Full title   The Catcher in the Rye

Author  J. D. Salinger

Type of work  Novel

Genre  Bildungsroman, Realism, Satire

Language  English

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 Collier’s, December 1945, and in The New Yorker, December 1946

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.

Tense  Past

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.