The Catcher in the Rye by Salinger: Summary

Holden Caulfield, a sixteen years teenage, is the narrator of this novel The Catcher in the Rye. The story moves back to the memories of Holden Caulfield and he starts his narration stating that he does not have any intention to make the novel autobiographical. He recalls his last Christmas and the incidents that happened at that time from a psychiatric care center.

Jerome David Salinger

Holden is an irresponsible and juvenile boy at a Pencey Prep School, one private boarding school. He is expelled from the school for failing four times out of his five classes. Before leaving Pencey Prep School, he pays a visit to his history teacher, Mr. Spencer. Mr. Spencer gives him advice saying, ''Life is a game and one should play it according to the rules.'' But Holden takes his suggestion very lightly.

When Holden arrives to his dorm, he finds a detestable student named Robert Ackley. Robert is so irritable that he would not leave Holden and his roommate Ward Stradlater alone. Ward is proud and lazy bones, he tells Holden to write an English composition for him. Ward goes for a date with Jane Gallagher, a friend of Holden. During his absence, Holden writes about Allie', his brother's, baseball mitt and mentions how he died of leukemia. On his return, Ward gets angry at Holden for writing such a poor composition and Holden in wrath tears the composition. Holden is curious about the date with Jane. Ward pinpoints that he could have sex with Jane, and this fact irritates Holden and they have a fight. After that fight, he decides to leave Pencey that night. He leaves for New York City, where he has planned to stay in a hotel before he actually goes home.

Holden takes a train to New York. On the train, he meets one of his friend's mother named Ernest Morrow. Ernest Morrow is a despicable boy at Pencey Prep School but Holden lies to his mother saying that her son is popular and very well respected among the friends. After reaching to New York, he is puzzled by the thought of whom to call. He thinks of calling his younger sister Phoebe, Jane and also Sally Hayes. But ultimately he decides to stay at Edmund Hotel in New York. From his room window, he can clearly see the rooms of another guest house. He sees a couple spitting drinks at each other’ back.  The scene compels him to think about sex. So, he calls a prostitute, but she discards his proposal. Sadly, he goes down to the Lavender room, a nightclub in the same hotel. There he meets with a blonde woman and dances with her. After the dance, he leaves for another night club called Ernie's in Greenwich Village. He cannot stay there for a long because he happens to see his brother's girlfriend, Lillian Simmons whom he disdains.

When he comes back to the Hotel, he is offered a prostitute by Maurice, the elevator man. Holden being excited accepts the proposal and Sunny, the prostitute, arrives after some time. Holden becomes so nervous in front of Sunny that he refuses to have sex with her. She demands ten dollars, but he argues that the deal was done in five dollars. Sunny goes and comes back with Maurice. Maurice threatens and punches him while Sunny robs Holden. Holden gets so angry that he imagines of shooting Maurice in the stomach and jumping from the window to commit suicide. He leaves the hotel and calls Sally to join him in the matinee show. He puts his baggage at a locker at Grand Central Station. At the same station, he meets two nuns and they talk about Romeo and Juliet. He wants to buy one record for his sister Phoebe, feels too disheartened listening to the song,' If a body catch a body coming through the rye….' Sally arrives there and Holden feels he wants to marry her immediately though he does not love her seriously. They go for the movie. After the show, Sally keeps talking about a boy whom she knows. Holden gets irritated and tells her to go and give him a big kiss. She goes to the boy and starts talking. Holden and Sally go for skating and they have lunch together. Holden tells her that he feels dumb with everything around him and proposes her to run away with him to New England, where they can enjoy living in a cabin in the woods. She does not agree with the idea and in anger Holden calls her ' royal pain in the ass'.

Holden then calls another girl Carl Luce a friend of Whooton School. She meets him, but soon after becoming maddened by the talk of Holden which she calls 'typical Caulfield conversation' she suggests him to see a psychiatrist. He then gets heavily drunk and wanders around the Central Park. He thinks that he will die soon, he returns home to meet Phoebe avoiding his parents. When Phoebe learns that he failed in Pencey she becomes angry with him and further says that their dad will kill him. She dismisses his idea of going to Colorado. When Holden tells her about the phoniness and the bogusness of Pencey, she asks him if he likes anything around him. He claims that he likes Allie, and the nuns at Grand Central, and a boy at Elkton Hills who committed suicide. He tells Phoebe that he would like to be “a catcher in the rye,” and he imagines himself standing at the edge of a cliff as children play around him. He would come out of somewhere and always catch them just before they fell off the edge.

When his parents arrive home, Holden slips away to stay with his former English teacher at Elkton Hills. Mr. Antolini says Holden that he is moving ahead for a serious drop and that he is the type who may die nobly for a highly unworthy cause. Holden immediately falls asleep on the couch. When he awakens, he finds Mr. Antolini with his hand on Holden’s head. Holden interprets this as a homosexual act, so he decides to leave. He tells Mr. Antolini that he has to get his bags from Grand Central Station but will return soon.

However, Holden spends the night at Grand Central Station, then sends a message to Phoebe, informing her to meet him for lunch. He becomes gradually hysterical, believing that he will die every time he crosses the street. He falls unconscious after suffering from diarrhea. When he meets Phoebe, she tells him that she wants to go with him and becomes angry when he refuses. He buys Phoebe a ticket for the ride at the nearby zoo, and as he watches her, he begins to cry.

The narrator, Holden, stops his story here. He is not sure whether he will admit in the school next year or not. He even does not give clues how he got sick and reached at the psychiatric center.