The Catcher in the Rye

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
The Catcher in the Rye
Catcher rye 7408.jpg
A strangely creepy cover.
Written by: J. D. Salinger
Central Theme:
Genre(s): Coming-of-age story
First published: July 16, 1951
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You know what I'd do, if I had a goddamn choice? I'd be the catcher in the rye and all.


The Catcher in the Rye is a 1951 novel by the late, reclusive author J. D. Salinger.

The story concerns Holden Caulfield, a smart but troubled kid who, after being expelled from his boarding school in December 1949, spends his time wandering New York City, mourning for the loss of innocence in children, and failing to understand the people that surround him. Holden himself can come off as a Jerk with a Heart of Gold as he unkindly judges almost everyone, but as the book explores his underlying psychological issues and reaches its Bittersweet Ending, Holden's true nature becomes apparent.

The book is considered one of the best novels of all time, is practically the textbook for First-Person Narration, and is regularly found in critical lists of the greatest English works of fiction. The novel is a frequent target of the Moral Guardians for its offensive language and nihilistic attitude.

Tropes used in The Catcher in the Rye include:
  • Author Avatar: Holden. J.D. Salinger stated that he would have allowed a stage adaptation of the work on the condition that he be allowed to play Holden, despite being significantly older than Holden by the time this was a possibility.
  • Big Applesauce
  • Big Brother Instinct
  • Bittersweet Ending: Holden grows a little like the examples provided, but he winds up catching tuberculosis and being incredibly sick for awhile.
  • Brilliant but Lazy: Holden.
  • Children Are Innocent: And then they're not anymore.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Holden loves to swear-- however, he actually dislikes the F-word. Well, someone counted every instance of Holden saying Goddam, and there were 237 such times. For the record, there are only 214 page in the book.
  • Coming of Age Story
  • Cultural Rebel: Holden
  • Dead Little Sister: Dead little brother, in this case.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Holden has a habit of repeating what he just said using a different order of words frequently. That is, frequently, Holden will repeat himself but put the words in a different order. He really does.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose In Life: A group of children are playing on "some crazy cliff," and Holden's task is to catch them before they fall off the edge. Imagining this, he wishes it could be his purpose. Never mind the entire mental construct is based on a Mondegreen. Most Salinger characters are hothouse flowers; to survive, they need a rare element... one which the world could never provide.
  • First Gray Hair: Played with. Sixteen-year-old Holden acknowledges having a great deal of grey hair, but does not seem concerned by it. Nevertheless, it is listed as being one of his 'adult-qualities', which is significant considering the themes of the novel...
  • Freudian Excuse: He oh-so-subtly explains what his is, before deciding not to go into any detail on it as not to invoke it. Of course, by saying so he invokes it anyway, so it's not so much averted as glossed over.
  • Friend to All Children: Holden
  • The Ghost: Several. Jane, D.B., Holden's parents, and Allie seem to be the most significant, though.
  • Glurge: In-universe. Holden Caulfield has this reaction to a movie he watches and then describes for us readers. In the movie, an old duke loses his memory and then meets a nice lady with a brother whose nerves are shot who helps him publish a book and becomes a love interest for him. When his old blind mother and fiancee find him, they try to confirm his own identity for him, but the duke doesn't believe them. By the end, the duke regains his memory, is happily married to the nice lady, the brother has gotten his nerves back and has cured the duke's mother of her blindness. To top it all off, a dog they previously thought was male had puppies!
  • Growing Up Sucks: Holden has this belief and this is part of his motivation for wanting to be a "catcher in the rye" so that he can protect children from awful phony stuff.
  • Hypocrisy Nod
  • Jerkass: Maurice the pimp is easily the biggest example in the book. The guy charges double the money he initially did for Holden to spend time with a prostitute, then beats the ever-loving hell out of him for refusing to pay up. Stradlater is also one of these.
  • Madden Into Misanthropy
  • Misaimed Fandom: Holden does this with the song "Comin' Thru the Rye". It's actually about two lovers meeting in a field. Holden adopts it as an image of himself protecting children from their own inevitable maturity (especially sex) and phoniness (like, say, lying about where you're going and screwing some guy in a field instead). He mishears it, after all.
    • Interestingly, the word ‘rye’ likely refers to Rye Water in Scotland. The poem then discusses a girl named Jenny who lets her petticoat down and get wet instead of holding it up, so she can push away the boys who run by to kiss girls passing who hold their petticoat on one hand and whatever they were carrying on the other. Holden decided to interpret the word ‘rye’ as actual rye, which is the more ‘adult’ version, but misinterprets the meaning of the poem as talking about kids playing in a rye field.
  • Moral Guardians: What Holden himself wants to be--that is, the Catcher In The Rye, a person who guards the innocence of children.
  • New Media Are Evil: Holden hates movies and, throughout his life, Salinger blocked all attempts to make The Film of the Book. Which is ironic, as Salinger himself was a cinemaphile. The reason for that is because Salinger hated how the 1949 film "My Foolish Heart" (based on his short story "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut") came out. To date that film is the only authorized film adaptation of his work.
  • One-Book Author: While Salinger HAS published other works, this is the only novel he's published. Other published works by him have been short story collections and a novella. He once told his neighbor that he has FIFTEEN UNPUBLISHED NOVELS in a safe on his property. Since his death, these actually may see the light of day presumably depending on the terms of his will or his estate's executors.
  • Platonic Prostitution: Holden hires a prostitute when he's at a hotel, but changes his mind when she arrives, and says that he just wants to talk. This doesn't work out; she becomes annoyed, demands more money than was originally agreed upon, and when Holden refuses to pay, she comes back with her pimp, who beats up Holden and takes the money.
  • Precision F-Strike: Despite a large amount of other profanities, there is only one appearance of an actual F-bomb in the last chapter, where Holden sees it in clearly visible graffiti and tries to cover it up. A very good example of how the word can be appropriately shocking when used correctly.
  • Punch a Wall: Holden mentions that after his brother died, he smashed every window in the garage with his bare hands. He also tried to knock out the family station wagon windows, but by then, his hands were too broken.
  • Rape as Backstory: Perhaps not rape, but something similar that isn't explored. This is strange considering the narrator.

