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 alsomentions 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. SelmaThurmer, 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 wasangry 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 clearlyindicating 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 rightside. 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 failedhim 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 the ducks inCentral 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 justgoing 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 whograduated 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...