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Mr. Spencer in The Catcher in the Rye

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

Before leaving Pencey Prep for good, Holden visits his history teacher, Mr. Spencer. Learn a bit about Mr. Spencer and the visit they have at the beginning of the J.D. Salinger novel 'The Catcher in the Rye.'

Holden's History Teacher

Mr. Spencer, Holden's history teacher, has sent him a note asking him to visit before Holden leaves Pencey Prep. When Holden arrives, he immediately notices that the Spencers don't have a maid to answer the door, which makes him assume they don't have much money. Holden may be telling more about himself than he is about Mr. Spencer by noticing that.

Mr. Spencer is just getting over the grippe, or flu, and is wearing a bathrobe, which makes Holden uncomfortable. Holden doesn't like looking at older people's bodies. Mr. and Mrs. Spencer are well past retirement age. Holden notices Mr. Spencer's poor posture and difficulty moving around and wonders how much longer he will live. 'The minute I went in, I was sort of sorry I'd come. He was reading the Atlantic Monthly, and there were pills and medicine all over the place, and everything smelled like Vicks Nose Drops. It was pretty depressing. I'm not too crazy about sick people, anyway.'

Life is a Game

Soon, Mr. Spencer brings up Holden's expulsion from Pencey. He also talks about getting the opportunity to meet Holden's parents and calls them 'grand' people, which Holden thinks sounds phony. He tells Holden, 'Life is a game, boy. Life is a game that one plays according to the rules.'

Like all of the other adults in Holden's life, Mr. Spencer is frustrated by Holden's choice not to apply himself. He pulls out one of Holden's essays and reads it out loud to him to prove his point. Holden recalls, 'I don't think I'll ever forgive him for reading me that crap out loud. I wouldn't've read it out loud to him if he'd written it--I really wouldn't. In the first place, I'd only written that damn note so that he wouldn't feel too bad about flunking me.'

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