Book analysis: The Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger

En bokanalys av The Catcher in the Rye av J D Salinger på engelska.

Skrivet av: Emma Wikström.

Book analysis: The Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger

Plot overview

The Catcher in the Rye is about Holden Caulfield, a sixteen-year-old boy in the United States. It’s Holden who narrates the story a year after it happened. The story takes place during a couple of days between the end of autumn term and Christmas a couple of years after the Second World War.

Holden begins his story on the day he leaves Pency Preparatory in Pennsylvania. He has just been expelled from it after him failing four out of the five subjects he had been taking. Pency Prep. was the fourth school Holden had been expelled from. He was supposed to leave school in three days but instead he chooses to go to New York, which is where the major part of the book takes place. In New York he stays at a hotel, goes to bars, takes taxis, tries to get in contact with people and feels miserable and depressed.


Language and narrative

The language in the book is informal, colloquial and many curses are used frequently in dialogues but also in the narration itself. This isn’t that common in novels and especially not in the 1950s when this book was written which lead to some criticism. Words like ‘phony’ and expressions like ‘It really killed me’ are used exceptionally often. Some sentences in the novel are very short with just one word or two and others are of average length.

‘The goddam movies. They can ruin you. I’m not kidding,’ p. 113.

I think the language suits the novel and it becomes an important way to get to know the main character. Most authors, especially when writing in first person, use the language in the book as a way for the reader to get to know the protagonist better but I think that Salinger makes an extraordinary good job. The narrative and the language become even more important in this book than others due to the fact that it is the older Holden that tells the reader about what happened to him during a short period in his life. What I mean is that the entire story is based on how the older Holden narrates the story, which he does through the language and the sentences in the book.


It’s hard to describe Holden Caulfield. When you read the book it’s easy to inhabit his point of view and think that his way of thinking is normal because when you read it from his point of view it is. However, at some points in the book I really realised that there is something slightly more wrong with him than an ordinary teenager. For example at one point in the book he pictures himself shooting a guy working in the hotel in New York and in the next paragraph he says that he felt like committing suicide and to jump out of the window but he didn’t want to do it because he didn’t want people looking at him when he was ‘all gory’.

Furthermore, there are several other things that indicate that Holden has some psychological problems e.g. he fails out of four schools, he has no dreams or hopes for the future, he has problems connecting with people, feels depressed etc. The readers get to know about two

traumas in his life: when his little brother died and when an old schoolmate committed suicide and it is quite clear that these two and especially the death of his brother has affected him.

Holden is also very judgemental and has an awful attitude towards women but despite this Holden is still quite easy to like. This I think makes him as a character very interesting and it feels like a lot of people will identify themselves with him when reading the book despite all his flaws and maybe just because of them.

‘I don’t get hardly anything out of anything. I’m in a bad shape. I’m in a lousy shape,’ p. 142.



Holden is desperately lonely during almost the entire novel. In the beginning of the book it becomes clear that he has no close friends at school, although, it also becomes clear that it is he who isolates himself to a great extent. At one point in the book his loneliness becomes very clear and it’s when he gets off the train to New York and he walks into a phone booth to give someone a call but then realises that he has nobody to call. Whilst in New York he tries to get in contact with people and get in touch with people he has known. However, he continues to fail and doesn’t realise why because of his inability of introspection.

The issue of growing up

An important theme in the book is the issue of growing up. In the middle of the book Holden visits the Museum of Natural History in New York, which he loves. In there he thinks about how everything in the museum stays exactly the same way as the years pass by and how the only thing changing is oneself. He then thinks about his little sister: ‘I thought how she’d see the same stuff I used to see, and how she’d be different every time she saw it. It didn’t really depress me to think about it but it didn’t make me feel gay as hell, either.’ This, his view on children as innocent and free and his view on adults as ‘phonies’, makes the reader realise that Holden doesn’t look forward to growing up.


The author

Salinger was born in New York in 1919. The Catcher in the Rye was published in 1951, originally for adults but became later on popular among adolescents. Salinger has admitted that the novel was ’sort of’ autobiographical, explaining, ’My boyhood was very much the same as that of the boy in the book.’ Salinger e.g. dropped out of several schools during his early life, too.