The Catcher in the Rye

8. Choose two characters Holden meets and interacts with in the first five chapters and analyze what they tell us about the narrator.


Asked by
Last updated by Aslan
Answers 1
Add Yours

Holden finds Spencer’s house somewhat depressing, smelling of Vicks Nose Drops and clearly underscoring the old age of its inhabitants. Mr. Spencer sits in a ratty old bathrobe and asks Holden to sit down. Holden tells him that Dr. Thurmer lectured him about how “life is a game” and that one should “play it according to the rules”—just before he expelled him. Mr. Spencer replies that Dr. Thurmer was correct, but Holden holds to the thought that life is only a game if you are on the right side. Holden’s diatribes against phonies are particularly instructive, but he does not always practice what he preaches; although he insists upon authenticity, he humors and flatters Mr. Spencer by agreeing with him.

Ackley, a student whose room is connected to Holden’s, barges in. Ackley has a terrible personality and an even worse complexion. Holden tries to ignore him, then pretends that he is blind. Ackley cuts his nails right in front of Holden. Ackley claims that he hates Ward Stradlater, Holden’s roommate, as a “goddamn sonuvabitch,” but Holden tells Ackley that the real reason is that Stradlater told him that he should actually brush his teeth. Holden further defends Stradlater, claiming that he is conceited but generous. Stradlater arrives and is friendly to Holden. He asks Holden if he may borrow a jacket from him. Stradlater walks around shirtless to show off his build. Ackley and Stradlater represent contrasting types of reprehensible behaviour. Ackley is ostentatiously boorish; in appearance and in manners he is disgusting and oblivious to all social graces. Hopelessly vulgar and unclean, Ackley is unaware of the contempt that Holden Caulfield has for him. Ackley and Stradlater demonstrate that Holden’s disgust for the school and its “phonies” is not completely unfounded. Both characters, then, serve as ‘foils’ to Holden -- illuminating both his strengths and weaknesses as the protagonist.