The Catcher in the Rye

J. D. Salinger
Main Ideas

Allusions

Main Ideas Allusions

Chapter 1

Literary

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

This is an allusion to the novel David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, which tells the story of the title character’s youth.

Chapter 2

Literary

“I passed English all right,” I said, “because I had all that Beowulf and Lord Randal My Son stuff when I was at the Whooton School.”

This quote contains allusions to the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf and the Anglo-Scottish ballad Lord Randall.

Chapter 3

Literary/Pop Culture

I wouldn’t mind calling this Isak Dinesen up. And Ring Lardner, except that D.B. told me he’s dead. You take that book Of Human Bondage, by Somerset Maugham, though. I read it last summer. It’s a pretty good book and all, but I wouldn’t want to call Somerset Maugham up . . . I’d rather call old Thomas Hardy up. I like that Eustacia Vye.

This quote contains three allusions: a literary allusion to Eustacia Vye, a character in Thomas Hardy’s book The Return of the Native, and pop culture allusions to a Danish writer who used the pen name Isak Dinesen and a sports columnist and satirical short story writer named Ring Lardner.

Chapter 4

Pop Culture

“I’m the goddam Governor’s son,” I said. I was knocking myself out. Tap-dancing all over the place.

This is an allusion to the revival Broadway musical The Governor’s Son, which was written, directed, and produced by George M. Cohan in 1906.

Pop Culture

“He doesn’t want me to be a tap dancer. He wants me to go to Oxford. But it’s in my goddam blood, tap-dancing.” Old Stradlater laughed. He didn’t have too bad a sense of humor. “It’s the opening night of the The Ziegfeld Follies.”

This is an allusion to The Ziegfeld Follies, a series of elaborate theatrical revue productions on Broadway in New York City from 1907 to 1931, with renewals in 1934 and 1936.

Chapter 7

Historical

But old Stradlater kept snowing her in this Abraham Lincoln, sincere voice, and finally there’d be this terrific silence in the back of the car.

This is an allusion to Abraham Lincoln, a historical figure known for his honesty and for being the sixteenth president of the United States.

Chapter 10

Pop Culture

She’s quite skinny, like me, but nice skinny. Roller-skate skinny. I watched her once from the window when she was crossing over Fifth Avenue to go to the park, and that’s what she is, roller-skate skinny.

This is an allusion to the pop-culture concept of “roller-skate skinny,” meaning someone is healthy, happy, and fit like an active roller-skater, an idea similar to today’s perspective of an athlete.

Chapter 14

Religious

I like almost anybody in the Bible better than the Disciples. If you want to know the truth, the guy I like best in the Bible, next to Jesus, was that lunatic and all, that lived in the tombs and kept cutting himself with stones. I like him ten times as much as the Disciples, that poor bastard.

The term “that lunatic” is an allusion to the man named Legion who is described in Mark 5 in the Bible.

Pop Culture

I can’t even stand ministers. The ones they’ve had at every school I’ve gone to, they all have these Holy Joe voices when they start giving their sermons.

This is an allusion to the slang term “Holy Joe,” meaning a pompous, morally superior person.

Chapter 16

Literary/Pop Culture

He was singing that song, “If a body catch a body coming through the rye.” . . . The cars zoomed by, brakes screeched all over the place, his parents paid no attention to him, and he kept on walking next to the curb and singing “If a body catch a body coming through the rye.”

This quote contains two allusions: The first is a literary allusion to the poem “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye,” written by Robert Burns in 1782. The second is a pop culture allusion to the song version of Burns’s poem after the words were put to the tune of the Scottish minstrel Common’ Frae the Town, which was sung by the singer Marian Anderson in 1944.

Chapter 18

Literary

I was crazy about The Great Gatsby. Old Gatsby. Old sport. That killed me.

The term “old sport” is an allusion to a recurring line in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby spoken by the main character, Jay Gatsby.

Chapter 24

Literary

“I expected to see a day-old infant in your arms. Nowhere to turn. Snowflakes in your eyelashes.”

This is an allusion to the depiction of femininity in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century literature, which often displays women as damsels in distress who need to be rescued.

Chapter 25

Literary

Everybody’d think I was just a poor deaf-mute bastard and they’d leave me alone . . . and I’d build me a little cabin somewhere with the dough I made and live there for the rest of my life. I’d build it right near the woods, but not right in them, because I’d want it to be sunny as hell all the time. I’d cook all my own food[.]

This is an allusion to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden; or, Life in the Woods, published in 1854, which depicts Thoreau’s choice to leave society and live in semi-isolation in a cabin at Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, for just over two years.