The Catcher in the Rye Study Guide

The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye is a novel written by J.D. Salinger in 1951. It is told from the first person perspective of a young boy named Holden Caulfield, who is in a psychiatric facility after the events of the novel. Holden dislikes the world around him and his story reflects that. It explores themes such as growing up, the phoniness that comes with growing up, and alienation from peers as a means of protecting oneself.

Chapter 3 Summary

Brief Summary

Holden returns to his room in the new dorms which are named after an alumnus turned wealthy funeral home tycoon. He tries to read Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa , but is interrupted by his neighbor Robert Ackley. Ackley invites himself into Holden's room where he begins to touch everything, much to Holden's annoyance. He further annoys Holden by cutting his fingernails over the floor rather than over the table. He asks his uninvited guest several times to stop, but Ackley ignores him and proceeds to insult his roommate Stradlater. Stradlater is Ackley's nemesis, Holden believes, because Stradlater once made a comment regarding Ackley's lack of dental hygiene. However, Holden defends Stradlater, claiming that he is a generous person and would Ackley the tie from around his neck if he wanted it. Ackley doubts Holden's opinion of Stradlater and continues to talk about him. Stradlater comes home, in a hurry, to prepare for a date with Jane Gallagher, an old friend and neighbor of Holden's.

Detailed Summary

Holden muses about his incredible talent for lying as he heads back to his room in the Ossenburger Memorial Wing of the new dorms, named for a wealthy alumnus of Pencey who made his money in the discount funerary business. He recounts the story of Ossenburger's visit to the school on the day of the first football game of the year. Ossenburger was invited to give a speech at the chapel during which one of the students, Edgar Marsalla, farted loudly interrupting Ossenburger's self-aggrandizement.

Holden sits in his room after returning from Mr. Spencer's house, reading Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa . He decides to wear his new hunting hat, a red cap with a long peek and earflaps that he purchased just after noticing the missing fencing equipment. He is interrupted by Robert Ackley known only as Ackley, his next door neighbor. Holden considers Ackley to be extremely irritating because he constantly comes into his room uninvited and behaves as though he is doing people a favor by invading their personal space.

Holden refuses to look at Ackley because he finds Ackley's poor personal hygiene habits, exhibited by Ackley's acne ridden skin and lousy teeth (19), disgusting. Holden keeps his eyes on his book, though distracted from reading, and hopes that Ackley, if ignored, will take the hint and return to his own room on the other side of the bathroom. However, Ackley settles into the room and begins fidgeting about the room, touching everything, asking many trite questions that Holden answers with biting sarcasm. Holden finally puts his book down and begins to joke with Ackley. He pulls his hat over his eyes and pretends he is blind. Ackley was so disturbed by this that he demands Holden grow up. He then sits on one of the beds and asks for a pair of scissors to cut off a hangnail.

As he cuts his nails over the floor, something Holden repeatedly asks him to stop doing, he starts insulting Stradlater, Holden's handsome and popular roommate. Holden defends his roommate, blaming Ackley's hatred on his injured eager. Stradlater once made a comment about Ackley's teeth to his face. Holden also claims that Stradlater is very gorgeous in some things (24) such as generosity. He tells Ackley that Stradlater would gladly give him one of his ties if he admired it. Suddenly Stradlater rushes into the room, clearly in a hurry. Stradlater asks Holden if he can borrow his hound's-tooth jacket for his date. Holden doesn't want him to borrow it because he is afraid Stradlater will stretch it with his broad shoulders. Stradlater denies that he'll stretch the jacket and then asks Ackley how he is doing. Ackley grunts but doesn't reply. He leaves the room soon afterwards, a gesture that goes unnoticed by Stradlater. In the process of getting undressed, Stradlater decides he wants to give himself a quick shave. Holden asks him where his date is. Stradlater tells him she is waiting in the Annex and walks out of the room, shirtless and shaving kit in hand.

Chapter 4 Summary

Brief Summary

Holden is sitting on the bathroom sink watching Stradlater shave for his date. Stradlater asks Holden to write a descriptive composition for him while he is on his date. Holden doesn't respond to the request, but rather jumps down from the sink and begins to imitate tap-dancers he's seen in musicals. After making several inquiries into whom Stradlater's date is, Holden lunges at his roommate to put him in the half-nelson. After Stradlater breaks Holden's grip he shares the name of his date. Although he says her name is Jean Gallagher, Holden knows that it is Jane Gallagher: a fact that shocks and disturbs him.

Detailed Summary

Holden accompanies his roommate to the bathroom where he sits on the sink and talks to him while Stradlater shaves. He notices the striking differences between Ackley's and Stradlater's personal habits: while Ackley is unattractive and has poor hygiene, Stradlater is handsome and takes care of his body; however, Stradlater's toiletries are always dirty or in need of replacement. He considers Stradlater to be a secret slob (27).

