is a game, boy. Life is a game that one plays according to the rules.”
“Yes, sir. I know it is. I know it.”
Game, my ass. Some game. If you get on the side where all
the hot-shots are, then it’s a game, all right—I’ll admit that.
But if you get on the other side, where there aren’t any hot-shots,
then what’s a game about it? Nothing. No game.
This quotation is from Holden’s conversation
with Spencer in Chapter 2. His former teacher
is needling him about his failures at Pencey; at this point, he
lectures Holden about the importance of playing by the rules. The
conversation succinctly illuminates key aspects of Holden’s character.
We see his silent contempt for adults, which is evidenced by the
silent ridiculing and cursing of Spencer that Holden hides beneath
his nodding, compliant veneer. We also see how alienated he feels.
He clearly identifies with those on the “other side” of the game,
and he feels alone and victimized, as though the world is against
him. At this point in the novel, Holden’s sense of disadvantage
and corresponding bitterness seem somewhat strange, given his circumstances:
he’s clearly a bright boy from a privileged New York family. As
the book progresses, however, we learn that Holden has built a cynical
psychological armor around himself to protect himself from the complexities
of the world.