The Catcher in the Rye By J. D. Salinger Summary and Analysis Chapter 3

Summary

Holden returns to Pencey where he lives in the Ossenburger Memorial Wing of the new dorms, reserved for juniors and seniors. Ossenburger is an alumnus who has made a fortune in the undertaking business. Pencey named a wing of the new dormitories after him in thanks for a large donation. Ossenburger attended the first home football game earlier in the fall and bored the students, especially Holden, with a long-winded, corny, cliché-filled oration at chapel the next morning. A flatulent student named Edgar Marsalla finally countered with his own loud breaking of wind, much to Holden's delight.

The dorm room is empty and cozy. Holden tries on a red hunting cap, with a long bill, which he bought for a dollar in New York that morning. He relaxes with a good book, Isak Denisen's Out of Africa, until he is interrupted by Robert Ackley who rooms next door and enters through a shower that the two rooms share. Ackley is a nuisance and ruins the mood.

Ward Stradlater, Holden's roommate, comes in from the football game and asks to borrow Holden's hound's-tooth jacket as he prepares to go out for the evening.

Analysis

Ossenburger's character introduces the theme of death in a comic vein. The mortician is just the sort of establishment "phony" that Holden loves to mock. He has a chain of funeral parlors, profiting from high volume at low rates and, Holden is certain, shabby service. Ossenburger's speech at chapel is filled with "corny jokes" and clichés. He says that he is never ashamed to get down on his knees and talk to his buddy, Jesus. This humors Holden, who imagines Ossenburger asking Jesus to "send him a few more stiffs." Marsalla's magnificent fart, which, Holden reports, nearly "blew the roof off" the chapel, is the perfect response.

Holden opens the chapter by telling us that he loves to lie. It is unlikely that he is lying about that. Because he is the narrator, the reader might take some caution in "believing" what Holden says; he exaggerates mercilessly: Ossenburger's speech lasts ten hours, he tells us, flavored with fifty corny jokes; his cheap funerals probably consist of shoving the deceased into sacks and dumping them in a river; Ackley, the obnoxious pest next door, barges in on Holden about eighty-five times a day; Holden asks him not to clip his nails onto the floor fifty times. The world is not big enough for Holden; he needs to blow it up a little.

However, Holden's hyperbole and wild imaginings usually are not malicious. When he assumes a false identity or claims he is headed for the opera as he actually goes to buy a magazine, he is playing. Life is a bit boring for Holden; he just needs to liven up the action.

The red hunting cap is a strong symbol of Holden's unconventional joy. This is not a baseball cap. The bill is overly long. It is painfully unstylish, but Holden loves it. Unknowingly anticipating a style that would be popular several decades later, he wears it backward. Those who follow baseball can't help noticing that this is how a catcher wears his cap (a connection to the novel's title).

Holden also dons his unconventional cap indoors. Among other things, it is a reading cap for Holden. Perhaps the critics who say that Holden wears it backward because he is hunting himself are correct. More likely, Holden just loves the cap and enjoys being different.

Ackley is an excellent example of Salinger's skill at characterization. Numerous specifics reveal Ackley's personality. He is antisocial and cold to the point that even his wife, if he ever marries, will call him by his last name. He never brushes his teeth; they look "mossy and awful." He is nasty and hates everyone. He constantly disturbs Holden's personal belongings and puts them back in the wrong place.

In a distinct way, Holden differs from his creator. Ironically, when he reads a terrific book, Holden thinks it would be great to telephone the author and get to know him. They could become pals and talk whenever Holden feels like it. But it is safe to assume that J.D. Salinger, as an author, would not welcome such an invasion of his own privacy.

Glossary

sadist one who gets pleasure from inflicting physical or psychological pain on another or others.

wooden press here, a frame that holds a wooden tennis racket to prevent warping.

falsetto an artificial way of speaking, in which the voice is placed in a register much higher than that of the natural voice.

prince a fine, generous, helpful fellow.

hound's-tooth jacket a jacket featuring a pattern of irregular broken checks.

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