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Free Study Guide-The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger-Free BookNotes
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Chapter 3

Summary

The chapter opens with Holden giving a few details about Mr. Ossenburger. He is a former student of Pencey who became an undertaker; Holden’s dormitory is named after him. Then Holden turns his attention to his own reading habits and lists his favorite authors. His brother D.B. tops the list, followed by Ring Lardner, Isak Dineson, and Thomas Hardy. His literary thoughts lead him into another flashback. As he is settling down to read, a dorm neighbor, Robert Ackley, interrupts Holden. Although Holden drops several hints that he wants the boy to leave, Ackley is blind to Holden’s subtleties.

Ward Stradlater, Holden’s athletic roommate, enters the room to get ready for a date and interrupts the half-hearted conversation between Holden and Ackley. Ackley, who is always uncomfortable around Stradlater, quickly leaves.

Notes

The chapter opens with Holden’s startling confession that he is a liar. This statement is interesting in that it causes the reader to question the credibility of the narrative even further. First, it was learned that Holden is in a psychiatric hospital; now he admits that he is not truthful. There is a paradox in this latest revelation. If Holden is honest in saying he is a liar, perhaps the reader should not believe the narrative because it is full of lies. On the other hand, if Holden is a liar, but honestly confesses it, perhaps he is a very honest narrator, who plans to tell the truth throughout the story. The reader is left to form his own opinion.


Holden’s love of reading and his list of favorite authors are also revealing. There is irony in the fact that Holden considers himself uneducated, almost illiterate, but he loves to read, which is the antidote to a lack of education. His choice of authors is very significant. He places his own brother at the top of the list, but in the first chapter he states that D.B. has "sold-out" to Hollywood as a writer. The second on his list, Ring Lardner, is a pessimistic and cynical twentieth century writer of short stories, which criticize the average person for being stupid, cruel, and dull. Isak Dineson and Thomas Hardy are equally pessimistic. Holden, therefore, chooses reading material to match his own pathetic state of mind and outlook on life.

In the flashback to Pencey, Holden reveals that he is intolerant and impatient. Holden is annoyed at Ackley’s entry into his room and rudely hints that he should leave. Like Holden, Ackley is portrayed as an alienated young man, who is liked by no one. Holden paints a particularly bleak picture of his neighbor. "He was one of those very, very tall, round-shouldered guys. . .about six four with lousy teeth. . .I never once saw him brush his teeth. They always looked mossy and awful. . .Besides that he had a lot of pimples." Ackley seems even more pathetic than Holden, for his shabby physical appearance intensifies his isolation. Unlike Holden, Ackley wants to belong and constantly tries to gain acceptance, even from Holden. By contrast, Holden is self- alienated, purposely distancing himself from others and preferring his own thoughts to conversation.

In this chapter, Holden again refers to "phonies," who are the objects of his scorn and disgust. Even though Holden admires the strong, athletic build of his roommate Stradlater, he judges that he is a "phony kind of friendly." It would seem that Holden’s entire world is littered with "phonies;" in truth, he uses this expression as a catch-all phrase for everyone from whom he wants to distance himself.

It is important to notice Holden’s emphasis on Ossenburger as an undertaker. Since Holden’s dormitory at Pencey is named after this man, it becomes yet another symbol of death and doom, foreshadowing Holden’s miserable existence and breakdown and intensifying the dark and gloomy mood.

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