The Catcher in the Rye
Wisdom and Knowledge Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
"Well. . . they'll be pretty irritated about it," I said. "They really will. This is about the fourth school I've gone to." I shook my head. I shake my head quite a lot. "Boy!" I said. I also say "Boy!" quite a lot. (2.22)
Holden obviously has an issue with formal education. (Or, maybe formal education has an issue with him?) But before you write him off as being anti-education, start keeping an eye out for what kind of informal instruction he pursues throughout The Catcher in the Rye.
DEAR MR. SPENCER [he read out loud]. That is all I know about the Egyptians. I can't seem to get very interested in them although your lectures are very interesting. It is all right with me if you flunk me though as I am flunking everything else except English anyway. Respectfully yours, HOLDEN CAULFIELD.
He put my goddam paper down then and looked at me like he'd just beaten hell out of me in ping-pong or something. I don't think I'll ever forgive him for reading me that crap out loud. I wouldn't've read it out loud to him if he'd written it—I really wouldn't. In the first place, I'd only written that damn note so that he wouldn't feel too bad about flunking me. (2.47-50)
Holden may not know much about the Egyptians, but he does know a lot about people: enough to try to ease Mr. Spencer’s conscience about flunking him, and enough to know he’d never embarrass someone by reading a dumb essay out loud.
One of the biggest reasons I left Elkton Hills was because I was surrounded by phonies. That's all. They were coming in the goddam window. For instance, they had this headmaster, Mr. Haas, that was the phoniest bastard I ever met in my life. Ten times worse than old Thurmer. On Sundays, for instance, old Haas went around shaking hands with everybody's parents when they drove up to school. He'd be charming as hell and all. Except if some boy had little old funny-looking parents. You should've seen the way he did with my roommate's parents. I mean if a boy's mother was sort of fat or corny-looking or something, and if somebody's father was one of those guys that wear those suits with very big shoulders and corny black-and-white shoes, then old Hans would just shake hands with them and give them a phony smile and then he'd go talk, for maybe a half an hour, with somebody else's parents. I can't stand that stuff. It drives me crazy. It makes me so depressed I go crazy. I hated that goddam Elkton Hills. (2.61)
It looks like Holden's problem with formal education is more about the people than the institution itself (if those can even be separated from each other). He sees formal education as always tied to a gross sort of classism. Is he right? Has it changed since then—or is elite education still interested in replicating a particular class structure?