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Chapter 1

Chapter 1

The Catcher in the Rye opens with the main character, Holden Caulfield, directly addressing us: "If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth." Holden instead announces: "I'll just tell you about this madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas just before I got pretty run-down and had to come out here and take it easy." He hints, but doesn't say for a fact, that the place he's come to "take it easy" is a sanitarium in California, several months after the events he narrates. Though he is apparently under psychiatric care, it is unclear whether he is recovering from tuberculosis or a mental breakdown.

Holden does tell us that his brother comes from Hollywood to visit him "practically every week." He goes on to tell us that his brother, D.B. Caulfield, used to write short stories, before he moved out to Hollywood to become a screenwriter. Holden especially liked one of D.B.'s stories called "The Secret Goldfish": "about this little kid that wouldn't let anybody look at his goldfish because he'd bought it with his own money." Holden adds his approval, in characteristic slang: "It killed me." Holden thinks his brother has sold out by becoming a screenwriter - that he's become "a prostitute," but Holden does admire his brother's new Jaguar.

Holden settles into telling us about the school he got kicked out of just before Christmas break, Pencey Prep, a boarding school in Pennsylvania. In his story, he is sitting atop a hill on campus, watching Pencey playing a football game against Saxon Hall. He hadn't gone down to the game because he'd just returned from a fencing meet in New York City. Holden was the fencing team's manager, but had left the equipment behind on the New York subway, so the meet was cancelled and the whole team ostracized him, but Holden insists it wasn't entirely his fault. He also tells us he is being expelled from Pencey for bad grades, after ignoring numerous warnings. Looking down on Pencey and the football game, he searches for a happy memory of the school. He remembers throwing a football around with a couple of friends before dinner one evening, and then is able to say goodbye to Pencey.

He runs a few blocks from campus to say goodbye to his favorite teacher, "old Spencer" (his teacher really is old, but Holden often uses "old" or "good old" as affectionate slang for anyone he likes, from his history teacher Mr. Spencer to his kid sister Phoebe). At the Spencer's, Mrs. Spencer lets him in and sends him up to Mr. Spencer's room, where he is recovering from "the grippe" (the flu).

Browse all book notes

Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4 and 5
Chapter 6 and 7
Chapter 8 and 9
Chapter 10 and 11
Chapter 12 and 13
Chapter 14 and 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17 and 18
Chapter 19 and 20
Chapter 21 and 22
Chapter 23 and 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26


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