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The Catcher in the Rye Quotes

by J.D. Salinger

Quotes and Analysis

  1. In my mind, I'm probably the biggest sex maniac you ever saw.

    Holden Caulfield

    One of Holden's greatest internal quandaries regards how to resolve the paradox of love and sex. Holden wants to feel the deepest type of love possible, the love that died when he lost his sibling years ago. The intensity of his raging adolescent hormones makes him think that somehow sex would be joined with that same depth of love for a another person, though in reality sex comes all too easily with money rather than authentic feeling. In his mind, Holden suggests, he is fantasizing constantly about sex, and his friend suggests that the “typical Caulfield conversation” is preoccupied with sex. Yet, the reality is that he never brings this mania into practice; sex without love can be at best a temporary release of the pain of loneliness.

  2. I was half in love with her by the time we sat down. That's the thing about girls. Every time they do something pretty, even if they're not much to look at, or even if they're sort of stupid, you fall half in love with them, and then you never know where the hell you are. Girls. Jesus Christ. They can drive you crazy. They really can.

    Holden Caulfield

    Here, Holden reflects on the adolescent male’s (or perhaps most males’, most people’s) tendency to overreach, to create relationships in their minds on the basis of a single seemingly genuine encounter. A single “pretty” thing launches fantasies of love. The more alienated and lonely Holden becomes, the more he recedes into his own fantasies, yet he recognizes that seeking pleasure through this kind of imagination is just “crazy,” not an authentic way to temper the pain he feels.

  3. People never notice anything.

    Holden Caulfield

    Many of the most famous lines in Salinger's novel begin with the word “People.” For Holden, the word marks Holden's attempt to separate himself from others. Holden is not like other “people”; the world is against him. Generalizing in this way, setting himself apart, can make him feel better about his own idiosyncrasies and low self-esteem, giving him a sense that he is better than the mass of people, who fail to notice what he perceives. Holden sees through phoniness while others accept it.

  4. What I was really hanging around for, I was trying to feel some kind of a good-by. I mean I've left schools and places I didn't even know I was leaving them. I hate that. I don't care if it's a sad good-by or a bad good-by, but when I leave a place I like to know I'm leaving it. If you don't, you feel even worse.

    Holden Caulfield

    On one level, this is about what is called “closure,” the sense that a chapter of his life has ended, with a certain level of consent to leaving a place, letting it go. Sometimes, it seems, a suspension led to an expulsion before Holden had a chance for closure. At a deeper level, however, Holden realizes in this case that he has trouble getting to that feeling of closure; he has a hard time with feelings anymore. Hanging around, he is hoping to get to the feeling of goodbye. When he leaves Pencey, he wants to at least feel a sense of vindication, triumph, or at least sadness or regret. He seems to feel little or nothing, however, reinforcing how disconnected he feels from himself. More broadly, his entire journey is an attempt to reconnect with feelings and emotions long buried, to get all the goodbyes out of the way and clear his troubles so that he can finally move on after Allie’s death.

  5. When I really worry about something, I don't just fool around. I even have to go to the bathroom when I worry about something. Only, I don't go. I'm too worried to go. I don't want to interrupt my worrying to go.

    Holden Caulfield

    Holden appears to have a rich mental life, but it often debilitates him. He does not worry like the phonies, he feels; for him, the worry is all-consuming. Worry, however, is about something other than the present reality; for him it seems to be involved with the neuroses and fantasies which plague him and lead him in search of some greater fulfillment in life. All the worrying seems to be a defense against the pain of reality.

  6. Goddam money. It always ends up making you blue as hell.

    Holden Caulfield

    Holden picks up on the usual critique of consumerism and greed: money corrupts and does not in itself buy happiness. His own experience shows that he has not spent his money on things that have brought relief of his pain, and whatever hope he had at the time of spending is dashed in the realization that it has not made him feel better. There is also a subtext in his statement: Holden apparently is from a wealthy family that can afford to send him to private schools, which has alienated him.

  7. Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around - nobody big, I mean - except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be.

    Holden Caulfield

    This is probably the most famous passage in Salinger's novel, being the source of its title. It attests to Holden's desire to play the rescuer to all the children who might suffer in their lives. They can continue along in their innocence doing what they like, and Holden will be there to make sure that the one deadly boundary is not crossed. They do not need to look where they are going during their game so long as there is someone to catch them at the edge. Moreover, they do not know he is there to watch over them, godlike, unless they really need his help at the last moment. This is Holden's fantasy because a catcher would have caught Allie or, failing that, would have caught Holden and saved him from his descent into loneliness and pain.

  8. Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.

    Holden Caulfield

    Holden lives in such pain, having given himself to his brother and then watched him die, that he cannot bear to open up to anyone again because of the thought of loss, having to lose something that meant everything. Here, telling someone something means opening up to say something authentic. This is not something he would advise, however, because the closeness and trust involved in this genuine act not only will one day be lost, but also will show that one does not have this closeness or trust with others.

  9. It's no fun to be yellow. Maybe I'm not all yellow. I don't know. I think maybe I'm just partly yellow and partly the type that doesn't give much of a damn if they lose their gloves.

    Holden Caulfield

    Here Holden acknowledges some of his cowardice. He is not the kind of weenie who worries over lost gloves; no, when he worries, he worries about deep issues and puts his whole self into it. Maybe that is genuine worry, he thinks, rather than “yellow” fear of the kind felt by the phonies in the world.

  10. I don't even know what I was running for--I guess I just felt like it.

    Holden Caulfield

    This is a telling statement about Holden’s orientation toward his present life. He is running from his feelings, often not for any conscious reason but to avoid what may happen if he stops long enough to examine them. When he is choosing to avoid authentic human interaction in order to avoid the future pain of loss, it is more of an emotional choice than a rational comparison of one pain against another.

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