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What advice does the history teacher Mr. Spencer give Holden in Catcher in the Rye?

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nicole7789 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 29, 2012 at 4:20 AM via web

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What advice does the history teacher Mr. Spencer give Holden in Catcher in the Rye?

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Douglas Horley | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

Posted October 16, 2013 at 10:26 PM (Answer #1)

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At this stage of the novel we get an intriguing insight into the troubled mind of Holden Caulfield. He is clearly disaffected and rebellious, yet his dealings with the crusty Mr Spencer still at least outwardly show a great deal of respect to the aging teacher, who indeed seems quite fond of Holden despite his disastrous academic record.

Mr Spencer has little time to try and talk to Holden as his young student is evasive and insists that he needs to move on and pack his things. Mr Spencer reiterates the advice originally given to Holden by the principal,

"Life is a game, boy. Life is a game that one plays according to the rules." (p.13)

Mr Spencer is clearly pushing on Holden the idea that conformity is inevitable, and the school 'game' that he had earler asked Holden about spectating is a link that Holden might make to this metaphor about life. Holden outwardly accepts the advice but underneath he is seething. He sees it only as a successful game if you happen to be a 'hot-shot', otherwise there is no game for you.

Mr Spencer also urges Holden to have concerns about his future,

"You will," old Spencer said. "You will, boy. You will when it's too late." (p.18)

Holden's reaction to this advice is only to feel depression, but he again outwardly accepts the advice for the sake of not seeming rude. Holden appreciates what the teacher is trying to do, but the gulf between the characters is obvious. Mr Spencer's constant address to Holden as 'boy', and Holden's fixation with Mr Spencer's aging, decaying state of health are examples of this. 

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