Catcher in the Rye Chapters 1 - 3 Summary

The novel opens up with the main character, 17 year old, Holden Caufield talking to us from a health or mental institution in California, he is not specific. Holden tells the reader about his older brother, D.B., who is a screenwriter in Hollywood. D.B. visits Holden nearly every weekend. Holden thinks that D.B. sold out and compares him to a prostitute, because D.B. is writing commercially, and Holden feels serious writers do not do that. Right away it is obvious that Holden is a very interesting young man and not your average character. Holden thinks that everybody at his school is a phony and always putting on fake personas. He uses informal language and is very frank. Holden tells us how he came to get in his current situation. He takes us back to a year ago, on his last day at his private Prep School; Pencey. It is his last day because he has been expelled for failing all his subjects except English. Holden has had this happen to him before at two other schools.

Holden tells his story starting in the afternoon, on a Saturday in December. There is a football game going on but Holden does not go to see it. He feels like avoiding everybody because he was the manager of the Fencing team and left all the equipment for the team on the Subway. He decides he wants to say goodbye to his favorite teacher, Mr. Spencer. When he gets to his teacher's house, Mrs. Spencer lets him in. Holden notices the lack of domestic help, as a result of Mrs. Spencer having to open her own door, thus revealing to us that Holden, obviously comes from a privileged background.

Though Holden has great affection for his teacher, his descriptions of his teacher are far from flattering. He describes Mr. Spencer's ratty old bathrobe, his habit of picking his nose, and wonders why the guy even goes on living! It doesn't help that Mr. Spencer launches into a lecture on Holden's poor academic efforts, he even reads Holden's exam out loud to show how awful it is. Holden already told his teacher that he knew he deserved to fail and that he didn't hold it against him and so becomes increasingly annoyed as Mr. Spencer goes on and on about his concerns for Holden's future. Holden starts daydreaming wondering what happens to the ducks in Central Park in the winter, how the headmaster of Pencey is a big phony and is only nice to the attractive, fashionable parents but treats the ugly ones with obvious distaste, and how his teacher, Mr. Spencer is really pathetic. He decides he has to leave at once and makes up an excuse that he has to go get something.

Once Holden gets back to his dormitory room, he tells us that he is a great liar and that if someone asks him a question he would most likely reply with a lie. He tells us about Ossenburger, who is a benefactor of the school and as a result, Holden's dormitory building is named after him. Ossenburger is, of course, in Holden's eyes, a big phony. He owns budget funeral parlors and gave a very boring speech at the Chapel that "lasted ten hours" and was filled with clichés and "corny jokes." During the endless speech, a student, Edgar Marsalla, lets loose a long and loud winded fart in the Chapel and this delights Holden to no end. He feels it is the perfect response to Ossenburger's phony presentation.

It should be noted that the character of Ossenburger introduces the theme of death in a comic manner, as, when Ossenburger says during his speech, that he is never ashamed to get down on his knees and talk to Jesus, Holden imagines Jesus hearing Ossenburger praying for Jesus to "send him a few more stiffs" for his funeral parlor businesses!

Holden enjoys his time alone in his dorm room and puts on his red hunting cap, with a long bill. This red hunting cap is featured throughout the novel and is significant in that it represents Holden's unique rebel spirit.

As Holden settles in to read a good book, Robert Ackley, a pimply, bothersome student from next door comes in through the bathroom door that they share. He describes "Ackley" as nasty, intrusive, with "mossy and awful" teeth. He hangs around Holden's room picking up his stuff and putting it back in the wrong place. Holden's roommate, Ward Stradlater, comes in and asks to borrow Holden's jacket as he is going out on a date. "Stradlater" is also described as a superficial idiot.

In these first three chapter of the novel, we learn that about a host of characters; D.B., Holden's brother, who Holden does think is a brilliant writer, but is disillusioned with his brother's choice to work in Hollywood, we see Mr. Spencer through Holden's cynical yet affectionate lenses, and meet Ackley and Stradlater, classmates who are also described in very negative though somewhat humorous terms. It is apparent that Holden is deeply disenchanted with almost everyone in his life, though he does show a caring side by his concern for the ducks in Central Park, and his affection for Mr. Spencer, who also tries Holden's patience, perhaps because there is a truth in Mr. Spencer's concern that Holden does not want to face.

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