The Catcher in the Rye Study Guide

The Catcher in the Rye By J.D. Salinger

Holden Caulfield was recently expelled from prep school, and is wandering the streets of New York City internally ranting against all of the things he hates about his life. The students and faculty of the school are superficial and phoney. His family lives in the city, but he doesn't want to go directly home.

He dances with some tourists and nearly has sex with a hooker, but changes his mind, pays her, and tells her to leave. She demands more money, he refuses, and her pimp beats him up. He gets drunk and lonely, and starts to wander. At one point, he ends up at museum, where he compares himself to the statues on display. They never change, and he is afraid of the changes in his life.

Eventually, he sneaks into his parents' apartment while they are out, and chats with his younger sister, Phoebe, the only person with whom he can easily communicate. He shares a fantasy he has held in which he sees himself as the guardian of a pile of children playing in a rye field next to a cliff; his job is to catch them if they get to close to the edge: he is the 'catcher in the rye'. (This fantasy is based on a mishearing of the Robert Burns song 'Comin' Through the Rye'.)

He leaves his parents' place, and drops by to visit his old English teacher, Mr. Antolini, who serves him several highballs and offers him a place to sleep. He wakes in the night to find Antolini touching his head in a way that Holden feels is homosexual, though this feeling is never confirmed. He leaves in the morning and wanders some more, later questioning his interpretation of Mr. Antolini's act.

Holden then informs his sister that he intends to move west, and refuses to take her with him. She gets upset, and he tells her he won't go after all. They go to the Central Park Zoo, where he watches her ride a carousel with some joy.

He decides to stop his narrative there, merely alluding to 'getting sick' and living in an asylum, and mentioning that he'll be attending a different school in September.

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