Study Guide

The Catcher in the Rye Chapter 1

By J. D. Salinger

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Chapter 1

  • We start out with some attitude: "If you really want to hear about it."
  • Well, we didn’t exactly ask—but, sure. Go ahead!
  • The first thing you hear from this young guy is that his parents wouldn't want him to tell you about his personal life. Doesn't matter. He's going to tell us all about "this madman stuff" that happened last Christmas.
  • He says he's got a brother named D.B. who's out in Hollywood "being a prostitute," which we know means "writing scripts," since D.B. used to write short stories (such as "The Secret Goldfish," a tale about a boy who wouldn't let anyone else look at his pet goldfish).
  • Anyway, the narrator hates "phonies," which is what his brother is now since he made "a lot of dough" and bought a Jaguar.
  • Um, if that's being a phony, sign us up.
  • Our narrator also hates the movies. He hates a lot of things, so get used to it.

  • Back to this story of "last Christmas." The narrator says he'll start off with day he left Pencey Prep. Pencey is an annoying, snobby East-coast prep school in Pennsylvania. Sooooo phony.
  • The day in question is a Saturday, and Pencey is hosting a big-deal football game against rival Saxon Hall. Buuut… our narrator doesn't feel like watching the game (shock!), so he hangs out up on a hill and watches the crowd from a distance.
  • He digresses about Selma Thurmer, the headmaster's daughter and the only girl around the place. Her father is a "bastard," the narrator says, but at least she knows it. She also wears "falsies" (fake breasts), which is… relevant?
  • So why isn't our narrator watching the football game? It seems he is (1) the manager of the fencing team, and (2) the guy who, earlier this Saturday, left all the fencing equipment on the subway.
  • Avoiding a mob of angry fencers sounds like a pro strategy to us.
  • There's one more reason: the narrator wants to go say good-bye to his history teacher, Mr. Spencer, before he (the narrator) leaves the school.
  • And why is he leaving the school?
  • Oh, he just failed all his classes, no big deal.
  • It sounds like "getting the ax" is something our narrator is pretty familiar with.
  • So now he's hanging around on the hill, freezing because some "crook" at school stole his camel hair coat (fancy!), and trying to feel some sort of good-bye for the place.
  • In order to get the emotion of a proper good-bye, the narrator reminisces about tossing around a football with two friends of his one evening on campus. They played even after it was too dark to see.
  • This kicks up the proper nostalgia, so he heads off toward Mr. Spencer's—but not too fast. Running proves difficult for this "heavy smoker."
  • We get another hint as to where the narrator is in the present time (as he's telling us this story about leaving Pencey last Christmas): he reveals that last year he "grew six and a half inches" and "practically got t.b." and "came out here for all these goddamn checkups and stuff."
  • We're thinking he's in some sort of institution or hospital.
  • When he gets to the Spencers', Mrs. Spencer greets him by name: Holden.

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