The Catcher in the Rye

Understanding the Basics

The Catcher in the Rye tells the story of a few days in the life of Holden Caulfield, a seventeen year-old boy who has been expelled from prep school. Holden doesn’t want his parents to know that he has been expelled, so he decides to visit New York to take up some time before going home for Christmas vacation. He recounts his less-than-wholesome adventures in the city, obsesses over how “phony” people are, and finds himself in a constant state of loneliness in this classic novel by J.D. Salinger.

Recommended sources to build a basic level of understanding of The Catcher in the Rye:

Haugrud Reiff, Raychel. J.D. Salinger: the Catcher in the Rye and Other [works]. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Benchmark, 2008. Google Books. Web. 21 Oct. 2011. <–R9bG&dq=the%20catcher%20in%20the%20rye%20summary&lr&pg=PA57#v=onepage&q=the%20catcher%20in%20the%20rye%20summary&f=false>.
Salinger, J. D. The Catcher in the Rye. Boston: Little, Brown, 1951. Print.

Salinger and his Controversial Novel

When you start delving deeper into your research, you may be looking for very specific information, historical facts, or even critical responses. The Catcher in the Rye has always been considered a controversial book; from the author to the subject matter of the novel, there are quite a few reasons that critics and students alike may find this book intriguing. For one, J.D. Salinger was a very private man and was careful not to share many intimate details of his life prior to his death in 2010, leaving many to speculate just how much of Catcher was based on personal experience. Furthermore, when Salinger published Catcher, it attracted a lot of attention—both positive and negative. The novel often made its way on to banned-books lists because of inappropriate language, sexual situations, and violent content, as well as conventionally unethical behavior on the part of the main character.

To learn more about J.D. Salinger and the controversial status of Catcher, check out these sources:

“J.D. Salinger Biography.” Web. 21 Oct. 2011. <>.
“Removing the N-Word from Huck Finn: Top 10 Censored Books.” TIME. Web. 21 Oct. 2011. <>.

Historical Background and Literary Comparisons

So what exactly was happening in the late 1940s that was making Holden Caulfield so depressed? What was going on within J.D. Salinger’s personal life that inspired him to create this character? The book was published after he returned home to the United States from his time in Europe during World War II. The country was evolving and so was Salinger. Parallels can definitely be drawn between the author’s post-war perspective and Holden Caulfield’s bad attitude. In addition to figuring out how this book stacks up to history and Salinger’s life, it is helpful to compare the novel to other literary works (including the works referenced throughout the novel).

For more information on historical background and literary comparisons for Catcher:

Rowe, Joyce. “Holden Caulfield and American Protest.” J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Ed. Harold Bloom. Infobase, 2000. 105-18. Google Books. Web. 21 Oct. 2011. <>.
“The Catcher in the Rye: Background Info.” Web. 21 Oct. 2011. <>.

Character Analysis

Whether you find Holden Caulfield incredibly annoying or totally awesome, you would probably agree that he is undergoing some kind of major psychological change. Holden is neurotic, attempting to come to terms with the tragedies and disturbances he has been subject to during his lifetime. He is also losing his innocence as he tries very hard to become a member of the adult community. Additionally, Holden narrates the story from a psychiatric hospital, which has lead psychologists to formally analyze this notable literary character.

For a deeper analysis of Holden’s psyche:

Bryan, James. “The Psychological Structure of The Catcher in the Rye.” JSTOR. Web. 21 Oct. 2011. <>.
Shaw, Peter. “Love and Death in The Catcher in the Rye.” New Essays on The Catcher in the Rye. Cambridge UP, 1991. 97-114. Print.

Word Choice and Social Criticisms in the Novel

The story’s protagonist constantly criticizes the society in which he lives. Holden Caulfield loves to use the word “phony” to describe the people in the world around him, and he indiscriminately comments on different types of craziness, madness, and insanity that he is subject to. How does this word choice (in addition to his profanity) affect the story being told? Is this a reflection of society as a whole during the 1950s, or is it a commentary on a generation of adolescents growing up during this time period? Holden’s word choice speaks volumes and impacts the tone, as well as individuals’ interpretations of the novel as a whole.

To increase your knowledge on language in The Catcher in the Rye, you should read:

Costello, Donald P. “The Language of ‘The Catcher in the Rye'” American Speech 34.3 (1959): 172-81. JSTOR. Web. 25 Oct. 2011. <>.

“Comin’ Thro the Rye”

The title of the novel is based on a poem by Robert Burns called “Comin’ Thro the Rye”. Holden remembers the words to the poem incorrectly; instead of “catching” someone in the rye, Burns writes about “meeting” someone in the rye, changing the meaning and potential interpretation of the poem significantly. Perhaps both interpretations are a reflection on Holden as a character or his society as a whole.

To read the poem and start your analysis, check out:

Burns, Robert. Comin’ Thro the Rye. 1782. Poem.
Castronovo, David. “Holden Caulfield’s Legacy.” New England Review 22.2 (2001): 180-86. JSTOR. Web. 25 Oct. 2011. <>.

And for more helpful resources on The Catcher in the Rye check out EasyBib Research.



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