Newsweek July 16, 1951
Jerry Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye begins with a description by its 16-year-old narrator of Pencey Prep in Agerstown, Pa."They advertise in about a thousand magazines, always showing some hot-shot guy on a horse jumping over a fence... And underneath the guy on he horse's picture, it always says 'Since 1888 we have been molding boys into splendid, clear-thinking men.' Strictly for the birds. They don't do any damn more molding at Pencey than they do at any other school."
Young Holden Caulfield knew. He had been expelled from two other schools, and Pencey was no different. Watching the last game of the year from beside the Revolutionary War cannon on Thomsen Hill - he wasn't at the field - freezing cold because somebody had stolen his camel's hair coat and fur-lined gloves, this youthful philosopher reflected that he was really hanging around "trying to feel some kind of a good-bye."
A good part of Salinger's humor is in his hero's unawareness of the awesome turmoil such attempts to experience emotion involve. His hero's good-bye to Pencey is well-nigh heroic - a visit to his old history teacher ("Life is a game, boy"), an epic fight with his roommate (who came in late and secretive from a date with a nice girl Holden knew) and, finally, an operatic exit:
"I stood for a while next to the stairs and took a last look down the goddam corridor. I was sort of crying. I didn't know why. I put my red hunting cap on and turned the peak around to the back, the way I liked it, and then I yelled at the top of my goddam voice, 'Sleep tight, ya morons!'"
Then he went underground for three days in New York. The hotel in which he stayed turned out also to be filled with "morons." When he tried to buy a drink in its night club, the waiter asked him how old he was. The elevator man sent a girl to his room, but
"If you want to know the truth, I'm a virgin ... I felt more depressed than sexy, if you want to know the truth. She was depressing."
Lonelier and sadder than ever, he wondered what happened to the ducks on the lake in Central Park when it was frozen over. He asked one taxi driver, but the man looked at him as if he were a madman. The next one he asked gave him a phony answer. His kid-sister was more understanding when he sneaked into their apartment to see her. She even lent him her Christmas money. But in the end Holden thought he would bum his way out West, build a cabin, and pretended to be a deaf mute to avoid stupid, useless conversation with people.