Monday, May 25, 2015

The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger - Notes

v     The Catcher in the Rye is considered one of the best novels in English. It's present in every major list of greatest novels, and has been translated into almost every language.

v     It's also one of the most controversial. It's been one of the most widely taught and censored books in US schools, right up to the present. Some even claim it's part of a communist conspiracy.

v     Several assassins have made this book infamous, carrying it while shooting: John Lennon, actress Rebecca Schaeffer, and president Ronald Reagan. The man who shot John F. Kennedy also had a copy at home.


v     This book explores feelings of angst and alienation. Angst means 'fear' in German, specifically, a general feeling of  pessimism and uncertainty, like paranoia. It's not fear for no reason, but for no specific reason. Alienation is the feeling that you don't belong in your culture or society––when no one understands you.

v     The angst in this book stems from a fear of growing up. According to the novel, children are innocent, kind, spontaneous, and generous, all traits that adults lose, as they become "phony".


Holden Caulfield - The main character of the story, he's a seventeen-year-old teenager suffering from depression. He has no ambition in school and little luck with girls. He's intelligent for his age, and articulate, but also very emotional, which gets him in trouble. Everyone tells him he needs to get his act together and be responsible, but he's afraid, even if he does, he'll never be happy.

Stradlater - Holden Caulfield's roommate at boarding school and a womanizer.

Jane Gallagher - an old friend of Holden's, whom he still likes and respects.

Sunny - a young prostitute.

Sally Hayes - another friend of Holden's, but not for long...

Phoebe - Holden's little sister, and best friend.


1.      The story begins with a very bad day at school for Holden. He goes to an expensive private boarding school, named Pencey Preparatory, and it's right before winter break. That morning he loses the school fencing team's equipment, and later that afternoon, he's expelled for his bad grades––and he knew it was going to happen.

2.      He gets the news from his history teacher, who gives him a long lecture about responsibility.

3.      Holden goes to his dorm room to read and to pack his things. When his roommate, Stradlater, comes back from a date with Jane, Holden gets jealous and starts a fight, which Stradlater wins. Holden liked Jane, whereas Stradlater doesn't even remember he name.

4.      Holden then takes a train into New York City, and finds a cheap hotel, the Edmont. Feeling lonely, he goes to the lounge and dances with some older women––who leave him with the check for their drinks.

5.      Holden goes out to a nightclub in Greenwich Village, but finds no one to talk to. When he returns to the Edmont, the elevator operator asks if he'd like a girl to visit him later. Holden says yes...

6.      When the girl, Sunny, enters, Holden realizes two things. First, she's as young as he his. And second, she isn't interested in him at all. She takes off her clothes like it's just another day at work, and Holden, who's still a virgin, and wants it to be special, decides he just wants to talk with Sunny.

7.      Sunny doesn't want to talk, and gets offended by his sympathy - she's especially angry she had to get out of bed at that time of night for nothing. Even though Holden pays her, she returns with a pimp (pasák) who beats up Holden and demands more money, which they take from him.

8.      The next day Holden feels lonely, and calls a friend, Sally, for a date to a play. She agrees and they go. But after the play, Holden asks her to run away with him, and she declines, leading to an argument, and Holden loses his temper. He calls her a "royal pain in the ass" and their friendship ends.

9.      Holden watches a film and then gets drunk, and then wonders where the ducks go in Central Park when it's too cold out. As he explores the park, he breaks his present for Phoebe - a record he'd bought earlier. He has no more money to buy her anything and feels like a total failure.

10.  Holden goes home to talk with Phoebe while their parents are out. He tells her his daydream about being a "Catcher in the Rye". While children run and play, he stands by the cliff, waiting to stop any children who run too close and might fall off. When Holden's parents come home, he sneaks out so they won't see him.

11.  Holden decides to visit his favourite teacher from school, Mr. Antolini, who offers to let Holden stay the night. Mr. Antolini gives Holden some good advice about life, but, at the same time, serves Holden several shots of hard alcohol. When Holden goes to sleep, he soon wakes up to find Mr. Antolini stroking his head. Holden doesn't know if the man was just being nice or wanted to molest him, so he tells him to leave the room, and then gets up before dawn and leaves.

12.  Going back to Phoebe, Holden tells her he wants to run away "out west". Phoebe doesn't like the idea, so he abandons it, and, taking her to the Central Park Zoo, feels happy for the first time in ages when she rides the carousel.

13.  At the end of the novel, Holden briefly describes being "sick" and staying in a mental institution. At present, he's enrolled to start at another school where he should work and study hard - but he has no ambition.

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