The Catcher in the Rye

J. D. Salinger

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The Catcher in the Rye (1951) was J. D. Salinger’s first—and only— published novel.  It is about a passionate, confused, and sometimes insufferably negative young man named Holden Caulfield.  Below are various excerpts from the novel, followed by a clip from South Park that begs the question, why was this book ever banned?  All quotes provided below may be cited as J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (Boston, M.A.: Little, Brown and Company, 1951).



Pencey Prep and the Moulding of Boys (p. 2)

Where I want to start telling is the day I left Pencey Prep.  Pency Prep is this school that’s in Agerstown, Pennsylvania.  You probably heard about it.  You’ve probably seen the ads, anyway.  They advertise in about a thousand magazines, always showing some hot-shot guy on a horse jumping over a fence.  Like as if all you ever did at Pencey was play polo all the time.  I never even once saw a horse anywhere near the place.  And underneath the guy on the horse’s picture, it always says:  “Since 1888 we have been molding boys into splendid, clear-thinking young men.”  Strictly for the birds.  They don’t do any damn more molding at Pencey than they do at any other school.  And I didn’t know anybody there that was splendid and clear-thinking and all.  Maybe two guys.  If that many.  And they probably came to Pencey that way.


Football and Prayer (pp. 16–17)

The first football game of the year, he came up to school in this big goddam Cadillac, and we all had to stand up in the grandstand and give him a locomotive—that’s a cheer.  Then, the next morning, in chapel, he made a speech that lasted about ten hours.  He started off with about fifty corny jokes, just to show us what a regular guy he was.  Very big deal.  Then he started telling us how he was never ashamed, when he was in some kind of trouble or something, to get right down his knees and pray to God.  He told us we should always pray to God—talk to Him and all—wherever we were.  He told us we ought to think of Jesus as our buddy and all.  He said he talked to Jesus all the time.  Even when he was driving his car.  That killed me.  I can just see the big phony bastard shifting into first gear and asking Jesus to send him a few more stiffs.


One’s Regards (pp. 33, 42)

“Listen.  Give her my regards, willya?”

“Okay,” Stradlater said, but I knew he probably wouldn’t.  You take a guy like Stradlater, they never give your regards to people.

“Did you give her my regards?” I asked him.


The hell he did, the bastard.


Allie’s Baseball Mitt (p. 38)

So what I did, I wrote about my brother Allie’s baseball mitt.  It was a very descriptive subject.  It really was.  My brother Allie had this left-handed fielder’s mitt.  He was left-handed.  The thing that was descriptive about it, though, was that he had poems written all over the fingers and the pocket and everywhere.  In green ink.  He wrote them on it so that he’d have something to read when he was in the field and nobody was up at bat.  He’s dead now.  He got leukemia and died when we were up in Maine, on July 18, 1946.  You’d have liked him.


Those Dumb, Show-offy Ripples in the High Notes (p. 84)

I’m not too sure what the name of the song was that he was playing when I came in, but whatever it was, he was really stinking it up.  He was putting all these dumb, show-offy ripples in the high notes, and a lot of other very tricky stuff that gives me a pain in the ass.  You should’ve heard the crowd, though, when he was finished.  You would’ve puked.  They went mad.  They were exactly the same morons that laugh like hyenas in the movies at stuff that isn’t funny.  I swear to God, if I were a piano player or an actor or something and all those dopes though I was terrific, I’d hate it.  I wouldn’t even want them to clap for me.  People always clap for the wrong things.  If I were a piano player, I’d play it in the goddam closet.  Anyway, when he was finished, and everybody was clapping their heads off, old Ernie turned around on his stool and gave this very phony, humble bow.  Like as if he was a helluva humble guy, besides being a terrific piano player.  It was very phony—I mean him being such a big snob and all.  In a funny way, though, I felt sort of sorry for him when he was finished.  I don’t even think he knows any more when he’s playing right or not.  It isn’t all his fault.  I partly blame all those dopes that clap their heads off—they’d foul up anybody, if you gave them a chance.

