I was sixteen then, and I'm seventeen
now, and sometimes I act like I'm about thirteen. It's really ironical, because I'm six foot
two and a half and I have gray hair. I really do. The one side of my head--the right side--
is full of millions of gray hairs. I've had them ever since I was a kid. And yet I still act
sometimes like I was only about twelve. Everybody says that, especially my father. It's
partly true, too, but it isn't all true. People always think something's all true. I don't give a
damn, except that I get bored sometimes when people tell me to act my age. Sometimes I
act a lot older than I am--I really do--but people never notice it. People never notice
... You can't stop a teacher when they want to do something. They just do it....
One of the biggest reasons I left Elkton Hills was because I was
surrounded by phonies. That's all. They were coming in the goddam window. For
instance, they had this headmaster, Mr. Haas, that was the phoniest bastard I ever met in
my life. Ten times worse than old Thurmer. On Sundays, for instance, old Haas went
around shaking hands with everybody's parents when they drove up to school. He'd be
charming as hell and all. Except if some boy had little old funny-looking parents. You
should've seen the way he did with my roommate's parents. I mean if a boy's mother was
sort of fat or corny-looking or something, and if somebody's father was one of those guys
that wear those suits with very big shoulders and corny black-and-white shoes, then old
Hans would just shake hands with them and give them a phony smile and then he'd go
talk, for maybe a half an hour, with somebody else's parents. I can't stand that stuff. It
drives me crazy. It makes me so depressed I go crazy. I hated that goddam Elkton Hills.
"Do you feel absolutely no concern for your future, boy?"
"Oh, I feel some concern for my future, all right. Sure. Sure, I do." I thought about
it for a minute. "But not too much, I guess. Not too much, I guess."
I'm not too tough. I'm a pacifist, if you want to know the truth.
I felt so lonesome, all of a sudden. I almost wished I was dead.
Sex is something I really don't understand too hot. You never
know where the hell you are. I keep making up these sex rules for myself, and then I
break them right away. Last year I made a rule that I was going to quit horsing around
with girls that, deep down, gave me a pain in the ass. I broke it, though, the same week I
made it--the same night, as a matter of fact. I spent the whole night necking with a
terrible phony named Anne Louise Sherman. Sex is something I just don't understand. I
swear to God I don't.
You should see her. You never saw a little kid so pretty and smart in your whole
life. She's really smart. I mean she's had all A's ever since she started school. As a matter
of fact, I'm the only dumb one in the family. My brother D.B.'s a writer and all, and my
brother Allie, the one that died, that I told you about, was a wizard. I'm the only really
dumb one. But you ought to see old Phoebe. She has this sort of red hair, a little bit like
Allie's was, that's very short in the summertime. In the summertime, she sticks it behind her ears. She has nice, pretty little ears. In the wintertime, it's pretty long, though.
Sometimes my mother braids it and sometimes she doesn't. It's really nice, though. She's
only ten. She's quite skinny, like me, but nice skinny. Roller-skate skinny. I watched her
once from the window when she was crossing over Fifth Avenue to go to the park, and
that's what she is, roller-skate skinny. You'd like her. I mean if you tell old Phoebe
something, she knows exactly what the hell you're talking about.
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.
This family that you could tell just
came out of some church were walking right in front of me--a father, a mother, and a
little kid about six years old. They looked sort of poor. The father had on one of those
pearl-gray hats that poor guys wear a lot when they want to look sharp. He and his wife
were just walking along, talking, not paying any attention to their kid. The kid was swell.
He was walking in the street, instead of on the sidewalk, but right next to the curb. He
was making out like he was walking a very straight line, the way kids do, and the whole
time he kept singing and humming. I got up closer so I could hear what he was singing.
He was singing that song, "If a body catch a body coming through the rye." He had a
pretty little voice, too. He was just singing for the hell of it, you could tell. The cars
zoomed by, brakes screeched all over the place, his parents paid no attention to him, and
he kept on walking next to the curb and singing "If a body catch a body coming through
the rye." It made me feel better. It made me feel not so depressed any more.
Those war movies always do that to me. I don't think I could stand it if I had to go to war.
I really couldn't. It wouldn't be too bad if they'd just take you out and shoot you or
something, but you have to stay in the Army so goddam long. That's the whole trouble.
My brother D.B. was in the Army for four goddam years. He was in the war, too--he
landed on D-Day and all--but I really think he hated the Army worse than the war. I was
practically a child at the time, but I remember when he used to come home on furlough
and all, all he did was lie on his bed, practically. He hardly ever even came in the living
room. Later, when he went overseas and was in the war and all, he didn't get wounded or
anything and he didn't have to shoot anybody. All he had to do was drive some cowboy
general around all day in a command car.
He said the Army was practically as full of bastards as the Nazis were.
I was crazy about The Great Gatsby.
Old Gatsby. Old sport. That killed me. Anyway, I'm sort of glad they've got the atomic
bomb invented. If there's ever another war, I'm going to sit right the hell on top of it. I'll
volunteer for it, I swear to God I will.
Holdon says that whom he really likes a lot would probably be two nuns and a boy who refused to take back what he said about a conceited boy and rather jumped out of a window.
"I like Allie," I said. "And I like doing what I'm doing right now. Sitting here with
you, and talking, and thinking about stuff, and--"
"Allie's dead--You always say that! If somebody's dead and everything, and in
Heaven, then it isn't really--"
"I know he's dead! Don't you think I know that? I can still like him, though, can't
I? Just because somebody's dead, you don't just stop liking them, for God's sake--
especially if they were about a thousand times nicer than the people you know that're
alive and all."
Name something you'd like to be.
Like a scientist. Or a lawyer or something."
"I couldn't be a scientist. I'm no good in science."
"Well, a lawyer--like Daddy and all."
"Lawyers are all right, I guess--but it doesn't appeal to me," I said. "I mean they're
all right if they go around saving innocent guys' lives all the time, and like that, but you
don't do that kind of stuff if you're a lawyer. All you do is make a lot of dough and play
golf and play bridge and buy cars and drink Martinis and look like a hot-shot. And
besides. Even if you did go around saving guys' lives and all, how would you know if you
did it because you really wanted to save guys' lives, or because you did it because what
you really wanted to do was be a terrific lawyer, with everybody slapping you on the
back and congratulating you in court when the goddam trial was over, the reporters and
everybody, the way it is in the dirty movies? How would you know you weren't being a
phony? The trouble is, you wouldn't."
I'm not too sure old Phoebe knew what the hell I was talking about. I mean she's
only a little child and all. But she was listening, at least. If somebody at least listens, it's
not too bad.
"You know what I'd like to be?" I said. "You know what I'd like to be? I mean if I had my
"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
What I think is, you're
supposed to leave somebody alone if he's at least being interesting and he's getting all
excited about something. I like it when somebody gets excited about something.
'The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.'
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
D.B. isn't as bad as the rest of them, but he keeps asking me a lot of questions,
too. He drove over last Saturday with this English babe that's in this new picture he's
writing. She was pretty affected, but very good-looking. Anyway, one time when she
went to the ladies' room way the hell down in the other wing D.B. asked me what I
thought about all this stuff I just finished telling you about. I didn't know what the hell to
say. If you want to know the truth, I don't know what I think about it. I'm sorry I told so
many people about it. About all I know is, I sort of miss everybody I told about. Even old
Stradlater and Ackley, for instance. I think I even miss that goddam Maurice. It's funny.
Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.