The Catcher in the Rye Chapter 1: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: J.R. Hudspeth

Jackie has taught college English and Critical Thinking and has a Master's degree in English Rhetoric and Composition

'The Catcher in the Rye' follows a young teenaged man named Holden Caulfield over a few days after he is expelled from school. Read on for a short summary of the first chapter and a few key quotes from the chapter!

Meet Holden Caulfield

The novel The Catcher in the Rye begins as Holden Caulfield, a young teenager, narrates his own story. He refuses to talk about his past history because he finds it boring and because his parents, who are private, would be upset about his sharing of personal information. Instead, he just wants to tell the reader about what happened to him the previous winter before he was placed in a hospital in California.

The Catcher in the Rye is a novel by J.D. Salinger about Holden Caulfield, a disaffected young man who tells the story of a few days in his life, beginning with his getting expelled from school.

While preparing to tell his story, Holden mentions his brother D.B. D.B. is a writer, and Holden respects his talent, but now that D.B. writes movies in Hollywood, Holden is disappointed. He believes that D.B. has sold out to Hollywood film producers; he sees typical Hollywood films as phony. This hints at Holden's feelings of being disaffected from mainstream American life.

Holden moves on to talk about his final few days as a student at Pencey Prep, where he went to school. He is frustrated with Pencey's reputation as an upper-class school that molds young men; Holden has little respect for the character of the boys who do attend the school.

On the day that Holden begins his story, he is re-telling his experience of standing on a hill overlooking a Pencey Prep football game. He has just returned from a fencing meet in this story; his team was unable to compete because he, the manager of the team, left the fencing equipment on the subway when trying to find their stop. However, he finds it funny that the fencing team cared enough about their meet to be so upset that they stopped talking to him.

This is an image of a prep school like the one that Holden Caulfield begins his story at in chapter one, Pencey Prep. Holden has flunked out of the school and dislikes most of the students there because he believes them to be phony.

Holden goes on to consider how much he dislikes the rule that only senior students can bring girls to games because he finds many gatherings far more bearable if girls are around, even if they are not doing anything particularly important or impressive. He recounts his discussion with the daughter of the head of the school, Selma Thurmer, and notes that she was not very good looking, but that he enjoyed talking to her because he found her to be honest rather than phony. He particularly appreciates that Selma does not talk about how great her father is, as Holden finds him to be a dishonest person.

Holden is supposed to be at his history teacher's house, Mr. Spencer, to say goodbye, as Holden has failed out of school even after repeated warnings to get his grades up and will be expelled. Holden tries to get in the mood to say goodbye to Spencer, but he cannot do so until he thinks of a happy memory from the previous summer where he passed a football around with two other young men that he thought were nice guys. Only then does he have enough of a feeling about Pencey to prepare a goodbye to Spencer.

Holden runs to Mr. Spencer's home, cold and out of breath, and knocks. Mr. Spencer's wife opens the door, and she and Holden exchange pleasantries before she sends Holden to Mr. Spencer's room to see him.


'If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.'

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