The Catcher in the Rye Summary l Summary of The Catcher in the Rye

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The Catcher in the Rye Summary Chapter 1:

Holden Caulfield writes his story from a rest home to which he has been sent for therapy. He refuses to talk about his early life. He mentions only that his brother D. B. is a Hollywood writer. He then begins to tell the story of the breakdown of his health. He begins with his departure from Pencey Prep, a famous school he attended in Agerstown, Pennsylvania.
At Pencey Prep, Holden fails four of his five subjects—he passed only English. He has been forbidden to return to school after the fall term. He is the manager of the school’s fencing team and is supposed to be in New York for a meet, but he lost the team’s equipment on the subway.
Holden is full of contempt for the prep school, but he looks for a way to “say goodbye” to it. He remembers throwing a football with friends even after it grew dark outside. Holden walks away from the game to go say goodbye to Mr. Spencer, a former history teacher who is very old and ill with the flu. At the door, Spencer’s wife greets Holden warmly, and he goes in to see his teacher.
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The Catcher in the Rye Summary Chapter 2:

Holden greets Mr. Spencer and his wife in a manner that suggests he is close to them. In his sickroom, Spencer tries to lecture Holden about his academic failures. He confirms Pencey’s headmaster’s assertion that “Life is a game.” He tells Holden that he must learn to play by the rules. Finally, Spencer tries to convince Holden to think about his future. Not wanting to be lectured, Holden interrupts Spencer and leaves. He returns to his room before dinner.
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The Catcher in the Rye Summary Chapter 3:

In his room, Holden sits and reads Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa.

He is interrupted by Ackley. Ackley is a student who lives next door. According to Holden, Ackley is a supremely irritating classmate who constantly barges into the room. He always acts as if he’s doing others a favor by spending time with them. He prevents Holden from reading by pestering him with annoying questions. When Holden’s handsome and popular roommate, Stradlater, enters, Ackley quickly returns to his own room because he hates Stradlater.
Stradlater mentions that he has a date waiting for him but wants to shave.
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The Catcher in the Rye Summary Chapter 4:

Holden goes to the bathroom with Stradlater and talks to him while he shaves. Holden contrasts Stradlater’s personal habits with Ackley’s. The two joke around, then Stradlater asks Holden to write an English composition for him because his date won’t leave him with time to do it on his own. Holden asks about the date and learns that Stradlater is taking out a girl Holden knows, Jane Gallagher.
Holden has strong feelings for Jane and remembers her vividly. Holden is displeased that Stradlater is taking Jane on a date. Before he leaves for his date, Stradlater borrows Holden’s jacket.
After Stradlater leaves, Holden is tormented by the thoughts of Jane and Stradlater.

The Catcher in the Rye Summary Chapter 5:

Holden and his friend Mal Brossard decide to take a bus into Agerstown to see a movie. Holden convinces Mal Brossard to let Ackley go with them. It turns out that Ackley and Brossard have already seen the film, so they simply eat some burgers, play a little pinball, and head back to Pencey.

Stradlater had said the composition was supposed to be a simple description of a room, a house, or something similarly straightforward. But Holden cannot think of anything to say about a house or a room, so he writes about a baseball glove that his brother Allie used.
Several years before, Allie died of leukemia. Though he was two years younger than Holden, Holden says that Allie was the most intelligent member of his family. Holden still feels Allie’s loss strongly. He recounts that the night Allie died, he slept in the garage and broke all the windows with his bare hands.
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The Catcher in the Rye Summary Chapter 6:

Home from his date, Stradlater barges into the room. He reads Holden’s composition and becomes annoyed. He says that it has nothing to do with the assignment. Holden tears the composition up and throws it away angrily. Afterward, he smokes a cigarette in the room just to annoy Stradlater. The tension between the two increases when Holden asks Stradlater about his date with Jane. When Stradlater refuses to tell Holden any of the details, Holden attacks him, but Stradlater pins him to the floor and tries to calm him down. Holden insults Stradlater. He drives Stradlater crazy. Stradlater punches Holden and bloodies his nose. Stradlater then becomes worried that he has hurt Holden and will get into trouble. Holden insults him some more, and Stradlater finally leaves the room. Holden gets up and goes into Ackley’s room, his face covered in blood.
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The Catcher in the Rye Summary Chapter 7:

Holden talks for a while with Ackley and then tries to fall asleep in the bed belonging to Ackley’s roommate.

