Analysis and Chapter Summary of The Catcher in the Rye

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Chapters 1-4

Use these Catcher in the Rye chapter summaries to enhance your study of the novel. This synopsis is not intended as a substitute for reading the novel. Chapter 1: Holden Caufield writes his tale from a private home in California where he is being psychoanalyzed. His narrative begins on the Saturday before school lets out at Pencey Prep. Holden has been kicked out of Pencey for failing every class except English. He is standing on a hill overlooking the football stadium where Pencey is playing their arch rivals. He decides to visit his history teacher, Mr. Spencer to say good bye. Chapter 2: Holden visits Mr. Spencer and wishes he hadn’t. Mr. Spencer is sick and dressed in a robe. He lectures Spencer on the need to do something with his life. Holden interrupts and says he has to leave. Chapter 3: Holden returns to his dorm room and is visited by Ackley, an extremely irritating, pimply schoolmate, who sits in Holden’s room and clips his toenails. Holden’s roommate, Stradlater, arrives. Ackley leaves. Chapter 4: Stadlater asks Holden to write his composition so he can go on a date, someone who Holden knows and feels strongly about. Holden wants to go say “hi” to her but decides he’s not in the mood. Analysis: We learn immediately that Holden feels isolated from everyone and everything. Despite living a seemingly charmed life and having access to the top prep schools in the country, Holden hates everything and everyone. He believes everyone is a phony and that everybody’s out to get him. Holden is inwardly critical of everyone, including himself, yet acts with kindness.

Chapters 5-8

Chapter 5: Holden, Mal Broussard, and Ackley head off to see a movie. The latter two have already seen it, so they grab some food and come back. Ackley sits in Holden’s room, popping pimples, before Holden tells him to leave so he can write Stradlater’s composition. He doesn’t feel like describing a house or a room, so he describes his kid brother’s baseball glove. His brother, Allie, died of Leukemia years before. Holden still feels his loss strongly and reports that he punched out all the windows in his garage after he died. Chapter 6: Stradlater returns and gets mad at Holden for describing a glove instead of a house. Holden rips it up and smokes a cigarette to annoy his roommate. Holden gets angry because Stradlater refuses to give any details of his date. He punches Stradlater, who pins Holden down and punches him in the nose, bloodying his face. Chapter 7: Holden visits Ackley who acts rudely. Holden decides to go to New York for a few days before returning home. Chapter 8: Holden walks to the train station and buys a ticket for New York. A classmate’s mother sits next to him. Holden lies about the woman’s son in order to make her feel better. Analysis: It is apparent that Allie’s death has played a significant role in Holden’s mental breakdown and cynical attitude. Holden’s obviously a tormented soul. He fails to understand that it’s himself causing the torment, not the “phonies” around him. Despite his bitterness, Holden shows signs of true kindness by lying to Ernest Morrow’s Mom about what a jerk her son is.

Chapters 9-12

Chapter 9: Holden arrives at Penn Station and wants to call someone. He can’t think of anyone and goes to the Edmont Hotel. He calls Faith Cavendish, a promiscuous girl recommended to him by an old friend. She tells Holden it’s too late. Chapter 10: Holden heads to the hotel’s night club where he is refused alcohol. He dances with three women at the next table who laugh at him and see through his lies and attempts to appear older. Chapter 11: Holden leaves the night club and thinks about Jane. Jane is the only person to whom Holden ever showed Allie’s baseball mitt. The two only “necked” once, but held hands often. Holden tells about the time Jane’s alcoholic step father came outside, causing Jane to cry. Chapter 12: Holden takes a cab to Greenwich and goes to a night club called Ernie’s. He’s depressed by the “phony” conversations around him and is forced to leave after meeting one of his brother’s friends, Lillian Simmons, who annoys him. Analysis: It is obvious that Holden is lonely and depressed. He calls complete strangers at night, constantly thinks of his sister Phoebe, his brother Allie, and his old friend Jane. He embarks onan epic quest to find late night companionship to relieve the pain and isolation he is feeling.

