THE CATCHER IN THE RYE PLOT SUMMARY

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  • EXPOSITION
  • INCITING INCIDENT/CONFLICT
  • RISING ACTION
  • Holden opens the novel by telling a story that happened to him last Christmas: He has been expelled from his fourth boarding school, the people around him are all phonies, and he decides to avoid going home by spending a few days in New York. Holden also reveals offhand that his brother Allie passed away from leukemia three years prior. 
  • RISING ACTION
  • Holden seems to have unresolved guilt and grief over Allie’s passing and is ambivalent about adulthood. He spends a few days in New York, trying to connect with others but feeling more and more isolated. The struggle between belonging and isolation, along with the guilt and struggle with growing up, have manifest in a depressive episode. 
  • CLIMAX
  • After an attempt to connect with a prostitute, Sunny, and being punched by her pimp Maurice, Holden goes on a date with Sally Hayes, where he spirals out of control and decides he wants to run away. He goes home to see Phoebe and tells her he wants to be a “catcher in the rye” (he wants to save children from losing their innocence).  
  • FALLING ACTION/RESOLUTION
  • After spending the night in Grand Central Station, Holden decides he’s going to hitchhike out West. He leaves a note for Phoebe at her school to meet him at the museum. She shows up with her suitcase; she’s going with him. Holden won’t let her, and Phoebe gets upset.
  • Phoebe and Holden go to the zoo and then a park, where Holden buys her a ticket to ride on the carousel. As she rides around, he sits on a bench in the falling rain and watches her, finally bursting into tears. Holden has the epiphany that sometimes children have to be allowed to reach for the gold ring (metaphorically grow up).
  • Holden returns to the present, revealing he’s in some sort of medical institution. He’s been evaluated, and his doctors are planning on sending him back to school in September. Holden finds that he misses a lot of people, including those he called “phonies”.
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