But he cannot stop imagining Jane fooling around with Stradlater, and he has trouble falling asleep. He packs his bags, dons his hunting hat, and begins to cry. As he heads into the hallway, he yells “Sleep tight, ya morons!” to the boys on his floor before stepping outside to leave Pencey forever.

The Catcher in the Rye Summary Chapter 8:

Holden walks the entire way to the train station and catches a late train to New York. At Trenton, an attractive older woman gets on and sits next to him. She turns out to be the mother of his classmate, Ernest Morrow. He dislikes Ernest immensely but tells extravagant lies about him to his mother. Holden tells her that his name is Rudolph Schmidt, which is actually the school janitor’s name. When she asks why he is leaving Pencey early, Holden replies that he is returning to New York for a brain tumor operation.
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The Catcher in the Rye Summary Chapter 9:

At Penn Station, Holden wants to call someone but cannot think of anyone to call because his brother D. B. is in Hollywood; his sister, Phoebe, is young and probably asleep. He doesn’t like calling Jane Gallagher. Another girl, Sally Hayes, has a mother who hates him. So, Holden takes a taxi to the Edmont Hotel. There he begins to feel aroused, so he calls Faith Cavendish and tries to make a date with her but she refuses.
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The Catcher in the Rye Summary Chapter 10:

Holden changes his shirt and goes downstairs to the Lavender Room, the Edmont’s nightclub.

In the Lavender Room, he flirts and dances with three women. They seem amused but uninterested in this young man.
After tolerating him for a while, they begin to laugh at him. They also depress him by being obsessed with movie stars. Holden pays for their drinks, then leaves the Lavender Room.

The Catcher in the Rye Summary Chapter 11:

As he walks out to the lobby, Holden thinks about Jane. Their families’ summer homes in Maine were next door to one another. Holden and Jane became close. One day, Jane’s alcoholic stepfather came out to the porch where Holden and Jane were playing and asked Jane for cigarettes; Jane refused to answer him, and, when he left, she began to cry. Holden held her, kissed her face, and comforted her. Apart from that incident, their physical relationship was mild, but they used to hold hands constantly. Holden then feels suddenly upset, and he returns to his room. But again he heads downstairs and grabs a taxi.
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The Catcher in the Rye Summary Chapter 12:

Holden takes a cab to a Greenwich Village nightclub called Ernie’s. It is a spot he used to frequent with his brother D. B. At Ernie’s, Holden listens to Ernie play the piano but he is unimpressed. He encounters an obnoxious girl named Lillian Simmons, whom D. B. used to date. He is forced to leave the nightclub to get away from her.

The Catcher in the Rye Summary Chapter 13:

Feeling like a coward for leaving Ernie’s, Holden walks the forty-one blocks from the nightclub back to the hotel. When he reaches the Edmont, he takes the elevator up to his room. The elevator operator offers to send him a prostitute for five dollars, and Holden accepts. While waiting in his room, he again thinks about his cowardice. Meanwhile, the prostitute, Sunny, arrives. She removes her dress. She sits on his lap and tries to seduce him, but he is extremely nervous and tells her he is unable to have sex because he is recovering from an operation. He finally pays her five dollars and asks her to leave. Sunny claims extra five dollars but Holden refuses. Sunny leaves.

The Catcher in the Rye Summary Chapter 14:

Holden sits in his hotel room and smokes for a while. Suddenly, there is a knock at his door. Holden opens the door and faces the burly elevator operator, Maurice.

Maurice has returned with Sunny to collect the extra five dollars Sunny demanded. Holden tries to refuse, but Maurice pins him against a wall while Sunny takes the money from his wallet. Holden starts to insult him in response. Maurice slugs Holden in the stomach and leaves him crumpled on the floor. Finally, he manages to get into bed and go to sleep.