Chapters 13-17

Chapter 13: Holden leaves Ernie’s and walks, gloveless, back to his hotel 41 blocks away. Maurice, the elevator man, offers to send up a prostitute for five dollars. Sunny, the prostitute, arrives and removes her dress. Holden, however, is too nervous to do anything. He talks to her, gives her the five bucks, which she claims should be ten, and she leaves. Chapter 14: Holden thinks about Allie and wants to pray. His disdain for religion prevents him. Maurice and Sunny come to his door, demanding their five dollars. Holden refuses, but is pinned to the door by Maurice as Sunny takes five bucks out of his wallet. Maurice snaps him in the privates, punches him in the gut, and leaves him crumpled on the floor. Holden pretends he’s been shot and fantasizes his revenge. Chapter 15: Holden wakes up and leaves the hotel. He calls Sally Hayes and sets up a date with her. He has time to kill, so he goes to a cafe for breakfast, where he sits next to two nuns. They talk about Romeo and Juliet. Holden gives them 10 dollars. Chapter 16: Holden buys theater tickets for his date with Sally. He wants to see Phoebe and goes to the skate park where she sometimes goes on Sundays. She’s not there. He buys her a record. Chapter 17: Sally arrives late, but looks really good, so Holden forgives her immediately. They make out in a cab on the way to the show. During the intermission, Sally annoys Holden by flirting with some “phony” she knew from Andover. The two go ice skating at Rockefeller Plaza. The two sit and talk afterwards. Holden begins to unravel emotionally, oscillating between shouting and whispering. He speaks about running off and living in a cabin somewhere. Sally calls the plan ridiculous. Holden calls her a “royal pain in the ass.” She cries. He apologizes. She cries more. He leaves her. Analysis: Holden is quickly falling apart. He has created an inner world where children are innocent and adults are phonies. He is stuck in between.

Chapter Summaries: 18-23

Chapter 18: Holden enjoys a swiss cheese sandwich and a malt. He thinks about calling Jane, but changes his mind. He calls an old friend, Carl Luce, who agrees to meet him later. Holden goes to a movie to kill time. Chapter 19: Holden meets Luce at the Wicker Bar. Luce, who attends Columbia University, used to tell the younger kids at the Whooten School about sex. Luce arrives and treats Holden rudely, telling him he needs psychoanalysis. Luce leaves. Chapter 20: Holden gets extremely drunk. He walks to Central Park and drops a record he bought for Phoebe. He fears getting pneumonia, and low on cash, decides to sneak home and visit Phoebe, without letting his parents know he’s there. Chapter 21: Holden sneaks into his home, walks up stairs, and wakes up Phoebe. She’s excited to see him, and then realizing he’s home two days early, discovers he’s been kicked out of school again. She holds a pillow over her head and repeats, “Dad’s going to kill you.” Chapter 22: Holden returns to Phoebe’s room and explains why he left Pencey, because he hated all the “phonies” there. Phoebe accuses Holden of hating everything and challenges him to think of something he doesn’t hate. All he can think of is Allie, who’s dead, and James Castle, a boy who died at Elkton Hills after jumping out a window to escape being tormented by other boys. Holden says his dream in life is to be “the catcher in the rye.” Chapter 23: Holden calls Mr. Antolini, an English teacher at Elkton Hills. Mr. Antolini invites Holden to stay at his house. Holden goes back to Phoebe’s room and dances with her. Holden’s parents return home. Holden hides and then sneaks out. Analysis: Holden’s desire to be “the catcher in the rye” symbolizes his desire to protect children from falling from the innocence of childhood into the harsh reality of adulthood.

Chapter Summaries: 24-26

Chapter 24: Holden arrives at Mr. Antolini’s house, who welcomes him graciously. Holden is extremely tired, but listens to Mr. Antolini warn Holden about the great fall he is about to have if he doesn’t shape up. Of all the adults in the novel, Antolini is the only one with whom Holden makes a connection. Holden falls asleep on the couch, wakes up, and feels Mr. Antolini patting his head. Holden thinks it’s a homosexual advance, freaks out, and leaves immediately. Chapter 25: Holden sleeps on a bench at Grand Central Station. He awakes and decides to move out west by himself. He delivers a letter to Phoebe at school, asking her to meet him, so he can say good bye and give her some Christmas money. Holden is disturbed by the profane graffiti at Phoebe’s school and rubs it out with his hand. He encounters more of the same graffiti at the school and at The Museum of Natural History and despairs. Phoebe shows up late, with a suitcase, demanding to go with him. He refuses to let her. They argue. He decides not to go. Holden walks to the zoo, with an angry Phoebe on the other side of the street. They walk to the park, Phoebe less angry. Phoebe rides the carousel, which makes Holden happy. Chapter 26: Holden returns home, gets sick, and is sent to the private facility where he tells his story. He wishes he hadn’t told so many people what happened, because it makes him miss everybody. Analysis: Holden’s reliability as a narrator makes it difficult to know exactly what happens at Mr. Antolini’s. Holden remains fascinated with the innocence of childhood and has no desire to grow up and become an adult. This reluctance to grow up leaves him isolated. Holden’s desire to become the “catcher in the rye” contradicts Mr. Antolini’s warning Holden that he is setting himself up for a fall.

This post is part of the series: The Catcher in the Rye Study Guide

Nothing like the tale of a maladjusted teenager for entertainment.

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