Commander Blop (pp. 86–87)

Then she introduced me to this Navy guy.  His name was Commander Blop or something.  He was one of those guys that think they’re being a pansy if they don’t break around forty of your fingers when they shake hands with you.  God, I hate that stuff.

“Glad To’ve Met You” (p. 87)

The Navy guy and I told each other we were glad to’ve met each other.  Which always kills me.  I’m always saying “Glad to’ve met you” to somebody I’m not at all glad I met.  If you want to stay alive, you have to say that stuff, though.


Thoughts on Jesus (pp. 99–100)

Finally, though, I got undressed and got in bed.  I felt like praying or something, when I was in bed, but I couldn’t do it.  I can’t always pray when I feel like it.  In the first place, I’m sort of an atheist.  I like Jesus and all, but I don’t care too much for most of the other stuff in the Bible.  Take the Disciples, for instance.  They annoy the hell out of me, if you want to know the truth.  They were all right after Jesus was dead and all, but while He was alive, they were about as much use to Him as a hole in the head.  All they did was keep letting Him down.  I like almost anybody in the Bible better than the Disciples.  If you want to know the truth, the guy I like best in the Bible, next to Jesus, was that lunatic and all, that lived in the tombs and kept cutting himself with stones.  I like him ten times as much as the Disciples, that poor bastard.  I used to get in quite a few arguments about it, when I was at Whooton School, with this boy that lived down the corridor, Arthur Childs.  Old Childs was a Quaker and all, and he read the Bible all the time.  He was a very nice kid, and I liked him, but I could never see eye to eye with him on a lot of stuff in the Bible, especially the Disciples.  He kept telling me if I didn’t like the Disciples, then I didn’t like Jesus and all.  He said that because Jesus picked the Disciples, you were supposed to like them.  I said I knew He picked them, but that He picked them at random.  I said He didn’t have time to go around analyzing everybody.  I said I wasn’t blaming Jesus or anything.  It wasn’t His fault that He didn’t have any time.  I remember I asked old Childs if he thought Judas, the one that betrayed Jesus and all, went to Hell after he committed suicide.  Childs said certainly.  That’s exactly where I disagreed with him.  I said I’d bet a thousand bucks that Jesus never sent old Judas to Hell.  I still would, too, if I had a thousand bucks.  I think any one of the Disciples would’ve sent him to Hell and all—and fast, too—but I’ll bet anything Jesus didn’t do it.  Old Childs said the trouble with me was that I didn’t go to church or anything.  He was right about that, in a way.  I don’t.  In the first place, my parents are different religions, and all the children in our family are atheists.  If you want to know the truth, I can’t even stand ministers.  The ones they’ve had at every school I’ve gone to, they all have these Holy Joe voices when they start giving their sermons.  God, I hate that.  I don’t see why the hell they can’t talk in their natural voice.  They sound so phony when they talk.

Suicide and Rubbernecks (p. 104)

I felt like jumping out the window.  I probably would’ve done it, too, if I’d been sure somebody’d cover me up as soon as I landed.  I didn’t want a bunch of stupid rubbernecks looking at me when I was all gory.


Everything is Bourgeois (p. 108)

He was always saying snotty things about them, my suitcases, for instance.  He kept saying they were too new and bourgeois.  That was his favorite goddam word.  He read it somewhere or heard it somewhere.  Everything I had was bourgeois as hell.  Even my fountain pen was bourgeois.  He borrowed it off me all the time, but it was bourgeois anyway.


The Singing Voice of Estelle Fletcher (pp. 114–115)

It was a very old, terrific record that this colored girl singer, Estelle Fletcher, made about twenty years ago.  She sings it very Dixieland and whorehouse, and it doesn’t sound at all mushy.  If a white girl was singing it, she’d make it sound cute as hell, but old Estelle Fletcher knew what the hell she was doing, and it was one of the best records I ever heard.

