The Catcher in the Rye By J. D. Salinger Summary and Analysis Chapter 2

Summary

Spencer's farewell turns into a lecture on discipline, and Holden's mind drifts. He wonders about the ducks down at the lagoon near Central Park South in New York City. Where do they go when the lagoon freezes in the winter? Does someone take them to a zoo? Do they fly away? He reflects on Mr. Haas, the phony headmaster at Elkton Hills, one of Holden's previous schools. Haas was very charming to successful-looking parents, but if a boy's mother were fat or his father poorly dressed, the headmaster snubbed them cruelly.

Holden finally manages to escape from Mr. Spencer's lecture, claiming he needs to get to the gym to retrieve his equipment. He has second thoughts about leaving "old Spencer" but mainly wants out. Politely turning down a cup of Mrs. Spencer's renowned hot chocolate and promising to write, he gladly leaves.

Analysis

Kindly Mrs. Spencer is the one who invites Holden into the couple's modest home and directs him toward the ailing instructor's bedroom. Holden's background is sufficiently privileged that he mentions the absence of servants to open the doors to visitors. The Spencers are an elderly couple, although we need to be cautious about specifics because Holden tends to exaggerate. He mentions several "old guy" habits that Mr. Spencer indulges in and a few other human failings that annoy him. Worst is the reading aloud of Holden's final exam from Spencer's history class.

Holden reveals flaws in his own character as well as condemning them in the rest of the world. He is 17 as he narrates the story and was 16 when the events took place, but he admits to behaving like a 12-year-old at times. He finds this especially ironic because he is 6 feet 2 1/2 inches tall, having grown 6 1/2 inches the previous year. The right side of Holden's head is covered with gray hair, another irony. He knows he should act more mature; his personal habits are poor at times, he smokes too much, he's a terrible liar, and he has trouble caring about school.

Hoping, in vain, to head off a lecture, Holden readily admits to Mr. Spencer that he rarely studied for history class, only glancing through the book a couple of times over the course of the semester. He knows he deserved to fail, which makes Spencer's harangue especially annoying. Holden rightly feels that it is a "dirty trick" when Spencer reads his exam aloud. It isn't as if the exam answer is news to Holden. He knows that the essay on Egyptians is "crap." Initially friendly, Holden is beginning to hate the old man.

Spencer exhibits several characteristics of older men, and Holden wonders why the teacher even bothers to continue living. Spencer yells instead of talking. He wraps himself in a beat-up Navajo blanket that he loves. His ratty bathrobe exposes legs that are too white and hairless. Spencer's chest is bumpy, and he picks his nose. He consistently misses as he tries to toss objects onto the nearby bed. When Spencer goes into his nodding routine, Holden doesn't know if it's because the old man is wisely thinking or because he "doesn't know his ass from his elbow."

Beneath all of the aggravation and age stereotyping, however, Holden often reveals his compassion. He sincerely cares about the ducks in Central Park. He sympathizes with the parents at Elkton Hills who were not attractive or fashionable and were objects of Haas' disdain. Even as he is trying to escape form Spencer's lecture, Holden feels "sorry as hell" for the teacher. He realizes that the old man genuinely cares about him. Holden ultimately thinks of the bathrobe as "sad" rather than "ratty," and he understands that the quirks are beyond Spencer's control. But Holden can't take it any longer. He and Spencer are, according to Holden, on "opposite ends of the pole," and he has to leave. We might suspect, also, that Holden feels uncomfortable when he sees some truth in Spencer's statements.

Glossary

Navajo North American Indian people who live in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.

Yellowstone Park national park mostly in northwestern Wyoming, but including narrow strips of southern Montana and eastern Idaho; it contains geysers, boilings springs, etc.

ratty shabby or run-down.

Beowulf hero of the Old English folk epic of that name, an Anglian poem probably composed during the first half of the 8th century, A.D.

Lord Randal My Son refers to an anonymous medieval ballad of northern England or Scotland.

chiffonier a narrow, high bureau or chest of drawers, often with a mirror.

Central Park popular, expansive public park in Manhattan, New York City.

qualms sudden feelings of uneasiness or doubt; misgivings; twinges of conscience.

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