10 Tweets That Summarize the Book The Catcher in the Rye

Since his in-print birth in 1951, Holden Caulfield has served as a sort of touchstone for generations of disillusioned youth. During the counter-cultural surge of the 50’s and 60’s especially, the voice of J.D. Salinger’s singular protagonist seemed to echo in the minds of those ready to challenge the social mores set by their parents. The Catcher in the Rye has been banned as often as it’s been held up as an argument for First Amendment rights for its frank treatment of adolescent sexuality, swearing and substance abuse. As a new generation emerges, carrying the same angst as each that preceded them in the latter half of the previous century, but their own social networking-influenced style of communicating in the Internet Era, here are ten tweets that summarize The Catcher in the Rye.

  1. “Old @Spencer says that life is a game. #GameMyAss” – Early in the novel, readers discover that Holden is being expelled from Pencey Prep, another casualty in a long line of academic failures. Though Spencer is Holden’s favorite teacher, he’s hiding his ridicule and dismissal of Spencer’s words behind the compliant facade he presents. His identification with the “other side” of the game shows how isolated and persecuted he feels by the world at large, especially by the adults in his life.
  2. “@Ackley’s getting a bang out of ribbing me about my #PeopleShootingHat.” – Arguably the most famous symbol of the entire novel and the one most identified with the character of Holden Caulfield, the red hat favored by the narrator serves as a badge of his individuality and contempt for the accepted fashions of the crowd he’s scornful of. No one else at Pencey Prep would wear such a hat; characters like Ackley even go so far as to ridicule it.
  3. “I bet that #moron @Stradlater is giving @JaneGallagher the time. I know his technique.” – When Holden discovers that his roomate Stadlater’s date is Jane Gallagher, he immediately becomes uncomfortable. As he reminisces about Jane, it becomes clear that Stradlater isn’t interested in her as an individual in the least; Holden knows that a girl he cares for is being treated as a sexual object. Despite his anger, he writes Stradlater’s English composition before spending the rest of the night stewing.
  4. “Saw @ErnestMorrow’s mother at the train station. She’s alright. Didn’t look like a #dope to me.” – Though Holden’s default setting is sarcasm, he still shows his deep-seated sensitivity and keen awareness of other people’s feelings by indulging that “bastard” Ernest Morrow’s mother on the train. Rather than hurt her with his true feelings about Ernest and his shortcomings, he lies to her; in contrast to this altruism, he then proceeds to lie through the entirety of their exchange.
  5. “Everybody in this crumby hotel is a #pervert.” – Upon his arrival in New York and check-in to a hotel, Holden is confronted with two overtly sexual sights: a man carefully dressing in women’s clothing and a couple playfully spitting their highballs on one another in lighthearted foreplay. Though the sexual mores of the time would have pointed to the cross-dressing man as “more” deviant than the couple, Holden makes no distinction between the two acts. Both are sexual, which makes the participants perverts on principle.
  6. “Took a vomity cab with a driver named @Horowitz. Talked about ducks and fish on the way to #Ernies; the place is full of morons.” – Holden’s observations en route to Ernie’s about the empty streets and the absence of ducks culminate with the disappointing crowd at Ernie’s, a bar his older brother introduced him to. There, he observes yet another display of sexual aggression as a “Joe Yale-looking-guy” fondles the “terrific looking girl with him” under the table. As she protests his attention, he’s chronicling the suicide of a dorm mate.
  7. “Old @Maurice in the elevator set me up with a prostitute. I just want to get it over with.” – In the time between his agreement with Maurice and Sunny’s arrival, readers are given another glimpse into Holden’s sexual insecurities, as well as his deep empathy. Sunny is immediately a fully-actualized person to Holden, rather than the sexual object that her profession would indicate to most other teenage males. At the end of their encounter, Holden is still a virgin and Sunny leaves with five dollars.
  8. “Had a drink with Old @CarlLuce. He kept putting me off and wouldn’t stay for another drink when I asked him.” – Though he insulted him during their time as classmates, Holden calls Carl Luce and invites him out for a drink in a characteristic fit of loneliness. He tries to engage Luce in conversation to no avail; when the two finally do settle on a topic, Holden becomes excited enough that Luce protests the volume of his voice. For the second time, someone with whom Holden is interacting asks him to stop shouting.
  9. “Snuck into my apartment and had a talk with old @PhoebeWeatherfieldCaulfield about being #TheCatcherInTheRye.” – The title from the novel is taken from this scene, in which a rapidly unraveling Holden Caulfield tries to explain himself to his little sister, Phoebe. Misquoting Robert Burns’s “Coming Thro’ the Rye,” Holden says that he wants to be the person standing in a field of rye at the edge of a cliff, catching the children who come too close to falling off. This image, Holden Caulfield guarding the sanctity of children in a bid to prolong his own childhood, is decidedly at odds with the themes of casual sex present in Burns’s poem.
  10. “Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.” – The ambiguous ending of The Catcher in the Rye leaves readers without a clear resolution; Holden may be recovering. Then again, he may just be growing into an opinionated adult with a penchant for depression, which would indicate that there’s nothing for him to “recover” from. The last line of the novel, however, points to the conclusion that Holden’s problem was never an inability to connect with those around him, but rather a struggle not to connect due to a fear of the pain that comes with an inevitable loss.

The Catcher in the Rye holds the strange distinction of being the most censored book in 1981, while simultaneously capturing the second place on the list of books most taught in public schools that same year. This complicated classic, which captures adolescent fear and anger so vividly, chronicles the struggle that all young people must face as they leave the idealism of youth behind to embark upon the adult life they see as distasteful when they observe it in the “phony” grown-ups around them.

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