The Catcher in the Rye
The Catcher in the Rye begins with the statement by the narrator, Holden Caulfield, that he will not tell about his "lousy" childhood and "all that David Copperfield kind of crap" because such details bore him. He describes his parents as nice, but "touchy as hell." Instead, Holden vows to tell about what happened to him around last Christmas, before he had to take it easy. He also mentions his brother, D.B., who is nearby in Hollywood "being a prostitute." Holden was a student at Pencey Prep in Agerstown, Pennsylvania, and he mocks their advertisements, which claim to have been molding boys into clear-thinking young men since 1888. Holden begins his story during the Saturday of the football game with Saxon Hall, which was supposed to be a very big deal at Pencey. Selma Thurmer, the daughter of the headmaster, is at the game. Although she is unattractive and a bit pathetic, to Holden she seems nice enough, for she does not lavish praise upon her father. Holden, the manager of the fencing team, had just returned from New York with the team. Although they were supposed to have a meet with the McBurney School, Holden left the foils on the subway. The fencing team was angry at Holden, but he thought the entire event was funny in a way. Holden does not attend the football game, instead choosing to say goodbye to Spencer, his history teacher, who knew that Holden was not coming back to Pencey. Holden had recently been expelled for failing four classes.
Holden finds the Spencer's house somewhat depressing, smelling of Vicks Nose Drops and clearly indicating the old age of its inhabitants. Mr. Spencer sits in a ratty old bathrobe, and asks Holden to sit down. Holden tells him how Dr. Thurmer told him about how "life is a game" and you should "play it according to the rules" when he expelled him. Mr. Spencer tells him that Dr. Thurmer was correct, and Holden agrees with him, but thinks instead that life is only a game if you are on the right side. Holden tells Mr. Spencer that his parents will be upset, for this is his fourth private school so far. Holden tells that, at sixteen, he is over six feet tall and has some gray hair, but still acts like a child, as others often tell him. Spencer says that he met with Holden's parents, who are "grand" people, but Holden dismisses that word as "phony." Spencer then tells Holden that he failed him in History because he knew nothing, and even reads his exam essay about the Egyptians to him. At the end of the exam, Holden left a note for Mr. Spencer, admitting that he is not interested in the Egyptians, despite Spencer's interesting lectures, and that he will accept if Mr. Spencer fails him. As Holden and Mr. Spencer continue to talk, Holden's mind wanders; he thinks about ice skating in Central Park. When Mr. Spencer asks why Holden quit Elkton Hills, he tells Mr. Spencer that it is a long story, but explains in narration that the people there were phonies. He mentions the particular quality of the headmaster, Mr. Haas, who would be charming toward everyone but the "funny-looking parents." Holden claims he has little interest in the future, and assures Mr. Spencer that he is just going through a phase. As Holden leaves, he hears Mr. Spencer say "good luck," a phrase that he particularly loathes.
Holden claims that he is the most terrific liar one could meet. He admits that he lied to Spencer by telling him that he had to go to the gym. At Pencey, Holden lives in the Ossenburger Memorial Wing of the new dorms. Ossenburger is a wealthy undertaker who graduated from the school; Holden tells how false Ossenburger seemed when he gave a speech exalting faith in Jesus and how another student farted during the ceremony. Holden returns to his room, where he puts on a red hunting hat they he bought in New York. Holden discusses the books that he likes to read: he prefers Ring Lardner, but is now reading Dinesen's Out of Africa. Ackley, a student whose room is connected to Holden's, barges in on Holden. Holden describes Ackley as having a terrible personality and an even worse complexion. Holden tries to ignore him, then pretends that he is blind to annoy Ackley. Ackley cuts his nails right in front of Holden, and asks about Ward Stradlater, Holden's roommate. Ackley claims that he hates Stradlater, that "goddamn sonuvabitch," but Holden tells Ackley that he hates Stradlater for the simple reason that Stradlater told him that he should actually brush his teeth. Holden defends Stradlater, claiming that he is conceited, but still generous. Stradlater arrives, and is friendly to Holden (in a phony sort of way), and asks to borrow a jacket from Holden. Stradlater walks around shirtless to show off his build.
