What does Holden think of Pencey Prep?

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pirateteacher's profile pic

pirateteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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Salinger'sThe Catcher in the Ryebegins with Holden's expulsion from his boarding school, Pency Prep.  Having passed only English, we learn that he will not be allowed back for the next term. Holden, always critical of others, does not spare Pency of his criticism.  Convinced that most of the people around him are phonies, he points to the school's fake advertisements and student body.

"They advertise in about a thousand magazines, always showing some hot shot guy on a horse jumping over a fence. Like as if all you ever did at Pencey was play polo all the time.  I never even once saw a horse anywhere near the place." (Ch 1.)

As he describes his fellow classmates and the school's teachers, Holden's disdain for the school is further illustrated as he seeks to point out their phony behaviors.  Ackley is his pimply faced annoying next door neighbor who lies about his experiences with girls.  Stradlater is his roommate is popular and attractive, but Holden believes he is  phony by being a "secret slob". He describes the teachers as apathetic and uncaring. 

When he finally leaves, he yells once more to the school

“Sleep tight, ya morons!”

His final insult to his school.

poetrymfa's profile pic

poetrymfa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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To put it mildly, Holden Caulfield is not a fan of Pencey Prep. After being kicked out of the boarding school for failing four out of the five classes he was enrolled in and for not better applying himself, Holden has very few cares about leaving behind his teachers, peers, the faculty, or the campus. Holden believes that he can see straight through Pencey's nonsense, cruelty, and ineptitude. 

Notably, Holden thinks the school's motto ("Since 1888 we have been molding boys into splendid, clear-thinking young men") is a form of false advertisement which radically misrepresents what it is like to attend Pencey. In Holden's eyes, Pencey operates as a symbol of all that is fake in the world, a "phony" institution which cannot live up to its own hype. Holden doesn't respect the boys who attend Pencey, commenting to his sister Phoebe that, "You never saw so many mean guys in your life." It's clear that the school has failed Holden as much as Holden has failed the school; it is nothing more than a system designed by and for people of privilege, a fact which clearly triggers Holden's own emotional hangups about his upbringing and identity. 

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