In Catcher in the Rye, Mr Spencer says, "Life is a game, one to be played by the rules." What does he mean?Holden disagrees. He feels it is only a game for 'hotshots'.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Holden has a certain level of respect for Mr. Spencer.  When Spencer lectures him on "playing the game" and other platitudes about how to apparently gain success, Holden grudgingly listens to the "insight" but is eager to get out as soon as possible.  It is an exchange where there is complexity and tension revealed.  Holden's reaction to Mr. Spencer is that one can appreciate people even when they are saying things that might cause frustration.  There is a clear distinction in this scene between message and messenger.  When Holden says that "shaking hands and all that crap" left him "sad as hell," it brings out the fact that while Holden might not really appreciate what Mr. Spencer says, he does appreciate Mr. Spencer attempting to show care.  The message that Spencer does bring out in terms of the "game" aspect of life and the need to succeed is something that reflects the insider/ outsider dynamic that Holden feels.  The people who "win" at this game in Holden' mind are the "hotshots" or the "phonies," such as Holden's roommate, Ward.  These people are the "hotshots" because they know how to manipulate others' perceptions.  For Holden, who is already struggling with his own sense of identity, this "game" approach does not connect with him in terms of seeking to make his place in the world, which is why the advice that Spencer gives him is not automatically appreciated, even if the attempt is.