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The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger

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What does Holden think about Mr. Spencer's description of his parents as "grand people"?

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In chapter 2, Holden goes to his history teacher's house because Mr. Spencer had requested that Holden comes to see him before he leaves the school. Holden seems fond of Spencer, who he says, despite his age, still gets "a bang out of things, though-in a half-assed way, of course."

The conversation is going fine until Mr. Spencer asks Holden what his parents will think about Holden flunking out of another school. He tells Holden,

I had the privilege of meeting your mother and dad when they had their little chat with Dr. Thurmer some weeks ago. They're grand people.

Holden politely agrees, but says to himself,

Grand. There's a word I really hate. It's a phony. I could puke every time I hear it.

From there, their conversation and relationship goes downhill fast. When Mr. Spencer reads out—unnecessarily from Holden's point of view—one of Holden's very poor History essays, Holden states, "I was beginning to sort of hate him." By the end of the chapter, Holden is beginning to hate everything Mr. Spencer says and does. He continues to be outwardly polite, but he privately thinks "we were too much on opposite sides of the pole."

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Grand. There's a word I really hate. It's phony. I could puke every time I hear it.

Holden is disgusted by Mr. Spencer's use of the word "grand" because he believes it is a very phony statement. It is not personalized to any one individual, rather it is a generic statement that teachers, headmasters, and all other "refined" members of society can make about each other. In a sense, they are able to make a comment, without saying anything at all. Fundamentally, it is fake small talk. Also, Holden believes Mr. Spencer is only referring to them as "grand" because they come from the "right" social class, not because they are actually genuinely great people.

Holden is looking for meaning in life; he wants a genuine experience. Therefore, this hollow, fake, small-talk is repulsive to him.

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