Since he has nothing else to do, Holden goes down to the bathroom to chat with Stradlater as he shaves. Stradlater, in comparison to Ackley, is a "secret" slob, who would always shave with a rusty razor that he would never clean. Stradlater is a "Yearbook" kind of handsome guy. He asks Holden to write a composition for him for English. Holden realizes the irony that he is flunking out of Pencey, yet is still asked to do work for others. Stradlater insists, however, that Holden not write it too well, for Hartzell knows that Holden is a hot-shot in English. On an impulse, Holden gives Stradlater a half nelson, which greatly annoys Stradlater. Stradlater talks about his date that night with Jane Gallagher. Although he cannot even get her name correct, Holden knows her well, for she lived next door to him several summers ago and they would play checkers together. Stradlater barely listens as he fixes his hair with Holden's gel. Holden asks Stradlater not to tell Jane that he got kicked out. He then borrows Holden's hound's-tooth jacket and leaves. Ackley returns, and Holden is actually glad to see him, for he takes his mind off of other matters.
On Saturday nights at Pencey the students are served steak; Holden believes this occurs because parents visit on Sunday and students can thus tell them that they had steak for dinner the previous night, as if it were a common occurrence. Holden goes with Ackley and Mal Brossard into New York City to see a movie, but since Ackley and Brossard had both seen that particular Cary Grant comedy, they play pinball and get hamburgers instead. When they return, Ackley remains in Holden's room, telling about a girl he had sex with, but Holden knows that he is lying, for whenever he tells that same story, the details always change. Holden tells him to leave so that he can write Stradlater's composition. He writes about his brother Allie's baseball mitt. Allie, born two years after Holden, died of leukemia in 1946. The night that Allie died, Holden broke all of the windows in his garage with his fist.
Stradlater returned late that night, thanked Holden for the jacket and asked if he did the composition for him. When Stradlater reads it, he gets upset at Holden, for it is simply about a baseball glove. Since Stradlater is upset, Holden tears up the composition. Holden starts smoking, just to annoy Stradlater. Holden asks about the date, but Stradlater doesn't give very much information, only that they spent most of the time in Ed Banky's car. Finally he asks if Stradlater "gave her the time" there. Stradlater says that the answer is a "professional secret," and Holden responds by trying to punch Stradlater. Stradlater pushes him down and sits with his knees on Holden's chest. He only lets Holden go when he agrees to say nothing more about Stradlater's date. When he calls Stradlater a moron, he knocks Holden out. Holden then goes to the bathroom to wash the blood off his face. Even though he claims to be a pacifist, Holden enjoys the look of blood on his face.
Ackley, who was awakened by the fight, comes in Holden's room to ask what happened. He tells Holden that he is still bleeding and should put something on his wounds. Holden asks if he can sleep in Ackley's room that night, since his roommate is away for the weekend, but Ackley says that he can't give him permission. Holden feels so lonesome that he wishes he were dead. Holden worries that Stradlater had sex with Jane during their date, because he knew that Stradlater was capable of seducing girls quickly. Holden asks Ackley whether or not one has to be Catholic to join a monastery. He then decides to leave Pencey immediately. He decides to take a room in a hotel in New York and take it easy until Wednesday. He packs ice skates that his mother had just sent him. The skates make him sad, because they are not the kind that he wanted. According to Holden, his mother has a way of making him sad whenever he receives a present. Holden wakes up Woodruff, a wealthy student, and sells him his typewriter for twenty bucks. Before he leaves, he yells "Sleep tight, ya morons."
Since it is too late to call a cab, Holden walks to the train station. On the train, a woman gets on at Trenton and sits right beside him, even though the train is nearly empty. She strikes up a conversation with him, noticing the Pencey sticker on his suitcase, and says that her son, Ernest Morrow, goes to Pencey as well. Holden remembers him as "the biggest bastard that ever went to Pencey." Holden tells her that his name is Rudolf Schmidt, the name of the Pencey janitor. Holden lies to Mrs. Morrow, pretending that he likes Pencey and that he is good friends with Ernest. She thinks that her son is Њsensitive,' an idea that