In The Catcher in the Rye, what is Holden's attitude towards school and teachers??

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The key teacher is his former English teacher, Mr. Antolini.  Whereas Spencer encountered Holden at the beginning of his episodic adventure, Mr. Antolini finds Holden toward the end, at his most vulnerable point.  The scene with Mr. Antolini is the turning point of the novel (or, rather, it should have been the turning point).  Instead, it is an anti-climatic episode in which Salinger gives no easy answers.

Holden wants to be rescued by Antolini, but Salinger (who uses Antolini as his authorial voice) provides Holden with this sage advice:

"This fall I think you're riding for - it's a special kind of fall, a horrible kind.  The man falling isn't permitted to feel or hear himself hit bottom.  He just keeps falling and falling.  The whole arrangement's designed for men who, at some time or other in their lives, were looking for something their own environment couldn't supply them with.  Or they thought their own environment couldn't supply them with.  So they gave up looking.  They gave it up before they ever really even got started.

Antolini also says, "a foolish man dies for a cause, a noble man lives humbly for one."  James Castle was that foolish man, as he saw first hand.  Knowing this, Holden realizes his desire to be a teenage martyr is foolish and idealistic--a romantic pipe dream.  So, Antonlini talks Holden out of sharing Castle's fate, which is to say he talks him out of suicide.

And then there's the "flit" stuff, the homosexual overtones.  The way Antolini strokes Holden is both sweet and disturbing.  I don't really want to debate it, but it is rather amusing how the reader thinks Antolini is going to provide Holden with the answer of all answers (which he does), and then Salinger undercuts Antolini (and himself) with the flit episode.  Overall, though, I think Salinger's decision to avoid using Antolini as the Deus ex Machina is a wise one.

Here are my notes in more detail:

I. No Deux ex Machina

A. literally “God out of the machine”

B. literary definition: “a plot device or character that rescues a hopeless situation”

C. Mr. Antollini: voice of Salinger; Mr. counter-culture professional

D. has a chance to rescue Holden

E. His advice:

1. Holden is “in for a terrible fall”

2. "The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one."

F. Salinger discredits Antolini in the end by casting him as possible gay pedophile (no rescuing; no morals)

G. Anticlimactic ending: does Holden ever grow up? "don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody" (shows regret; a downer)

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Holden's experiences at Pencey Prep is what helps to solidify his beliefs in the duplicitous nature of individuals.  He feels this on both colleague and teacher levels.  Holden believes that the notion of Pencey Prep serving as an institution to mold boys into men is inauthentic.  He feels that the school is more concerned with generating money and appeasing parents, as opposed to actually working with students.  There are many instances of this, and throughout Holden's narration, one can find moments where he expresses in lucid terms how he feels about Pencey and those in it.  He does have some respect for teachers, such as Mr. Spencer, but he does feel that Spencer has lost his passion and his drive as he lectures Holden, as opposed to recognizing the genuine moment of approaching the old teacher to bid farewell.  Other teachers are more concerned with appearances and generating more income than actually working with students.  One can note how Holden holds a particular disdain towards these adults with his comments about them, plentiful and abundant in the text.  Holden's beliefs of hypocrisy are present when he discusses his colleagues.  For example, Stradlater is a fine looking and upstanding young man who actually is a slob and has others do his work for him.  Ackley seems to be a complete "clod" and one who does not pick up on social cues and the genuine need for understanding.  In the final analysis, when Holden yells at his classmates as he leaves, it represents a statement of how he feels about his school and those individuals in it.

atyourservice | Student

Holden dislikes both the teachers and the school. He believes both of those are phony, and the number one thing he dislikes is phoniness. He thinks the students are snobs who get this faux sense of pride just because they go to the school. He also believes the school is a false advertisement. The way the school is represented on the news is nowhere near what it is really like. He also mentioned the fact that they would purposely feed them steak before the parent visit day, that way when parents ask what they ate, they get this idea that the food is fancy.

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The Catcher in the Rye

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