“This is a people shooting hat,” I said. “I shoot people in this hat.”
Holden lives in Ossenburger Hall, which is named after a wealthy Pencey graduate who made a fortune in the discount funeral home business. In his room, Holden sits and reads Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa while wearing his new hunting hat, a flamboyant red cap with a long peaked brim and earflaps. He is interrupted by Ackley, a pimply student who lives next door. According to Holden, Ackley is a supremely irritating classmate who constantly barges into the room, exhibits disgusting personal habits and poor hygiene, and always acts as if he’s doing others a favor by spending time with them. Ackley does not seem to have many friends. He prevents Holden from reading by puttering around the room and pestering him with annoying questions. Ackley further aggravates Holden by cutting his fingernails on the floor, despite Holden’s repeated requests that he stop. He refuses to take Holden’s hints that he ought to leave. When Holden’s handsome and popular roommate, Stradlater, enters, Ackley, who hates Stradlater, quickly returns to his own room. Stradlater mentions that he has a date waiting for him but wants to shave.
Holden goes to the bathroom with Stradlater and talks to him while he shaves. Holden contrasts Stradlater’s personal habits with Ackley’s: whereas Ackley is ugly and has poor dental hygiene, Stradlater is outwardly attractive but does not keep his razor or other toiletries clean. He decides that while Ackley is an obvious slob, Stradlater is a “secret slob.” The two joke around, then Stradlater asks Holden to write an English composition for him, because his date won’t leave him with time to do it on his own. Holden asks about the date and learns that Stradlater is taking out a girl Holden knows, Jane Gallagher. (Stradlater carelessly calls her “Jean.”) Holden clearly has strong feelings for Jane and remembers her vividly. He tells Stradlater that when she played checkers, she used to keep all of her kings in the back row because she liked the way they looked there. Stradlater is uninterested. Holden is displeased that Stradlater, one of the few sexually experienced boys at Pencey, is taking Jane on a date. He wants to say hello to her while she waits for Stradlater, but decides he isn’t in the mood. Before he leaves for his date, Stradlater borrows Holden’s hound’s-tooth jacket.
After Stradlater leaves, Holden is tormented by thoughts of Jane and Stradlater. Ackley barges in again and sits in Holden’s room, squeezing pimples until dinnertime.
These chapters establish the way Holden interacts with his peers. Holden despises “phonies”—people whose surface behavior distorts or disguises their inner feelings. Even his brother D. B. incurs his displeasure by accepting a big paycheck to write for the movies; Holden considers the movies to be the phoniest of the phony and emphasizes throughout the book the loathing he has for Hollywood.
Unfortunately, Holden is surrounded by phonies in his circa- prep school. Preening Ackley and self-absorbed Stradlater act as his immediate contrasts. But, despite their flaws, he acts with basic kindness toward them, agreeing to write Stradlater’s English composition for him in Chapter 4, even though Stradlater is out with Jane Gallagher, a girl Holden seems to care for very deeply. The pressure of adolescent sexuality—an important theme throughout The Catcher in the Rye—makes itself felt here for the first time: Holden’s greatest worry is that Stradlater will make sexual advances toward Jane.
Stradlater and Ackley sound like appallingly unsympathetic characters, but this is completely the result of the tone in which Holden describes them. For instance, Holden indicates his awareness that Ackley behaves in annoying ways because he is insecure and unpopular, but instead of trying to imagine what Ackley wants or why he does things, he focuses on Ackley’s surface—literally, his skin. By describing in minute detail Ackley’s nail trimming and pimple squeezing, Holden makes him seem disgusting and subhuman.