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Excerpts from 'The Catcher in the Rye'

J.D. Salinger's stellar fictional creation was Holden Caulfield, the teenage anti-hero of 'The Catcher in the Rye,' which became one of the most banned and taught books in the U.S.

January 29, 2010

Excerpts

Here is the opening of J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye," narrated by Holden Caulfield, a tormented prep-school flunk-out who is headed for mental collapse.

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them. They're quite touchy about anything like that, especially my father. They're nice and all -- I'm not saying that -- but they're also touchy as hell. Besides, I'm not going to tell you my whole goddam autobiography or anything. I'll just tell you about this madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas just before I got pretty run-down and had to come out here and take it easy.

In this excerpt, Holden Caulfield, the tormented adolescent hero of J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye," has sneaked into his family's Manhattan apartment to visit his beloved little sister, Phoebe. She learns that he has just flunked out of prep school again and scolds him.

"Daddy's going to kill you. He's going to kill you," she said. 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."

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