Not Like a God-damn Cop or Anything (pp. 120–121)

Another thing, if you touched one of the paddles or anything while you were passing, one of the guards would say to you, “Don’t touch anything, children,” but he always said it in a nice voice, not like a goddam cop or anything.


The Guys Women Choose (p. 123)

In a way, it was sort of depressing, too, because you kept wondering what the hell would happen to all of them.  When they got out of school and college, I mean.  You figured most of them would probably marry dopey guys.  Guys that always talk about how many miles they get to a gallon in their goddam cars.  Guys that get sore and childish as hell if you beat them at golf, or even just some stupid game like ping-pong.  Guys that are very mean.  Guys that never read books.  Guys that are very boring—…

People Talking So Others Can Hear Them (p. 126)

At the end of the first act we went out with all the other jerks for a cigarette.  What a deal that was.  You never saw so many phonies in all your life, everybody smoking their ears off and talking about the play so that everybody could hear and know how sharp they were.

On Football (p. 131)

…and you have to keep making believe you give a damn if the football team loses,…


Bastards in the Army (p. 140)

He [D. B. Caulfield] once told Allie and I that if he’d had to shoot anybody, he wouldn’t’ve known which direction to shoot in.  He said the Army was practically as full of bastards as the Nazis were.


Phony Sophistication at the Wicker Bar (p. 141)

In case you don’t live in New York, the Wicker Bar is in this sort of swanky hotel, the Seton Hotel.  I used to go there quite a lot, but I don’t any more.  I gradually cut it out.  It’s one of those places that are supposed to be very sophisticated and all, and the phonies are coming in the window.


Who Wants Flowers When You’re Dead? (p. 155)

Then I thought about the whole bunch of them sticking me in a goddamn cemetery and all, with my name on this tombstone and all.  Surrounded by dead guys.  Boy, when you’re dead, they really fix you up.  I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something.  Anything except sticking me in a goddamn cemetery.  People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap.  Who wants flowers when you’re dead?  Nobody.


When You Say Something Nobody Understands… (pp. 157–158)

He didn’t know what the hell I was talking about, so all he said was “Oh” and took me up.  Not bad, boy.  It’s funny.  All you have to do is say something nobody understands and they’ll do practically anything you want them to.


What Old Caufield’d Like to Be (pp. 172–173)

I wasn’t listening though.  I was thinking about something else—something crazy.  “You know what I’d like to be?” I said.  “You know what I’d like to be?  I mean if I had my goddam choice?”

“What?  Stop swearing.”

“You know that song ‘If a body catch a body comin’ through the rye’?  I’d like—”

“It’s ‘If a body meet a body coming through the rye’!” old Phoebe said.  “It’s a poem by Robert Burns.”

“I know it’s a poem by Robert Burns.”

She was right, though.  It is “If a body meet a body coming through the rye.”  I didn’t know it then, though.

“I thought it was ‘If a body catch a body,’” I said.  “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’d 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.  I know it’s crazy.”

Old Phoebe didn’t say anything for a long time.  Then, when she said something, all she said was, “Daddy’s going to kill you.”


Writing It, or Rubbing It Off? (p. 201)

I hardly even had the guts to rub it off the wall with my hand, if you want to know the truth.  I was afraid some teacher would catch me rubbing it off and would think I’d written it.


Reporting on the Future (p. 213)

A lot of people, especially this one psychoanalyst guy they have here, keeps asking me if I’m going apply myself when I go back to school next September.  It’s such a stupid question, in my opinion.  I mean how do you know what you’re going to do till you do it?  The answer is, you don’t.  I think I am, but how do I know?  I swear it’s a stupid question.

South Park asks the question, why was this book banned?

Copyright © 1945, 1946, 1951 by J. D. Salinger

All rights reserved.  No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electric or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

One incident appeared in a different form as a story in Collier’s, December 1945.

One incident appeared in a different form as a story in The New Yorker, December 1946.