The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye Study Guide

Although J.D. Salinger has written many short stories, The Catcher in the Rye is Salinger's only novel and his most notable work, earning him great fame and admiration as a writer and sparking many high school students' interest in great literature. The protagonist's adventures and concerns about "phony" people engage readers young and old.

The novel draws on characters and themes that appeared in a number of Salinger's earlier short stories, some of which form the basis for individual chapters in The Catcher in the Rye. Indeed, the Caulfield family is the subject of two of Salinger's major stories, "This Sandwich Has No Mayonnaise" and "I'm Crazy," as well as a number of unpublished works.

The first of these stories, "This Sandwich Has No Mayonnaise," is narrated by Vincent Caulfield, who learns that his brother is missing from Pentey Preparatory School (changed to Pencey in the novel). Vincent serves as the basis for D.B. Caulfield, Holden's older brother in the novel, and is the protagonist in a number of stories by Salinger. In "An Ocean Full of Bowling Balls," Vincent recalls his relationship with Kenneth, his deceased younger brother (the obvious basis for Allie). This unpublished story also details how Kenneth becomes angry when an adult calls Holden crazy and how Holden complains about hypocritical adults at his summer camp.

Other Salinger stories can be read as filling in details left out of The Catcher in the Rye. "The Last and Best of the Peter Pans," narrated by Vincent Caulfield, focuses on a conversation between Vincent and his actress mother, Mary Moriarty, concerning a questionnaire from the draft board that she had hidden from Vincent. This conversation ends with a reference to her wanting to keep a child from going over a cliff, a notion that Holden references in The Catcher in the Rye when he discusses his ideal situation with Phoebe. In another story, "Last Day of the Last Furlough," Vincent and "Babe" Gladwaller prepare to go off to World War II. Salinger has Vincent Caulfield die during the war, and "The Stranger" concerns "Babe" Gladwaller's attempt to tell Vincent's girlfriend how he died.

The other major short story concerning the Caulfield family is "I'm Crazy," the story which forms the basis for the first two chapters of The Catcher in the Rye as well as the chapter in which Holden goes home to see Phoebe. In this story, however, Holden expresses greater regret for his expulsion from Pentey, even lamenting that he will never again play games of football on Saturday evenings with his friends from school. The chapter in which Holden tries to convince Sally to run away with him to New England finds its source in yet another short story, "Slight Rebellion Off Madison."

The derivation of The Catcher in the Rye from a series of unrelated short stories--as well as Salinger's affection for the form of the short story--helps explain the pacing and relative lack of narrative continuity in the novel. No setting or character other than Holden continues in the novel for more than two consecutive chapters (which also may be a characteristic feature of Holden’s specific story). Holden, as narrator, is the only continuous character in the entire story. Characters such as Sally Hayes and Mr. Antolini appear only in one chapter and then mostly disappear. The first chapters of the novel, which are all set at Pencey, are the only ones that sustain the same characters and setting for an extended period. Furthermore, since Salinger reiterates thematic elements throughout the novel (in practically every chapter Holden complains about phonies), many of the chapters essentially could be short stories in themselves.