The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye begins with sixteen year old Holden Caulfield just having been expelled from Pencey, the fourth school he has attended. It is almost Christmas, and he will not be returning after Christmas break.

He is on his way to the home of his history teacher, Mr.Spencer, who has requested to see him before he leaves. Mr.Spencer seems concerned about Holden's future, and tries to talk to him about it.  He has failed four out of five classes, including Mr. Spencer's. The only class he got a passing grade in was English.

Holden is lonely, and has no idea what he wants to do. He seems restless, and when he decides to do something, or see a particular person, he often changes his mind before he does it.  When he does follow through with a plan, such as seeing Mr. Spencer, he doesn't really want to be there, and can't leave soon enough.

Holden doesn't seem to "fit" anywhere; he sees most people as being "phony", as he calls it.

When he leaves the Spencer home, he goes back to the school and gets in a fight with his roommate. He wasn't planning to leave school so soon, but after the fight, he packs his things that night, and gets on the first train to New York.

His parents are not expecting him until Wednesday, and he is not eager for them to learn he's been kicked out of school, so instead of going home, he checks into a cheap hotel.

In the remainder of the book, Holden tells us his thoughts and actions during the three days in New York.

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On one of these nights, he sneaks into his parents' apartment to see his younger sister, Phoebe.  She seems to be the only person he can really talk to. When Holden tells her what has happened at school, she tells him their father is 'going to kill him'.

She asks him if there isn't something he'd like to be, maybe a scientist, or a lawyer, like their father.

He tells her he can't be either, then tells her what he'd really like to be.  He asks if she knows the song, "If a Body Catch a Body Commin' Through the Rye"? Phoebe reminds him it's not a song, but a poem by Robert Burns, and that it is meet a body, not catch.

He says he had thought it was catch a body, and tells her that he has pictured himself with a bunch of little kids playing in a big field of rye.

He says he's the only big person around, and that he's standing at the edge of a cliff. He is there to catch the children, should they be about to go over the cliff.  He'd be "the catcher in the rye".

He says he knows it's crazy, but that's the only thing he wants to be.  Phoebe is silent for a long while, then says, "Daddy is going to kill you."

The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger's 1951 novel, has received complaint after complaint since publication.  The book has sometimes been banned, sometimes not, and at other times removed, then reinstated, but restricted.

Complaints include: anti-white, obscene, sexual references, profanity, pre-martial sex, alcohol abuse, and prostitution.

Actually, no one in this story has sex at all.  The story is about three days in Holden's life and he does talk about it a lot, and once hires a prostitute named Sunny, but does not have sex with her.

He almost immediately wishes he hadn't agreed to have her come to his room, even before she gets there. When she does arrive, she's very young - about his age, he thinks - and he feels sorry for her.  He tells her he will pay her, of course, but could they "just talk?"

According to the American Library Association, a teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma was fired in 1960 for assigning The Catcher in the Rye to an eleventh grade English class.  The teacher was later reinstated, but the book was removed from the school.

Fired?  For assigning it to an eleventh grade class??  Oh, my. Well, at least the teacher was reinstated.  That's a good thing.  Hope the book made its way back to the school at some point!

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