The Catcher in the Rye Summary

Brief Summary

The narration goes on behalf of a 16-year-old boy, expelled from the school for academic failure. Holden Caulfield finds no interest in teaching and in school activity: he fails four subjects out of five, and he is kicked out of school; in a trip to competitions in fencing he forgets the sports equipment in the subway and his companions turn away from him; relationships with classmates do not fit, because Holden does not like their desire to seem better than they are, to pronounce what they do not think, do what they do not care and so on. All these lead to the fact that Holden feels very insecure in society and diligently avoids all forms of friendship, good relations. After quarreling with the fight with his roommate, Holden decides to leave the school a few days earlier than necessary, and leaves the hostel, moving to the hotel. Trying to fill the remaining days with some kind of activity, Holden goes to bars, meets with former comrades and teachers, but in everything and in all he is disappointed and hates everyone. Not enjoying anything, he tries to communicate with his sister Phoebe, with whom he had a warm relationship. Meeting with her sister brings a little relief; she remains, probably, the only person who can at least somehow influence him. In a conversation with his sister, Holden says that he would be happy to catch children over the precipice in the rye (this is a distorted poem by Burns). The book ends with Holden feeling happy when he sees his sister riding a carousel.

Main Heroes and Their Characteristics

  • The main character is Holden Caulfield, a sixteen-year-old teenager.
  • Phoebe is the younger sister of the protagonist, an angelic image that has a religious background.
  • Stradlater is a neighbor and a classmate.
  • Jane Gallagher is the girl with whom Holden was familiar, but never found the courage to talk about his feelings with her.
  • Sally Hayes is the girl of the main character.
  • Allie is the brother of Holden, who died of anemia.
  • Ackley is a roommate.

Main Topics of the Book

  • The theme of loneliness. Holden Caulfield does not feel a spiritual kinship with anyone, so it's hard for him to learn and remain calm. His acquaintances at school are superficial, and the loss of a brother and separation from his sister weighs his soul. The author shows how dangerous it is to leave a child alone in such a period: he can turn off the road simply because he had no one to pour out his soul. Salinger, at the same time, shares a loneliness-ailment and solitude, which is a boon for a person who wants to stay away from society.
  • Love. Phoebe in the novel personifies angelic selfless and selfless love. It is this feeling that should bind the family so that it can withstand the difficulties of the outside world. It also changes the main character for the better. Not the strictness of parents and not expensive schools make a person sympathetic, but sincere participation, trust, and tenderness showed to him.
  • A family. The boy lacked the warmth of parental care; he was not close to his father and mother. Of course, this fact provoked his unsettledness and bitterness against the world of adults. From the lack of communication with them, he does not understand what kind of people they are, if they do not know "where the ducks go."
  • Experience and mistakes. A teenager goes through a lot of trials and temptations, often makes the wrong steps, which he then regrets. For example, his attempt to call a prostitute into a room turned into a complete fiasco, and he regrets what he did.
  • The theme of conscience. Internal moral guidelines help Holden stay on course.
  • Unlike his self-satisfied neighbor, he does not cease to be a modest and naive boy, and a real depravity does not concern him. He is inclined to carefully consider even what he has already done, and check with his code of rules.
  • First love. The hero falls in love with Jane, but can not say about his feelings even to himself, not talking about the girl. He starts a relationship with Sally but understands that girls are different, and he does not need any, but quite a certain girlfriend. With the help of this romanticism, he differs from Stradlater, who does not understand the inner worlds; in particular, he is only interested in the physical side of feelings.

Main Problems of The Novel

  • The problem of art. The hero critically assesses the contemporary culture, disappointed in his own brother, because he exchanged his literary talent for the work of a screenwriter in Hollywood. Holden hates the cinema where the constant happy ending always wins over real life. He sees a hideous falsity in the actor's game, so he can not calmly watch plays and films. But he has a developed taste in the book field, he writes well. In this rejection is the personal position of Salinger, who forbade the screening of the book.
  • Indifference. The narrator is amazed at how deaf people are to each other. They speak inappropriately as if it is much more important for them to say their opinion than to listen to a person. The same issue is connected with the problem of loneliness, which forces the hero to take extreme measures. Nobody tries to understand him: teachers with their conservatism only press on nerves, neighbors, and friends are superficial and crazy about themselves.
  • Selfishness. From this, in the first place, Holden suffers himself, but he sees it in anyone, just not in himself. However, narcissism recedes from the heart, inflamed by a sincere attachment to another person, and this problem is obviously solved.
  • Cowardice. The hero is afraid of himself and the world around him, for this reason, he is so inspired by the prospect of saving children from falling: he feels himself to be this child. He wants to hide his timidity by any means: he desperately scolds, prepares to escape, tries to plunge into alcohol and debauchery, just to prove to himself that he is not a coward.
  • Falsity and hypocrisy. The narrator, though he feels falseness in other people, himself is betrayed by an ugly and senseless lie. He describes this condition as a disease: he wants, but can not stop. But if his lie has no selfish motives and flows itself, then his friend Stradlater, for example, has a well-thought-out manner of communication with the ladies, within which he shamelessly lies even in intonations, grimaces and facial expressions.


The author teaches us sincere love and willingness to be responsible for it. For this reason, selfless love of Phoebe softened the ostentatious nihilism of the hero, returned him home and dissolved his egoism in his happy laugh. In addition, D. Salinger is very sensitive to falsehood, hates lies and convicts it with Holden's lips. He, like his character, concludes: you need to be more afraid of hypocrisy and deception; they are driving you into a dead end. Only the disarming sincerity of a small child can touch the ice of a hardened heart, rather than the high-flown sermons of marasmic teachers or the artificial passion of corrupt women. The lies nearly confused Colfeld himself, for which he executed himself in his thoughts, and he was embarrassed. However, in the finals, he realized that in order to speak the truth, you do not need to be brave; you just need to remain yourself.


The work was judged by the reviewers ambiguously. In particular, many Puritan critics were embarrassed by Salinger's language, filled with jargon and causticism. In the 50s of the last century, activists launched a full-scale campaign against the book, stating its immorality. Under the impact, there were also teachers who advised reading the text. They were accused of the fact that the novel propagandizes depraved behavior, sexual promiscuity, and infantilism. It is known that criminals were inspired by the work (for example, the murderer of John Lennon, the maniac who killed actress Rebecca Schaeffer and the person who attempted the life of the American president).