The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of J. D. Salinger

Jerome David Salinger grew up on Park Avenue in New York. His father was a successful Jewish cheese importer, and his mother was Scotch-Irish Catholic. After struggling in several prep schools, Salinger attended Valley Forge Military Academy from 1934 - 1936. He went on to enroll in several colleges, including New York University and Columbia, though he never graduated. He took a fiction writing class in 1939 at Columbia that cemented the dabbling he had done in writing since his early teens. During World War II, Salinger ended up in the Army's infantry division and served in combat, including the invasion of Normandy in 1944. Salinger continued to write during the war and in 1940 he published his first short story in Story magazine. He went on to publish many stories in the New Yorker, the Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, and others from 1941 to 1948. In 1951 he published his only full-length novel, The Catcher in the Rye, which rocketed Salinger into the public eye. Salinger hated his sudden fame and retired from New York to Cornish, New Hampshire, where he has lived ever since. He continues to avoid contact with the media, and has ceased to publish. No one knows if he continues to write.
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Historical Context of The Catcher in the Rye

Many parallels exist between Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye, and J. D. Salinger: both grew up in upper class New York, both flunked out of prep schools, and so on. It's no surprise, then, that Salinger's experience in World War II should cast a shadow over Holden's opinions and experiences in The Catcher in the Rye. World War II robbed millions of young men and women of their youthful innocence. Salinger himself witnessed the slaughter of thousands at Normandy, one of the war's bloodiest battles. In Catcher we see the impact of Salinger's World War II experience in Holden's mistrusting, cynical view of adult society. Holden views growing up as a slow surrender to the "phony" responsibilities of adult life, such as getting a job, serving in the military, and maintaining intimate relationships. World War I was supposedly "the war to end all wars"; World War II proved that this claim was as hollow as the "phony" ideas adult characters impose on Holden throughout The Catcher in the Rye.

Other Books Related to The Catcher in the Rye

Not much is known about the influences Salinger drew upon to write The Catcher in the Rye. It is known that during World War II he met with Ernest Hemingway in Paris, which suggests that Salinger admired Hemingway's work. Even if that's true, it's difficult to trace any particular author's influence in Catcher because it's written in such a fresh and unique voice with a degree of candor and brashness perhaps unprecedented in American fiction.
Key Facts about The Catcher in the Rye
  • Full Title: The Catcher in the Rye
  • When Published: 1951
  • Literary Period: Modern American
  • Genre: Coming-of-Age Novel (Bildungsroman)
  • Setting: Agerstown, Pennsylvania and Manhattan, New York in 1950.
  • Climax: When Holden leaves Mr. Antolini's apartment
  • Antagonist: Stradlater, Phonies, and Adults
  • Point of View: First person (Holden is the narrator)

Extra Credit for The Catcher in the Rye

Banned in the Rye. Many critics dismissed the book as trash due to its healthy helping of four-letter words and sexual situations, and even today Catcher in the Rye has been banned in school districts in Washington, Ohio, Florida and Michigan.