The Catcher in the Rye

by: J. D. Salinger

Mr. Spencer

Mr. Spencer is Holden’s history teacher at Pencey. He’s the first adult Holden talks to in the book, and Holden seems to hold both him in high regard. When Holden visits Mr. Spencer in Chapter 2, his elderly teacher is housebound with the flu (“the grippe”). Despite his illness, Mr. Spencer gives Holden a warm welcome. But the trivialities conclude quickly, and Mr. Spencer steers the conversation toward Holden’s imminent departure from Pencey. Mr. Spencer speaks frankly with Holden about his poor academic performance. Holden takes Mr. Spencer’s speech in stride, but internally he rails against his teacher’s insistence that “Life is a game” and that he must learn to follow the rules. Mr. Spencer’s brief appearance in the novel holds great significance, since Holden’s encounter with him contributes to the frustration and depression that compels him to run away from Pencey. Mr. Spencer initiates a pattern of unproductive adult interactions that define Holden’s experience throughout the book. Holden’s meeting with Mr. Spencer is also important in terms of the novel’s structure, which is bookended by troubling encounters with male teachers, the other teacher being Mr. Antolini. This structural pattern indicates that Holden’s relationships with older men are deeply fraught.