While shaving, Stradlater asks Holden if he will write a descriptive composition for him. Instead of answering him, Holden jumps off the sink and starts tap-dancing to amuse himself. He notices Stradlater watching him in the mirror which encourages Holden because he considers himself to be an exhibitionist. He recites a monologue about being the Governor's son whose father wants him to attend Oxford but he would prefer to be a tap-dancer. Stradlater notices the red hunting cap which he thinks is sharp and asks Holden where he got it. Holden tells him and then inquires about Stradlater's date.

Stradlater is reticent to tell Holden who his date is and allows Holden to make a few guesses. Holden is suddenly compelled to [horse] around (30) with his roommate by putting him in a half-nelson. He doesn't stop despite Stradlater's numerous protests. Stradlater finally breaks Holden's grip and tells him to cut out the crap (30). Holden sits back on the sink and asks once more about Stradlater's date. He is told that the date is Jean Gallagher. However, her name is actually Jane Gallagher, Holden's old neighbor when he lived in Maine, so he corrects Stradlater with shock in his voice. Holden begins telling Stradlater personal stories about Jane and her lousy childhood (32), but Stradlater is not interested. Before Stradlater leaves the bathroom, Holden asks him to give Jane his regards.

Back in the room Holden also asks his roommate not to tell her he was expelled from Pencey. Stradlater noncommittally agrees while putting on his tie and Holden's hound's-tooth jacket. Holden asks where they are going for the date. Stradlater thinks they may go to New York but Jane signed out for a nine thirty curfew. Just before leaving the room, Stradlater tells Holden to write his composition, though he doesn't have to apply himself to much. Holden doesn't respond and just sits in his chair for a while after Stradlater leaves, preoccupied by thoughts of Stradlater and Jane on a date. After half an hour, Ackley returns to Holden's room and stays until dinnertime, talking about all the boys he hates at Pencey and squeezing his pimples.

Chapter 3-4 Analysis

These chapters show the reader Holden's alienation from his peers. As he tells us in the first two chapters, he hater phonies: people he considers superficial and who use arrogance to mask their inner feelings. One of the major problems facing Holden, though, is that he is enrolled in a school that he claims specializes in developing phonies rather than the splendid, clear-thinking young men (2) the school advertises. Although he equates wealth with superficiality, Holden also observes that fall pretenses cross socio-economic boundaries. To illustrate his point, he juxtaposes two of his classmates, Ackley and Stradlater. Ackley is an outcast because of his poor social skills and lack of personal hygiene. Stradlater is the quintessential jock: popular with the girls, handsome, and well-liked by most of his peers. However, Holden notes that both boys project attitudes that mask their insecurities.

Ackley's attitude is misanthropic in that he complains about everyone and everything. Holden says He hated everybody's guts, damn near (19). Ackley also treats others as though he's doing them a favor by socializing with them. The reality is, though, that hes been rejected by nearly the entire school population. His classmates don't even call him by his proper name if they even know his proper name. Stradlater, on the other hand, is admired for his good looks and athletic skill. He monopolizes on these perceptions by incessantly primping in the mirror and flaunting his body in front of his class mates: He always walked around in his bare torso because he thought he had a damn good build (26). While Holden admits that Stradlater is a very good looking, young man he also knows that Stradlater is not very intelligent.

The reader can interpret Stradlater's self-love as a deflection from the fact that he is not very intelligent. This is demonstrated by Stradlater asking Holden, who excels in English, to write a composition assignment for him while he's out on a date with Jane Gallagher. Jane is a girl for whom Holden apparently cares for deeply, though he never explicitly says this. It bothers him that Stradlater is taking her out for the night and is intending to make sexual advances towards her. Stradlater's reputation as a ladies' man is another trait that Holden makes note of. His roommate's virility confronts Holden with his own feelings of sexual inadequacy-something that is discussed in detail later in the text.

After reading Holden's descriptions of both boys, it can be easy for the reader to align himself with his perspective. The boys are, on the surface and in their individual ways, unpleasant. In digging deeper, the reader can see that Holden's analysis of his classmates is limited. He only focuses on that which is obvious. In Ackley's case, he refers to his pimple ridden skin and rotten teeth. He doesn't stop to consider for what reasons Ackley projects such a displeasing attitude or what Ackley is seeking from Holden's companionship. The same can be said for Stradlater. Herein lays the parallel between Ackley, Stradlater, and Holden. All three have habits that isolate them from others; such as poor hygiene, vanity and virility, and apathy. However, these same habits act as shields from confronting their innermost fears and needs as human beings in a restrictive society. The red hunting cap, that Holden purchased while in New York City, acts as an extension of this concept. He wears it while reading in his room and also when Ackley comes in to visit him. Although he admits that wears the cap with its large peak and long earflaps in a corny (18) way, he claims that he doesn't care what others think of his appearance in the hat. His continuous references to the hat tell the reader that for Holden, the red cap symbolizes protection from the possible judgments people make about his appearance. He is unusually tall for his age and his hair is graying prematurely. It is important to note that he does not put the hat on until he returns to the cosy (17) atmosphere of his room. This can be read as an illustration of his confusion about his social standing. Is he an individual or is he just another face in the crowd?

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