The controversial novel Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger was published 16 July 1951. It concerns Holden Caulffield who is attending Pencey Preparatory, an exclusive private school in Agerstown, Pennsylvania, on the Saturday afternoon During a football game between Pencey rival school Saxon Hall. Holden ends up missing the game. As manager of the fencing team, he loses their equipment on a New York City subway train that morning, resulting in the cancellation of a match, so his history teacher Mr. Spencer expels him until after Christmas. Spencer is a well-meaning but long-winded middle-aged man. To Holden’s annoyance, Spencer reads aloud Holden’s history paper. Holden returns to his dorm, but he is interrupted by his dorm neighbour Ackley, and then argues with his roommate Stradlater, over a composition that Holden wrote for him about Holden’s late brother Allie’s baseball glove. A womanizer, Stradlater has just returned from a date with Holden’s old friend Jane Gallagher however Holden thinks Stradlater might be mistreating Jane.
Holden then decides he has had enough of Pencey Prep and catches a train to New York City, where he plans to stay in a hotel until Wednesday, when his parents expect him to return home for New Years vacation. He checks into the dilapidated Edmont Hotel and later spends an evening with three tourist women in their 30s from Seattle in the hotel lounge. Then Following a visit to Ernie’s Nightclub in Greenwich Village, Holden agrees to have a prostitute named Sunny visit his room. However Holden’s attitude toward the girl changes and he becomes uncomfortable with the situation, and tells her that all he wants to do is talk, at which point she becomes annoyed and leaves. Holden then has a run in with Sunny’s pimp Maurice.
After a short sleep, Holden, lonely and in need of personal connection, telephones Sally Hayes, and they agree to meet that afternoon to attend a play. Holden leaves the hotel, checks his luggage at Grand Central Station and has a late breakfast. He meets two nuns, one an English teacher, with whom he discusses Romeo and Juliet. Holden shops for a special record, “Little Shirley Beans,” for his 10-year-old sister Phoebe. The play he sees with Sally features Broadway stars Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. Afterward Holden and Sally go skating at Rockefeller Center, where Holden impulsively invites Sally to run away with him to the wilderness, however She declines, acts uninterested, so Holden Gets Angry but apologises immediately afterwards however Sally storms off. After that, Holden sees the Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall, endures a film, and gets very drunk. Holden recalls the Museum of Natural History, which he often visited as a child. He visits his younger sister Phoebe with whom Holden shares a selfless fantasy he has been thinking about (based on Robert Burns’ Comin’ Through the Rye): he pictures himself as the sole guardian of thousands of children playing an unspecified ‘game’ in a huge rye field on the edge of a cliff. His job is to catch the children if, in their abandon, they come close to falling off the brink; to be, in effect, the “catcher in the rye”. Because of this misinterpretation, Holden believes that to be the “catcher in the rye” means to save children from losing their innocence.
Holden then visits his former and much-admired English teacher, Mr. Antolini, who offers advice and a place to sleep for the night. Mr. Antolini, quoting psychologist Wilhelm Stekel, advises Holden that wishing to die for a noble cause is the mark of the immature man, while it is the mark of the mature man to aspire to live humbly for one. This is at odds with Holden’s ideas of becoming a “catcher in the rye”. However Holden also gets very uncomfortable and embarrassed with the way Mr Antolini treats him. Confused and uncertain, he leaves and then makes the decision to go west and live as a deaf-mute and When he explains this plan to Phoebe she decides to go with him….
Thanks to the novel’s main themes of teenage angst and alienation, the novel’s protagonist Holden Caulfield has become an icon for teenage rebellion, issues of identity, belonging, loss, connection, and alienation.