The Catcher in the Rye Summary Chapter 15:

The next morning, Holden calls Sally Hayes and makes a date with her. He checks out of the hotel and leaves his bags in a locker at Grand Central Station. Holden worries that the news of his expulsion will particularly distress his fragile mother, for whom he seems to care a great deal.
Holden goes to eat breakfast at a little sandwich bar, where he meets two nuns who are on their way to teach in a school. He talks to one of the nuns about Romeo and Juliet. He forces them to take ten dollars as a charitable contribution. After they leave, he begins to regret having given only ten dollars. He concludes that money always makes people depressed.
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The Catcher in the Rye Summary Chapter 16:

After breakfast, Holden goes for a walk. He thinks about the selflessness of the nuns. He buys a record called “Little Shirley Beans” for Phoebe. He thinks about Phoebe. He considers her to be a wonderful girl because she always understands what Holden means when he talks to her. In preparation for his date with Sally, he buys theater tickets to a show called “I Know My Love.”

Holden wants to see Phoebe, and he goes to look for her in the park because he remembers that she often roller-skates there on Sundays. He meets a girl who knows Phoebe. At first, she tells him that his sister is on a school trip to the Museum of Natural History, but then she remembers that the trip was the previous day. Nevertheless, Holden walks to the museum, remembering his own class trips.

The Catcher in the Rye Summary Chapter 17:

At two o’clock, Holden goes to meet Sally at the Biltmore Hotel; she is late but looks very attractive, so he immediately forgives her tardiness. They go to the theatre. During intermission, Sally irritates Holden by flirting with a pretentious boy. Holden nonetheless agrees to take her ice-skating after the show.
When they take a break and sit down indoors, Holden says that he and Sally should run away together and escape from society, living on their own in a cabin. When she points out that his dreams are ridiculous, he becomes more and more agitated. The quarrel builds until Holden calls Sally a “royal pain in the ass,” and she begins to cry. Holden starts to apologize, but Sally is upset and angry with him. Finally, he leaves without her.

The Catcher in the Rye Summary Chapter 18:

Once again, Holden thinks about calling Jane, but his mind begins to wander. Finally, he calls Jane, but no one answers. He then calls a boy named Carl Luce and Luce agrees to meet him for drinks later that night.
To kill time, Holden goes to see a movie at Radio City Music Hall. Holden finds the movie boring. The movie was about the war, so Holden thinks about the army.

The Catcher in the Rye Summary Chapter 19:

At the Wicker Bar, Holden thinks about Luce. Luce is three years older than Holden and now a student at Columbia University.

At the Whooton School, Luce used to tell the younger boys about sex. When Luce arrives, he treats Holden coolly, and Holden pesters him with questions about sex. Luce refuses to be drawn into the kind of sex discussion that they had had at Whooton, and he suggests that Holden needs psychoanalysis. Holden remembers that Luce’s father is a psychoanalyst, but Luce ignores it when Holden asks whether Luce’s father ever analyzed his own son. Annoyed by Holden’s comments and questions, Luce departs.

The Catcher in the Rye Summary Chapter 20:

After Luce leaves, Holden stays at the bar and gets very drunk. He stumbles to the phone booth and makes a late-night call to Sally Hayes. He angers both Sally and her grandmother. He then tries to make a date with the lounge singer. She is an attractive woman named Valencia. When that fails, he tries, with no more success, to make a date with the hat-check girl.
He decides to walk to the duck pond in Central Park to see if the ducks are still around. Along the way, he becomes quite upset when he drops and breaks the record he had bought for Phoebe. At the duck pond, he worries about catching pneumonia and imagines his funeral. He missed Allie’s funeral because he was in the hospital after breaking the garage windows with his bare hands.

Holden wants to talk to Phoebe, and he is running low on money, so he decides to go home. He expects his parents to be asleep, which will allow him to speak with Phoebe, and then leave without being heard. He leaves the park and begins the long walk home.

The Catcher in the Rye Summary Chapter 21:

Holden takes the elevator up to his family’s apartment.
Holden sneaks into his family’s apartment and looks for Phoebe, but she isn’t in her room. Holden tiptoes to D. B.’s room because Phoebe likes to sleep there when D. B. is in Hollywood. He finds Phoebe sleeping peacefully, and he remarks that children, unlike adults, always look peaceful when they are asleep. As he watches Phoebe sleep, he reads through her schoolbooks.
He finally wakes Phoebe, and she is overjoyed to see him. She talks energetically about one thing after another. Soon she realizes that Holden is home two days early and must have been kicked out of school. Over and over, she repeats that their father will “kill” him. Holden tries to justify his behavior, but she refuses to listen and covers her head with a pillow. Holden leaves the room to get some cigarettes.

