«The Catcher in the Rye» - Infographic & Plot Summary
The Catcher in the Rye begins as Holden Caulfield, recuperating from stress and illness at a medical facility in California, describes events that happened before Christmas. Expelled from school, Holden spends his last Saturday on campus enduring a scolding from a teacher and interacting with fellow students. Holden clashes with his roommate, Stradlater, a senior, over Stradlater's treatment of Jane Gallagher, his date, and then leaves school about midnight to go to New York City.
Holden rents a cheap hotel room. Lonely, he wanders to the hotel's club, where he dances with three middle-aged women, and then to Ernie's, a popular nightclub, where he eavesdrops on couples' conversations. Feeling alienated by the crowds, Holden is persuaded by the elevator attendant, Maurice, to hire a prostitute. When Sunny comes to his room, however, Holden is frightened and disgusted by the idea of sex with her. He pays her and she leaves, but the next day Maurice assaults Holden when he refuses to pay more money, and Sunny steals the money from his wallet.
On Sunday Holden makes a date with Sally Hayes, whom he had dated in the past, to see a show. He buys a record for his sister, Phoebe, and looks for her in Central Park. Holden eats breakfast, talks with two pleasant nuns, and then goes to meet Sally. On the way he overhears a child singing "Comin' Thro' the Rye" and is cheered.
Holden finds Sally's behavior at the play "phony" but goes skating with her afterward. When he tries to explain his discontent and asks her to run away with him to live in a cabin, they argue and part. Holden calls Jane but doesn't reach her, so instead he arranges to meet Carl Luce, a student from another prep school, for drinks. Luce, now a college student, is sexually experienced but, irritated by Holden's questions about sex, abandons Holden at the bar.
Holden, drunk and sick, walks to Central Park to find the ducks and decides that he will leave New York City for good—after saying goodbye to Phoebe. He slips into their apartment and wakes his sister. Phoebe's anger over Holden's expulsion morphs into an accusation that he hates everything. When Holden tells her about wanting to be the "catcher in the rye" who saves children, she criticizes his fantasy as being unrealistic.
When their parents come home from a party, Holden must slip out of the apartment. He takes refuge at the apartment of a former teacher, Mr. Antolini, who tries to guide Holden to understand that education can free him rather than imprison him in a hypocritical, shallow life.
Exhausted and ill, Holden falls asleep on the couch but wakes in a panic to find Mr. Antolini sitting on the floor beside him, stroking his head. Convinced that Mr. Antolini's intent is sexual, Holden flees to Grand Central Station and sleeps on a bench. In the morning he decides to hitchhike west and start a new life, pretending to be deaf and mute so that he can avoid conversations. He walks to Phoebe's school to give her a note so that they can meet before he leaves. While at the school, so tired he nearly faints, he sees obscene words written in the stairwell. Enraged at the threat these words present to the young students, he rubs them out but then finds them scratched into the paint elsewhere.
Holden waits at the Museum of Natural History for Phoebe and talks with two kids about mummies. As he walks the kids to the mummy exhibit, he again sees the inescapable graffiti violating the quiet, unchanging museum. Phoebe arrives, lugging a suitcase and insisting that she go with Holden. Angrily, they walk to the zoo and the carousel, which Phoebe rides as Holden watches. She refuses to let him leave, kisses him with fierce love, and gets him to agree to go home.
Holden returns to the present, having told as much of his story as he will. He will return to school in the fall and finds that, having told the story of the three "madman" days, he misses the people in it.