye he has to say is to his history teacher, old Mr. Spencer. So he heads down the hill to his house.

    Spencer, a kindly old man, welcomes him warmly. But he has the flu, and Holden feels uncomfortable perching on his bed while he’s still in his pajamas. And he only feels worse when old Spencer starts showing his true colors and giving him a talking-to, explaining why he failed him. He even reads out the embarrassing note that Holden had written on his terrible essay about the Egyptians. What a crumby thing to do.

    Spencer yells out “Good luck!” as Holden makes his hasty exit, trying not to hear.

    Back in his room, Holden finds out his roommate, the dashing Stradlater, has a date that night – with, he can’t remember, Jane or Jean or something … Gallagher.

    Holden starts.

    He knows Jane from back home. They hung out together one summer. They used to play checkers together. She’d keep all her kings in a line on the back row, never moving them. Not that Stradlater cares. He can barely even remember her name.

    Trying to distract himself that evening, Holden writes an English composition for Stradlater as a favor. He picks a subject close to his heart – his younger brother Allie’s baseball mitt. Holden has treasured it ever since he was 13, when Allie died.

    When Stradlater gets back, Holden quizzes him relentlessly about his evening with Jane – where did they go, whose car were they in, did he give her the time. Stradlater is tight-lipped, and Holden’s anxious. They end up in a fight, Holden explains, and his face gets so gory you’d barely believe it.

    That’s it, he decides: he’s had enough. He isn’t going to hang about at this crumby school with his moron friends for four more days. He’ll gather up his things and go to New York tonight.

    Money’s no problem – he’s got enough dough to stay in a hotel till Wednesday – oh, and he can get a little more by selling his typewriter to a guy he’s lent it to. So he goes to that guy’s room, wakes him up, and forces him to cough up 20 dollars.

    Ready now, Holden sets off – throwing a final curse back down the hallway that he hopes will wake the whole goddamn floor.

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    Who should read The Catcher in the Rye

    • Lovers of coming-of-age stories
    • Classic literature fans
    • People who dislike phonies

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