The Catcher in the Rye Summary Chapter 22:

Holden returns to Phoebe’s room tries to explain why he fails his classes and tells her all the things he hates about school. She responds by accusing him of hating everything. He refutes her claim, and she challenges him to name one thing he likes. He becomes preoccupied, thinking about the nuns he met at breakfast.
He finally tells her that he likes Allie, and she reminds him angrily that Allie is dead.

She asks what he wants to do with his life, and his only answer is to mention the lyric, “If a body catch a body comin’ through the rye.” Holden says that he imagines a big field of rye on a cliff full of children playing. He wants to stand at the edge of the cliff and catch the children when they come too close to falling off. He wants to be “the catcher in the rye.”

The Catcher in the Rye Summary Chapter 23:

Holden leaves Phoebe’s room for a moment to call Mr. Antolini, an English teacher he had at Elkton Hills. Mr. Antolini is shocked that Holden has been kicked out of another school and invites Holden to stay the night at his house. Holden goes back into Phoebe’s room and asks her to dance. After a few numbers, they hear the front door open. Their parents have come home from their dinner party. Holden jumps into the closet. His mother comes to see Phoebe and he hides until she leaves. He then tells Phoebe goodbye, letting her know of his plan to leave New York and move out west alone. She loans him the Christmas money she’d been saving, and he leaves for Mr. Antolini’s. On the way out, he gives Phoebe his red hunting hat.

The Catcher in the Rye Summary Chapter 24:

Holden arrives at Mr. Antolini’s house. Holden takes a seat, and the two begin talking. As Mrs. Antolini prepares coffee, Mr. Antolini inquires about Holden’s expulsion from Pencey Prep. Holden reveals that he disliked the rules and regulations at Pencey Prep. As an example, he mentions his debate class in which students were penalized for digressing from their subject. Holden argues that digressions are more interesting.

After taking coffee, Mr. Antolini resumes the discussion on a much more serious note. He tells Holden that he is worried about him because he seems to experience a major fall. He says that if he applies himself in school, he will learn that many men and women have been similarly disturbed and troubled by the human condition, and he will also learn a great deal about his own mind. Holden seems interested in what Mr. Antolini has to say, but he is exhausted and goes to sleep.
Suddenly, Holden wakes up; he feels Mr. Antolini’s hand stroking his head. Mr. Antolini claims it was nothing, but Holden believes Mr. Antolini is making a homosexual advance and hurries out of the apartment.

The Catcher in the Rye Summary Chapter 25:

After leaving Mr. Antolini’s house, Holden goes to Grand Central Station and spends the night sleeping on a bench in the waiting room. Every time he crosses a street, he feels like he will disappear, so each time he reaches a curb, he calls to Allie, pleading with his dead brother to let him make it to the other side. He decides to leave New York, hitchhike west, and never go home or to school again. He imagines living as a hermit, never talking to anybody, and marrying a deaf-mute girl.
He goes to Phoebe’s school and writes her a note telling her to meet him at the Museum of Art so he can return the money she lent him.
Phoebe arrives at the museum with a suitcase and begs Holden to take her with him. He tells her that she cannot possibly go with him and feels even closer to fainting. She gets angry, refuses to look at him, and returns his hunting hat. Holden tells her he won’t go away and asks her to go back to school. She angrily refuses, and he offers to take her to the zoo.

They walk to the zoo. Holden is on one side of the street while Phoebe is following angrily on the other. After looking at some animals, they walk to the park. They are now on the same side of the street. They come to the carousel, and Holden convinces Phoebe to ride it. He sits on a park bench, watching her go around and around. They have reconciled.

The Catcher in the Rye Summary Chapter 26:

Holden concludes his story by refusing to discuss what happened after his day in the park with Phoebe. He does say that he went home, got sick, and was sent to the rest home from which he now tells his story. He says he is supposed to go to a new school in the fall.

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