The Catcher in the Rye at a Glance

J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield recounts the days following his expulsion from Pencey Prep, a private school. After a fight with his roommate, Stradlater, Holden leaves school two days early to explore New York before returning home, interacting with teachers, prostitutes, nuns, an old girlfriend, and his sister along the way. J.D. Salinger's classic The Catcher in the Rye illustrates a teenager's dramatic struggle against death and growing up.

Written by: J.D. Salinger

Type of Work: novel

Genres: coming-of-age

First Published: by Little, Brown and Company on July 16, 1951

Setting: 1950s; Agerstown, Pennsylvania

Main Characters: Holden Caulfield; Phoebe; Allie; D.B.; Mr. Antolini

Major Thematic Topics: innocence; death; authentic versus artificial; sexual confusion

Motifs: language; ducks in the pond

Major Symbols: preparatory school life; baseball glove; red hunting cap; Radio City Music Hall; the carrousel's gold ring; the coming-of-age genre

The three most important aspects of The Catcher in the Rye:

  • Holden Caulfield is one of the best-loved fictional characters in American literature. Like another popular character, Huck Finn, Holden tells his own story in his own words as if speaking aloud, and it is Holden's "voice" on the page, rather than the plot of The Catcher in the Rye, for which the novel is most remembered.
  • Although The Catcher in the Rye seems like the unedited thoughts and feelings of an actual teenager, it is nothing of the kind. Actually, J.D. Salinger was in his twenties and thirties when he wrote the novel, which began as a short story and grew, over many years, into a book length work of fiction.
  • The novel's main thematic conflict pits the innocence and authenticity of childhood, as represented by Holden's sister Phoebe, against the phoniness, as Holden sees it, of most adults (Mr. Antolini, for example). Neither a child nor a grownup, Holden resists maturation, a process he sees as characterized by loss rather than growth.

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