The Catcher in the Rye is a post-World War II coming-of-age story, first published in 1951 by J. D. Salinger. Dealing with important questions of morality, identity, meaning, and connection, the book has become a hallmark read for young adults and grown-ups alike. If you’re looking for the best quotes from this masterpiece, our organized list of The Catcher in the Rye quotes will be just the right place!
Based on the number of most votes on Goodreads, we’ve compiled the top 10 quotes from the book for you below. We’ll also share 34 more of Nik’s favorite highlights from reading the book, an explanation of its most important line, as well as some more information about the book. Finally, we made some pretty cool images with the best quotes for you to share on social media.
You can jump to any section that interests you by using the clickable table of contents below. If you want to share a quote, just highlight it, and sharing options for several social media platforms will appear, including a simple “copy to clipboard” option. Alternatively, you can also use the sharing images we already prepared for you.
Okay, here we go. Let’s get into the 44 best quotes from The Catcher in the Rye!
Table of Contents
The Most Important Quote From The Catcher in the Rye Explained
Before you can understand the most important line from this book, there are two things you need. One is an idea of where it falls in the plot, the other is some context on when, by who, and why the book was written.
As for the latter, author J. D. Salinger fought in the Battle of Normandy in World War II. After he came home, the horrors of war had changed him forever. The period of economic prosperity that ensued felt hollow to him and other survivors. Like teenagers growing up, Salinger felt he had lost his innocence, and he must have grieved that loss greatly. The book became a cathartic experience for him and others, and that’s why it deals with the themes of loss of innocence, reluctance to grow up, being frustrated at the superficiality of the world, and being confused around morality, identity, and relationships.
With regards to the plot, the novel follows narrator and rebellious teenage boy Holden Caulfield’s adventures over a weekend alone in New York City. Despite having wealthy parents and everything he needs, Holden keeps getting expelled from his schools. This time, he decides to paint the town before his parents find out.
After meeting up with old friends and dates, almost losing his virginity to a prostitute, wandering around aimlessly, and spending most of his money, Holden sneaks back into his home. Talking to his little sister Phoebe, the only person he truly likes, envies, and wants to protect — all at the same time — he shares his dream of what he wants to be, a dream that is based on a line from a song, “if a body catch a body comin’ through the rye:”
“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 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.”
This is Holden desperately trying to hold on to his childhood and ideals — something that Phoebe still has but he is about to lose. At the same time, Phoebe is more mature and realistic than him, and when she tells him that he quoted the line wrong (and that it’s from a poem, not a song), Holden breaks down and cries.
The quote marks the breakthrough point in the story, the moment the hero loses the ground beneath his feet and must re-evaluate everything. For Holden, the bubble of childhood innocence is slowly fading away. Now confronted with the real world, he must admit he barely knows anything, and most of what he thought he knew has turned out to be false.
The question is will Holden be able to hold on to some of his youthful hope and optimism, or will he become a disillusioned, resigned adult, like so many of the people he meets throughout the course of the book? I’ll leave that for you to find out, but that’s my take on the defining quote from this book (which is also where the title comes from, by the way).
The 10 Most Popular Quotes From The Catcher in the Rye
Despite having already sold a staggering 65 million copies, The Catcher in the Rye continues to sell about a million units each year. One of the reasons is that the book is often assigned reading in high schools. Fun fact: It is also one of the most frequently banned books across the United States.
If you’re wondering what the most popular quotes from this classic of American literature are, here are the ten lines from the book with the highest number of votes on Goodreads. Each of these quotes has received between around 2,000 and 20,000 likes, with the number one quote outpacing number two by a factor of four (21,000+ likes vs. 4,800+). Then, votes slowly go down from there. To share any quote, just highlight and pick your medium of choice:
1. “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”
2. “Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them — if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.”
3. “I’m quite illiterate, but I read a lot.”
4. “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 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.”
5. “I am 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.”
6. “I like it when somebody gets excited about something. It’s nice.”
7. “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.”
8. “That’s the thing about girls. Every time they do something pretty, even if they’re not much to look at, or even if they’re sort of stupid, you fall in love with them, and then you never know where the hell you are. Girls. Jesus Christ. They can drive you crazy. They really can.”
9. “Mothers are all slightly insane.”
10. “It’s funny. All you have to do is say something nobody understands and they’ll do practically anything you want them to.”
