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Barron's Booknotes-The Catcher In the Rye by J. D. Salinger-Free Booknotes/Synopsis
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CHAPTER 3

Going into his dormitory after leaving Mr. Spencer gives Holden another opportunity to expose the phoniness he sees all around him. This time he talks about a Pencey graduate named Ossenburger, for whom Holden's dorm is named. Holden is more amused than angered by Ossenburger. In fact, you'll find that most of his descriptions of the phonies he hates are filled more with wisecracks than with angry statements.

He reaches his room and settles down to read a well-known serious book, Out of Africa, about life in East Africa. Mention of the book gives him the opportunity to knock himself once again, this time with a sentence that contradicts itself. "I'm quite illiterate, but I read a lot."

The contradiction underlines Holden's problem with his self-image. Someone who reads a lot can't be illiterate, by definition. But Holden is using the word to express other people's standards. What he means is, "I don't read what they want me to read, but I read a lot."

Here is the same personality conflict we saw in the last chapter. Holden knows what he wants to do, and he usually does it. That should make him feel good about himself. But adults keep telling him what they want him to do, and he can't shake the belief that not being able to please adults makes him a failure.

Holden comments that he would like to be able to talk on the telephone with authors of books he has enjoyed reading. This says something about how he personalizes things that happen to him, even something as impersonal as reading a book. This tendency is an important part of his makeup, and it becomes one of the causes of his illness later on.


Holden's solitary reading is interrupted by the entrance of Robert Ackley, a senior who lives in the next room. Ackley is a social "loser," not very pleasant looking, not very clean, and "sort of a nasty guy." (One of his problems is pimples. Does Salinger deliberately give him a name that sounds like "acne"? Probably not; most of the other characters have names that don't seem to signify anything.) Ackley is universally disliked, so it's no surprise that he, like Holden, is not at the game. (Holden would probably argue that he was alone by choice, but that a social misfit like Ackley was alone by necessity.)

One of Ackley's less endearing characteristics is his intrusiveness; once he's in Holden's room, he isn't about to leave. Their conversation is a comical collage of sarcastic (though not particularly witty) remarks, tough-guy cover- ups for feelings of insecurity, and horsing around, at least on Holden's part. In other words, it's a faithful re-creation of thousands of conversations that take place between teenage boys every day.

By now you should have developed some respect for Salinger's ability to capture the sounds of real speech. Because the story is told in the first person, every sentence in the book shows evidence of that ability. But when he deals with dialogue, as in this chapter, Salinger's job becomes a little more difficult because he has to capture the sounds of more than one person at a time. If you read the dialogue aloud you'll discover that none of the other characters in the book talks the way Holden does.

NOTE:

Every once in a while something will remind you that the action is taking place not now, but around 1950. In his talk with Ackley, for instance, Holden sarcastically tells Ackley what a good sense of humor he has and offers to get him "on the goddamn radio." The reference to radio instead of television might jolt you a bit, just as you might have been surprised on the first page when Holden brags that his brother has a Jaguar that cost him "damn near four thousand bucks."

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