1: Salingers first chapter introduces the main character and narrator
Holden. The first and second-person narration engages both the psychologist to whom he is
speaking as well as the reader. The reader is first struck by the lack of organization
which Holden employs to convey his message. The stream-of-consciousness narration seems to
have no recognizable pattern; there are many digressions to other subjects making it
apparent that Holden himself doesnt know exactly what hell say next.
Holden first mentions his brother, D.B., who is a
writer in Hollywood. Yet Holden doesnt seem to care for his brothers
activities too much, admitting that D.B. is "being a prostitute." Secondly,
Holden describes his dissatisfaction with his school, Pencey Prep., where the slogan,
"molding boys into splendid, clear-thinking young men," doesnt seem
applicable. Holden thinks that too many of the people at Pencey are "phonies"--
a term he uses to describe anyone who exhibits some sort of human frailty. Often these
frailties include conceit, apathy, and ignorance.
The end of the chapter includes
Holdens retreat from the big football game to his dorm room, and a narration of his
troubles with the fencing team. The team had to forfeit the match when Holden left all
their equipment on the wrong train. Holden is embarrassed by this, but is quick to judge
the team, blaming them for the mishap. Later, Holden admits that hes getting kicked
out of Pencey Prep. because of his poor grades. This too, seems to cause embarrassment,
but again, Holden blames others by saying, "the more expensive a school is, the more
crooks it has."
Chapter 2: Most of the
second chapter is dedicated to Holdens visit with Mr. Spencer. He describes him as
always stooped over in class an old, weak teacher. The two converse for a while
before Mr. Spencer tells Holden, "Life is a game, boy. Life is a game that one plays
according to the rules." Holden nods his head in agreement but inwardly he says
its only a game for "hot-shots." Holden cant truly accept what Mr.
Spencer is saying because Holden cant accept the rules and has never accepted them.
He continually sees hypocrisy in positions of authority and thus cannot accept those
persons rules as legitimate.
Later in the chapter Holden digresses
about his age and whether or not he acts like it. He admits that sometimes he doesnt
act his age. This leads the reader to think that Holden, though very tall for his age, is
still very immature on the inside. Soon another aspect of Holdens personality is
revealed with Mr. Spencer reads him the essay Holden wrote on the final exam which he
failed. After writing only a few brief sentences, Holden inscribed a personal message to
Mr. Spencer, apologizing for the essay and saying that he wont blame Mr. Spencer if
he fails him. This uncovers the truly humanitarian side of Holden. Even though he and Mr.
Spencer lie on "opposite sides of the pole," Holden still attempts to console
the elderly teacher, telling him its not his teaching that caused him to fail.
Its as if Holden is trying to preserve Mr. Spencers self-dignity, an innocence
Holden wants to protect.
To escape the lecture of his teacher, yet
not offend him, Holden lies about having to pick up equipment in the gymnasium. This is
also consistent with the above assertion made about Holden.
Chapter 3: Holden
continues his resentment of authority in chapter three as he describes Mr. Ossenburger,
the man after whom his dorm is named. To Holden, Ossenburger is just another phony
someone who shows up to football games once and year to make it look as though he actually
still cares about the school. He tells about a speech Ossenburger made to all the Pencey
Prep. students in which he tells the boys to speak to God as though hes ones
best friend. Holden cant comprehend this because its meaning is clouded in his mind:
he sees Ossenburger as just bragging that he talks to God this way, which makes Holden
more firmly believe that Ossenburger is a phony. As will be shown later, Holden has a hard
time accepting established religion.
After Holden tells about what kinds of
books he likes to read, he introduces Ackley to the reader. Ackley is the Pencey student
who lives right next to Holden in the dorm. Holden describes Ackley as a dirty fellow who
never brushes his teeth and has terrible pimples all over his face. Like the other people
hes encountered, Holden is quick to judge Ackley, saying that hes an annoying
guy who he never really likes to be around.
Toward the end of the chapter, Stradlater,
Holdens roomate, barges into the room and aks to borrow Holdens jacket for a
date. Ackley complains about Sradlaters superiority complex, and its obvious
that the two strongly dislike each other.
Chapter 4: Salingers
fourth chapter is mostly set in the mens restroom of the dorm, or "the
can," as Holden so eloquently names it. Holden describes Stradlater as a phony moron,
a good-looking guy with a nice build but someone who cant carry on an intelligent
conversation. Holden resents Stradlater for being so successful without any concern with
whats right or wrong. Soon Stradlater begs Holden to write his English composition
paper for him. Holden reluctantly agrees, again showing his selfless concern for others.
Stradlater also mentions his date with
Jane Gallagher, a childhood girlfriend of Holden. Holden quickly remembers all the fun the
two of them had together as kids. Distinctly, he recalls how they always used to play
checkers and how she would always keep her kings in the back row. To Holden, this detail
represents more than simply a childhood memory, but actually an inability to separate his
past from his present. The reader cannot determine this yet, however; it takes a few pages
for Salinger to show Holdens obsession with the kings.
Lastly, chapter four demonstrates
Holdens lack of personality. Since he changes his attitude when hes around
different people (Ackley to Stradlater), the reader doesnt observe any clear,
consistent moral compass. This supports the idea that Holden is not a normal person, but
just a sponge of sorts, absorbing everything around him yet being unable to interpret,
rationalize or articulate it.
Chapter 5: The fifth
chapter builds on the tendencies and beliefs of Holden initiated in the previous chapters.
The first continuation is the commentary about phonies. Holden again knocks the school he
is leaving by saying that the only reason they have steak on Saturday nights is because so
many parents visit on Sundays, and when the students mothers ask their sons what
they had for dinner the night before they can answer that they had steak. To the reader,
this seems to be a pretty superficial explanation, but Holden is adamant about his
conviction. The second continuation of previous themes is when Holden, always thinking of
others, invites Ackley along to the movies. Although Holden admits that sitting next to
him at the movies is "not at all enjoyable," he doesnt say anything,
viewing the movie as more of a public service than a fun thing to do with friends. Holden
comments on the phoniness of the actors, saying they dont act like real people. He
cant imagine why anyone would actually watch a movie for entertainment alone. Again,
this delves into Holdens inability to separate reality from fiction.
Later, after returning from the movies,
Holden decides to write Stradlaters composition. This is where he introduces Allie
to the reader. Not being able to think of anything about a house to describe, Holden
decides to use his brother Allies baseball mitt. Allie, he says, has died of
Leukemia a few years before. Soon he goes into a long narration about what a great brother
Allie was, and how he was nice to everyone. He talks about how wonderful Allie was in
every aspect of life, and then Holden confesses that he is really the only dumb one in the
family. Holden feels guilty that he hasnt lived up to the family standard. Holden
thinks that by possessing Allies baseball glove full of love poems, somehow he can
recapture some of the love he has missed through the years.