My 34 Favorite The Catcher in the Rye Quotes
In 2022, I went to Portugal and visited the oldest bookstore in the world. Naturally, I had to buy some books. Among their English selection, they happened to have The Catcher in the Rye. What a great opportunity to finally read this masterpiece!
I read the entire book on the plane back home, and I made about 80 highlights. I’ll share the 20 most interesting ones below. Out of the top 10 above, I also highlighted eight. I’m not going to include those again. The rest is in order of when the lines appear in the book:
11. “What I was really hanging around for, I was trying to feel some kind of a good-by. I mean I’ve left schools and places I didn’t even know I was leaving them. I hate that. I don’t care if it’s a sad good-by or a bad good-by, but when I leave a place I like to know I’m leaving it. If you don’t, you feel even worse.”
12. “‘Life is a game, boy. Life is a game that one plays according to the rules.’ ‘Yes, sir. I know it is. I know it.’ Game, my ass. Some game. If you get on the side where all the hot-shots are, then it’s a game, all right — I’ll admit that. But if you get on the other side, where there aren’t any hot-shots, then what’s a game about it? Nothing. No game.”
13. “I’m pretty sure he yelled ‘Good luck!’ at me. I hope to hell not. I’d never yell ‘Good luck!’ at anybody. It sounds terrible, when you think about it.”
14. “‘That’s just the trouble with all you morons. You never want to discuss anything. That’s the way you can always tell a moron. They never want to discuss anything intellig—’ Then he really let one go at me, and the next thing I knew I was on the goddam floor again.”
15. “All I did was, I got up and went over and looked out the window. I felt so lonesome, all of a sudden. I almost wished I was dead.”
16. “People always clap for the wrong things.”
17. “The thing is, most of the time when you’re coming pretty close to doing it with a girl — a girl that isn’t a prostitute or anything, I mean — she keeps telling you to stop. The trouble with me is, I stop. Most guys don’t. I can’t help it. You never know whether they really want you to stop, or whether they’re just scared as hell, or whether they’re just telling you to stop so that if you do go through with it, the blame’ll be on you, not them. Anyway, I keep stopping.”
18. “‘So long,’ I said. I didn’t thank her or anything. I’m glad I didn’t.”
19. “I used to think she was quite intelligent, in my stupidity. The reason I did was because she knew quite a lot about the theater and plays and literature and all that stuff. If somebody knows quite a lot about those things, it takes you quite a while to find out whether they’re really stupid or not.”
20. “The thing is, it’s really hard to be roommates with people if your suitcases are much better than theirs — if yours are really good ones and theirs aren’t. You think if they’re intelligent and all, the other person, and have a good sense of humor, that they don’t give a damn whose suitcases are better, but they do. They really do.”
21. “Catholics are always trying to find out if you’re a Catholic. […] He was enjoying the conversation about tennis and all, but you could tell he would’ve enjoyed it more if I was a Catholic and all.”
22. “The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole, with their pretty antlers and their pretty, skinny legs, and that squaw with the naked bosom would still be weaving that same blanket. Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you.”
23. “Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone.”
24. “If you do something too good, then, after a while, if you don’t watch it, you start showing off. And then you’re not as good any more.”
25. “I have one of these very loud, stupid laughs. I mean if I ever sat behind myself in a movie or something, I’d probably lean over and tell myself to please shut up.”
26. “Every time you mention some guy that’s strictly a bastard — very mean, or very conceited and all — and when you mention it to the girl, she’ll tell you he has an inferiority complex. Maybe he has, but that still doesn’t keep him from being a bastard, in my opinion.”
27. “The trouble with girls is, if they like a boy, no matter how big a bastard he is, they’ll say he has an inferiority complex, and if they don’t like him, no matter how nice a guy he is, or how big an inferiority complex he has, they’ll say he’s conceited. Even smart girls do it.”
28. “The part that got me was, there was a lady sitting next to me that cried all through the goddam picture. The phonier it got, the more she cried. You’d have thought she did it because she was kindhearted as hell, but I was sitting right next to her, and she wasn’t. She had this little kid with her that was bored as hell and had to go to the bathroom, but she wouldn’t take him. She kept telling him to sit still and behave himself. She was about as kindhearted as a goddam wolf. You take somebody that cries their goddam eyes out over phony stuff in the movies, and nine times out of ten they’re mean bastards at heart.”
29. “I really think he hated the Army worse than the war.”
