Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | MonkeyNotes
If you think of a plot as a series of events that build one on another toward a climax, then the plot of The Catcher in the Rye is one of its least significant aspects. It can be summarized in a few paragraphs, but the summary will give only an indication of what the novel is about.
Holden Caulfield is a sixteen-year-old prep school student who has flunked out of school the week before Christmas. Several days before he's expected home for Christmas vacation, he leaves school, planning to spend some time on his own in New York City, where he lives.
Though Holden is friendly with many people at school, and though he has several friends in New York, he's constantly lonesome and in need of someone who will sympathize with his feelings of alienation.
The person Holden feels closest to is his ten-year-old sister, Phoebe, but he can't call her for fear of letting his parents know he has left school. He spends his time with a variety of people, but he can't make meaningful contact with any of them.
After a day of this futility, he sneaks into his home to see Phoebe, but she disappoints him by being annoyed at his being expelled from still another school. Holden decides that the only solution to his overwhelming problem is to run away and establish a new identity as a deaf mute who will not need to communicate with anyone.
On the verge of a nervous collapse, Holden changes his mind and decides to rejoin his family. He then enters a hospital or rest home not far from Hollywood, California, and he is telling us his story while in this institution. At the novel's close, Holden isn't sure whether he'll be able to handle things better when he leaves the institution, and he's sorry he told his story at all.
Those are the bare bones of the story, but there's much more to The Catcher in the Rye than its story. It's a rich psychological portrait of a boy who's frightened at the prospect of growing up, a boy who has few of the tools necessary to face the world on his own. Although the book takes place during only three days, it is as much an autobiography as anything else, because Holden constantly digresses to tell us about things that happened long before this period in his life. Because of Salinger's skill in describing someone in just a few sentences, we also meet several characters who are instantly recognizable.
The Catcher in the Rye has an intriguing story. And it also contains marvelous character portraits; a statement on the relationship of outsiders to society; a psychological analysis of the process of growing up; and many more things, which you'll discover as you read it.