"When something perverty like that happens, I start sweating like a bastard. That kind of stuff's happened to me about twenty times since I was a kid."

  • Rule of Symbolism: Holden's little sister, who to him is the epitome of what he's trying to protect, is named Phoebe. This is an epithet of Artemis, who is occasionally associated with the moon; in its male form, "Phoebus", it is also an epithet her twin brother Apollo, who is associated with the sun. The prostitute Holden hires, who is one of the apexes of the things Holden hates, is named Sunny. Make of that what you will.
    • Artemis is also the goddess of maidenhood and innocence. On the other hand, Apollo, god of the sun, was known for having many affairs with women, like most Greek gods.
  • Sliding Scale of Plot Versus Characters: Way on the character side.
  • The Snark Knight: Holden, possibly.
  • Soap Punishment: Holden Caulfield tries asking Ward Stradlater if Stradlater gave Jane Gallagher the time. That, by the way, is old slang for having sex with someone. Stradlater responds "What a thing to say. Want me to wash your mouth out with soap?"
  • Stylistic Suck: Very accurately done with Holden's one-paragraph essay on the ancient Egyptians.

The Egyptians were an ancient race of Caucasians residing in one of the northern sections of Africa. The latter as we all know is the largest continent in the Eastern Hemisphere. The Egyptians are extremely interesting to us today for various reasons. Modern science would still like to know what the secret ingredients were that the Egyptians used when they wrapped up dead people so that their faces would not rot for innumerable centuries. This interesting riddle is still quite a challenge to modern science in the twentieth century.

  • This Loser Is You
  • Title Drop: The page quote above.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Holden, again. It's worth noticing that while his narration is hilarious, his spoken dialogue is an apex of The Comically Serious and morbidity.
  • Unusual Euphemism: When Stradlater has sex with a girl, Holden refers to it as "giving her the time". Possibly justifiable due to the time period this book is set in.
  • Verbal Tic:
    • Holden has one. He really does.
    • Holden has a rather annoying habit of calling people "Old" before their name (Old Phoebe, Old Stradlater, etc).
    • He also has a tendency to say "and all" at the end of his sentences.
    • "That killed me." Given the situation it's actually a little thought-provoking.
    • His frequent use of 'goddamn' and asserting that various people are 'phonies' verge on Catch Phrase territory.
    • "I'm not kidding"
    • "If you want to know the truth..."
    • "Boy..."
  • Vinyl Shatters: Holden accidentally shatters a LP he was going to give to his sister Phoebe.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Maurice has no problem whatsoever with mercilessly beating a teenager into a bloody pulp for not paying double the money he initially charged for prostitution services.
  • Younger Than They Look: 16-year-old Holden Caulfield is 6'2" and has gray hairs. As such, he claims he can easily pass as an adult. But he's more often called out on being a minor than he is successfully able to pass. Sunny, for example, not only wouldn't believe he was 22, but may have also compared him to a 13-year-old Freddie Bartholomew.