30. “That’s the trouble with these intellectual guys. They never want to discuss anything serious unless they feel like it.”
31. “The thing he was afraid of, he was afraid somebody’d say something smarter than he had.”
32. “He said he would, but he probably didn’t even give her my message. People never give your message to anybody.”
33. “‘Hey. You gonna see that Valencia babe when you go back in the bar?’ I asked him. ‘It’s highly probable,’ he said. Witty bastard. All I ever meet is witty bastards.”
34. “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 goddam 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.”
35. “PHOEBE WEATHERFIELD CAULFIELD, 4B-1. That killed me. Her middle name is Josephine, for God’s sake, not Weatherfield. She doesn’t like it, though. Every time I see her she’s got a new middle name for herself.”
36. “Just because somebody’s dead, you don’t just stop liking them, for God’s sake.”
37. “I figured if they caught me, they caught me. I almost wished they did, in a way.”
38. “But what I mean is, lots of time you don’t know what interests you most till you start talking about something that doesn’t interest you most. I mean you can’t help it sometimes. 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.”
39. “‘I don’t want to scare you,’ he said, ‘but I can very clearly see you dying nobly, one way or another, for some highly unworthy cause.’”
40. “‘I think that one of these days,’ he said, ‘you’re going to have to find out where you want to go. And then you’ve got to start going there. But immediately. You can’t afford to lose a minute. Not you.’”
41. “‘Something else an academic education will do for you. If you go along with it any considerable distance, it’ll begin to give you an idea what size mind you have. What it’ll fit and, maybe, what it won’t. After a while, you’ll have an idea what kind of thoughts your particular size mind should be wearing. For one thing, it may save you an extraordinary amount of time trying on ideas that don’t suit you, aren’t becoming to you. You’ll begin to know your true measurements and dress your mind accordingly.’”
42. “Every time I came to the end of a block and stepped off the goddam curb, I had this feeling that I’d never get to the other side of the street.”
43. “I was the only one left in the tomb then. I sort of liked it, in a way. It was so nice and peaceful. Then, all of a sudden, you’d never guess what I saw on the wall. Another ‘Fuck you.’ It was written with a red crayon or something, right under the glass part of the wall, under the stones. That’s the whole trouble. You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write ‘Fuck you’ right under your nose.”
44. “The thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off they fall off, but it’s bad if you say anything to them.”
The book definitely has a depressing feel to it, but there are lots of silver linings as well, as you can tell from these lines. Despite being immature and feeling lost, Holden makes a lot of strong points throughout the novel. All in all, he’s an endearing hero giving us a glimpse at our own psyche, and that makes this book worth reading.
More The Catcher in the Rye Quotes
The single-best way to get more good lines from The Catcher in the Rye is to read the book. Therefore, here’s a quick overview and some buttons you can use to read our summary or buy yourself a copy on Amazon (affiliate link).
“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.” — J. D. Salinger
The Book in One Sentence
The Catcher in the Rye* describes the adventures of well-off teenage boy Holden Caulfield on a weekend out alone in New York City, illuminating the struggles of young adults with existential questions of morality, identity, meaning, and connection.
Why should you read it?
If you’re a teenager or the parent of one, this book will help you understand better how you (or your child) thinks. It asks plenty of tough questions, and not just for young adults. If you feel lonely, anxious, uncertain, disconnected, or disillusioned, this classic will provide some comfort but also a hard reality check. If you want to become more self-aware, this is a good read.
- The only way to find meaning in life is to care about something and work for it.
- If you don’t take risks, you’ll form an identity, let alone become who you want to be.
- Life is not that complicated if you choose to find joy in the little things.
If you want to learn more, you can click below or get a copy for yourself.
The Catcher in the Rye Quotes for Sharing on Social Media
If you want to post any of the above quotes to social media, you can do so with our “highlight and share” feature. That said, we also made some custom images for you to easily tap and share. Some are optimized for Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, others follow Instagram’s classic square format or Pinterest’s more vertical layout.
We even created some AI art for the backgrounds so that each image fits the lost, longing feeling you get while reading the book. Simply hover over an image with your cursor or tap on it for some sharing options to appear. Happy sharing!
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That’s a wrap on our list of the 44 best and most important quotes from The Catcher in the Rye. What do you think? Did we pick some good ones? Is your personal favorite missing? Feel free to share your own top highlights with us on Twitter!
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Last Updated on February 14, 2023