The Catcher in the Rye


J. D. Salinger

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Catcher in the Rye can help.

Everything you need
for every book you read.

"Sooo much more helpful than SparkNotes. The way the content is organized
and presented is seamlessly smooth, innovative, and comprehensive."
Get LitCharts A+
  • Easy-to-use guides to literature, poetry, literary terms, and more
  • Super-helpful explanations and citation info for over 30,000 important quotes
  • Unrestricted access to all 50,000+ pages of our website and mobile app
Get LitCharts A+

The Catcher in the Rye: Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Holden returns to his dorm, thinking as he goes about how good he is at lying. Although he told Mr. Spencer that he needed to collect his things from the gym, he doesn’t actually keep anything there—he simply wanted to get away from the old man. As he enters the dorm building, he thinks about the fact that it’s named after a Pencey alumnus who got rich from owning funeral homes. He remembers this man visiting Pencey one time to see the first football game of the year, recalling that he drove up in a fancy Cadillac and then told the students that they should never be too sheepish to pray. All the while, Holden couldn’t stop thinking that he was nothing but a “phony bastard.”
Again, Holden exhibits his dislike of people he thinks are inauthentic. Ironically enough, though, he thinks scornfully about this Pencey alumnus right after smugly considering how good he himself is at lying. In turn, it becomes clear once more that he doesn’t subject himself to his own judgment, though it’s also possible that Holden sees a distinction between lying and living a certain lifestyle. Although he often lies to get out of things he doesn’t want to do, people like this Pencey alumnus lead entire lives based on hypocrisy. What really seems to bother Holden is that this man got rich off of death—a sign that Holden dislikes anyone who tries to capitalize on other people’s misfortune.
Phoniness Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
Alone in his room, Holden reads while wearing his new red hunting cap, which he bought while in New York City with the fencing team. He thinks about how much he likes reading books, but Robert Ackley, his neighbor, barges in and interrupts him. Holden finds Ackley annoying and repulsive, since he’s tactless and has bad hygiene. Worse, Ackley acts as if a person should feel lucky to spend time with him even though everyone dislikes him. As Holden tries to read, Ackley paces around his room and picks up various objects before putting them down again in the wrong spot. He takes special pleasure in doing this to the things that belong to Holden’s roommate, Ward Stradlater, whom Ackley hates. Even Holden thinks that Stradlater is conceited, but he doesn’t mind him for the most part. 
It’s interesting that Holden likes reading so much, considering that he’s getting kicked out of school for failing his classes. This suggests that his academic problems have more to do with his unwillingness to exert himself than with his actual intelligence. On another note, the fact that he lets Ackley pace around his room even though he finds him annoying indicates that he isn’t quite as intolerant of other people as he might otherwise seem.
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Ackley asks Holden about the fencing match in New York, and Holden is forced to tell him that he left the team’s equipment on the subway. Although Holden tries to make it clear that he doesn’t want to talk, Ackley continues to ask him questions about his mistake. Finally, Holden tells him to stop talking about it, saying, “How ’bout sitting down or something, Ackley kid?” He says this because he knows that Ackley hates being called “Ackley kid,” especially since he’s 18 and Holden is only 16. Still, this doesn’t stop Ackley from bugging him until Stradlater finally returns from the football game, at which point Ackley returns to his own room.
Holden doesn’t necessarily like having Ackley pace around his room, but he doesn’t truly take issue with his presence until Ackley starts asking him about the fencing match. This is because Holden doesn’t like being forced to examine his own flaws. When Ackley asks him about leaving the fencing gear on the subway, then, he suddenly becomes combative, purposefully addressing Ackley in a way he knows will bother him. In turn, readers see that Holden tends to lash out as a way of avoiding certain thoughts or feelings.
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
When Stradlater enters the room, he explains that he and his date decided to leave the football game early. He then asks Holden if he can borrow his houndstooth jacket, but Holden hesitates to answer, instead wondering where Stradlater’s date is. Unlike Ackley, Holden is rather fond of Stradlater, despite the fact that he’s an overly confident person who clearly likes himself a little too much. One of the reasons Holden is able to see past this is because Stradlater is also quite kind—the type of person who would give a classmate his tie if the classmate said he liked it. As Stradlater takes off his shirt and heads to the bathroom to shave his face, he explains that his date is waiting for him downstairs.
At the beginning of the novel, Holden acts like he doesn’t have any kind of attachment to Pencey. Standing alone on a hill instead of attending the big football game, he presents himself as someone who has isolated himself from his surroundings—a lone wolf with no emotional connection to his environment. Now, though, readers see that he actually does have a certain fondness for the people around him, as made evident by his appreciation of Stradlater and his willingness to overlook the young man’s flaws.
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Get the entire The Catcher in the Rye LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Catcher in the Rye PDF