SparkNotes Blog

Blogging The Catcher in the Rye: Part 1 (In Which the Old Professor Picks His Nose)

If you’re following along at home, this post covers chapters 1 and 2. 

When my brother first read The Catcher in the Rye—he loved it—I asked my mom if I could read it, too (tho when did I start consulting with my mom on whether I could read a book??), and she said, “No. It’s in appropriate” or something like that. The point was I was too young. I wish I could say that I read it anyway, by cover of darkness—but, alas, no. I waited till I was deemed “old enough”—eighth grade—and then I read it and reread it. I absolutely LOVED this book. I loved Holden Caulfield. I loved his angsty angry teenage voice. I loved the size of the book (it fits in a jacket pocket!). I loved the mysterious title. I loved that it was partly set in New York City, where I grew up.

Now I’m 27. It’s been at least 11 years since my last reread, I honestly remember very little about the book, and now I am going to blog my experience of the long-awaited re-encounter. Come along for the ride!

The book opens with Holden telling us he’s not going to tell us all that stuff you usually expect to find at the beginning of a book—like where he was born and stuff, what he calls “that David Copperfield kind of crap.” I have to pause here and thank J.D. Salinger, on behalf of all English teachers, for planting an essay topic in the first sentence of the book. Think about: Holden’s last name is Caulfield—obviously there is some kind of David Copperfield crap about to go down, even if Holden doesn’t want to admit it. Anyway, he says he doesn’t want to tell his life story, but he does want to tell us about “this madman stuff that happened to me around Christmas.” And we’re off the races.

It’s winter and Holden’s standing on a top on a hill, all alone, at Pencey Prep, his boarding school, while the rest of the school’s down below, watching a football game. According to Holden, he’s not watching the game because he just got back from a fencing match in New York; HOWEVER, it is clear the real reason he’s not watching is because Salinger wanted to open the book with an image of Holden all alone on a hill in the cold, while the rest of the school is united, at least for a few hours, in support for their team. SUBTEXT: HOLDEN FEELS HE IS ALL ALONE, AT A DISTANCE FROM THOSE AROUND HIM. Also he’s cold.

Oh, and, silly me, did I forget to mention? Holden’s been kicked out of Pencey for failing four of his five classes, and these are some of his last hours on campus. So he’s “trying to feel some kind of good-by,” which I think means he’s actually trying really, really hard not to cry. I find myself feeling pretty tenderly towards him in this moment—almost motherly. Oh jeez.**

Then he runs over to his history teacher Mr. Spencer’s house, to say good-by [sic?] before he leaves. Mr. Spencer is old—”around seventy,” so truly ancient when this book was published in 1945—and he has the flu. He’s lying in bed in his bathrobe when Holden arrives and invites him to sit on the side of his bed. The scene that follows is approximately like this:

Holden thinks about how hard the bed is and how grossed out he is by Mr. Spencer’s bumpy, white chest. Mr. Spencer gets very serious. Oops—false alarm. He just needed to pick his nose. Mr. Spencer picks his nose. Holden gets more grossed out. Then Mr. Spencer gets very serious. For realz this time.

MR. SPENCER: Boy, I flunked you in history because you knew absolutely nothing.

HOLDEN: I know it.

MR. SPENCER: Absolutely nothing, boy.

HOLDEN: Boy, I know it.

MR. SPENCER: Ab-so-lute-ly no-thing.

HOLDEN: Don’t I know it.

~Interlude in which Holden randomly wonders where the ducks that live in Central Park go in the winter cause, like, we’ve gone too long without some overt symbolism.~

MR. SPENCER: Don’t you feel some concern for your future?

HOLDEN: Not too much.

MR. SPENCER: Not at all?

HOLDEN: Nope, not too much.

MR. SPENCER: Not at teeny-weensy bit?

HOLDEN: Not even a teeny-weensy bit.

~Interlude in which Holden thinks about how phony the headmaster of his last boarding school was cause so far he’s only said the word “phony” once and c’mon I thought this book was supposed to be about phoniness.~

MR. SPENCER: But seriously, now: don’t you feel some concern for your future, boy?

HOLDEN: Not really. I mean, everyone goes through phases, right?

MR. SPENCER: I don’t know, boy.

[pause]

I don’t know.

~Holden leaves because this whole interaction is making him feel “sad as hell.” Not sure why because it’s cracking me up.~

**Nothing dates you more than finding the characters you once identified with are now the ones you’d like to parent.

On that depressing note (thanks, Holden!), let’s do a quick recap of the chapter on a micro-level:

# of times Holden said “and all”: 16.

# of times he said “phony”: 3.

Swear words used: hell, damn, goddamn, crap, ass, half-ass, bastard.

Simile that made me lol: “cold as a witch’s teat”

Simile I’m definitely going to use in conversation: He “looked at me like he’d just beaten the hell out of me in ping-pong.”

Best insult: “He was a nice old guy that didn’t know his ass from his elbow.”

New vocab word: ironical

Longest contraction (a tie): couldn’t’ve, wouldn’t’ve

Moment that had me nodding my head like yeah: “It’s partly true, but isn’t all true. People always think something’s all true.”

Moment that had me like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯: “After I got across the road, I felt like I was sort of disappearing. It was that kind of a crazy afternoon, terrifically cold, and no sun out or anything, and you felt like you were disappearing every time you crossed a road.”