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Chapter 1

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of chapter 1 of J.D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye.

The Catcher in the Rye | Chapter 1 | Summary

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Summary

The Catcher in the Rye opens with a first-person narrator, who the reader later learns is Holden Caulfield, refusing to discuss his early life because it "bores" him. He will describe "madman" events that happened the previous Christmas and left him "run-down" so that he had to "come out here," near Hollywood, California, where his brother D.B. writes screenplays.

Holden begins with the Saturday he was expelled from Pencey Prep, a respected school that claims to turn out "splendid, clear-thinking young men." He recalls watching a football game from a hill above the stadium and realizing how few girls there were near Pencey. The only one he knew was Selma Thurmer, the headmaster's daughter, whom he liked because she "didn't give you a lot of horse manure."

That morning Holden attended a fencing match in New York City. He was the team manager, but he lost the team's gear on the subway while trying to read the map. Holden now must visit a teacher, "old Spencer," before leaving school.

Holden watches the game, trying to "feel some kind of good-by." But then he recalls an incident when he and friends were tossing a football around but were ordered inside by a teacher. The memory made him all too glad to leave Pencey. When Holden arrives at Spencer's house, Mrs. Spencer greets him and ushers him into Spencer's room.

Analysis

Some novels begin by introducing characters, describing settings, and providing clear exposition. Other novels force readers to piece together clues. By the end of Chapter 1 of The Catcher in the Rye, readers have learned these details:

  • The narrator, Holden, is recuperating at a medical facility. Heavy smoking, he claims, is "how I practically got t.b."
  • Someone, perhaps a counselor or doctor, has asked him to talk about why he became depressed.
  • He has parents who are "nice and all" but "touchy as hell."
  • He keeps flunking out of school.

Readers get a sense of Holden's distinctive voice and attitudes. For example, Holden likes Selma because she speaks candidly, but he doesn't like her father, the headmaster, a "phony slob." Holden admires his older brother's short stories but considers him a "prostitute" because he writes for Hollywood. Holden sorts people into two categories: the real and the phony. Readers don't yet know how accurate Holden's perceptions are.

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