Author J. D. Salinger
Type of work Novel
Genre Bildungsroman, Realism, Satire
Time and place written Late 1940s–early 1950s, New York
Date of first publication July 1951; parts of the novel appeared as short stories in
Publisher Little, Brown and Company
Narrator Holden Caulfield, narrating from a psychiatric facility a few months after the events of the novel
Point of view Holden Caulfield narrates in the first person, describing what he himself sees and experiences, providing his own commentary on the events and people he describes.
Tone Holden’s tone varies between disgust, cynicism, bitterness, and nostalgic longing, all expressed in a colloquial style.
Setting (time) A long weekend in the late 1940s or early 1950s
Setting (place) Holden begins his story in Pennsylvania, at his former school, Pencey Prep. He then recounts his adventures in New York City.
Protagonist Holden Caulfield
Major Conflict The major conflict is within Holden’s psyche. Part of him wants to connect with other people on an adult level (and, more specifically, to have a sexual encounter), while part of him wants to reject the adult world as “phony,” and to retreat into his own memories of childhood.
Rising Action Holden’s many attempts to connect with other people over the course of the novel bring his conflicting impulses—to interact with other people as an adult, or to retreat from them as a child—into direct conflict.
Climax Possible climaxes include Holden’s encounter with Sunny, when it becomes clear that he is unable to handle a sexual encounter; the end of his date with Sally, when he tries to get her to run away with him; and his departure from Mr. Antolini’s apartment, when he begins to question his characteristic mode of judging other people.
Falling action Holden’s interactions with Phoebe, culminating in his tears of joy at watching Phoebe on the carousel (at the novel’s end he has retreated into childhood, away from the threats of adult intimacy and sexuality)
Themes Alienation as a form of self-protection; the painfulness of growing up; the phoniness of the adult world
Motifs Relationships, intimacy, and sexuality; loneliness; lying and deception
Symbols The “catcher in the rye”; Holden’s red hunting hat; the Museum of Natural History; the ducks in the Central Park lagoon
Foreshadowing At the beginning of the novel, Holden hints that he has been hospitalized for a nervous breakdown, the story of which is revealed over the course of the novel.