The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Analysis of Chunk 1 (Chapters 1 - 2)

The brunt of these first chapters, and indeed, of the book itself, is dedicated to the gradual revealing of Holden's character. Any external plot is largely irrelevant, serving only to elicit certain responses from Holden or to reveal certain things about him. The focus of the novel revolves around the changes which take place in Holden from his initial disillusionment to a final sort of resolution (see Discussion of Themes).

The first sentence establishes two things. First of all, Holden rejects the traditional way of telling a narrative, alluding to Dickens's David Copperfield. In doing so, he establishes himself against the traditional concept of a protagonist. Secondly, Holden justifies ignoring this traditional setup by saying "I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth." Here, he emphasizes to the reader that the following narrative will be completely subjective, from his own point of view-he will tell only what he wishes to tell. Furthermore, we find here a very important aspect of Holden's personality: his adherence to his own personal integrity; he honestly admits that he will only do what he wishes, not what he feels he is obligated to do.

We learn about Holden's aversion to falseness. He condemns his brother, D.B. for "being a prostitute." In other words, D.B. has stopped writing stories for himself, but instead for Hollywood-in essence, he no longer abides by his personal integrity. We see Holden's criticism of Pencey Prep, which advertises itself as "molding boys into splendid, clear-thinking young men" with posters of handsome fellows playing polo, when there is nothing of the sort going on there.

We notice also Holden's biases. He justifies the claim regarding Pencey by saying "I didn't know anybody there that was splendid and clear-thinking." The reader is left to question whether the problem is truly with Pencey or rather Holden. Whatever the case, we learn that Holden is highly critical of others. There is also a sense that something is missing in his judgments. For example, he concludes that Pencey is a terrible school because "there were never many girls at the football games." Perhaps all the criticism is merely a front.

As an indirect result of his constant criticism, Holden finds himself distant from everything. He tells an anecdote of how the fencing team was late in getting home one day because of him, and notes that "it was pretty funny, in a way." He also spends much of his time "trying to feel some kind of good-by" from Pencey before he leaves, but can't seem to.

There is a hypocritical aspect to Holden as well. He criticizes Pencey, and especially one of his old schools, Elkton Hills, because he was surrounded by phonies-people who go against their personal integrity, who advertise themselves as something they're not. Yet, right after he tells Mr. Spencer this, Holden turns the tables and begins shooting the bull while contemplating how much he wants to leave.

As a final note, Holden is self-reliant. "I'd never yell 'Good luck!' at anybody. It sounds terrible, when you think about it," he mentions at the end of the second chapter. In essence, he declares his stance against any sort of fate. Everything that occurs to him, he reasons, is a result of his own actions.