Expert Answers
William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Early in the first chapter of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield writes that Pencey Prep is located in Agerstown, Pennsylvania. Both Pencey Prep and Agerstown are fictional. Salinger obviously could not name a real school in the novel, and if he named a real town it could suggest a real school. Pencey Prep must be located on the extreme east side of the state of Pennsylvania because it is only a short distance from "Agerstown" to New York City. Holden had gone to New York by train "that morning" for a fencing tournament, and he had lost all the fencing equipment on the subway. Evidently it only takes a a couple of hours to get from the fictional town in Pennsylvania to Penn Station in Manhattan. The town of "Agerstown" must be located close to the New Jersey border, so it is only a matter of crossing the narrow state of New Jersey to get to Penn Station. He is back at Pencey in time to watch part of a football game with Saxon Hall.

I remember around three o'clock that afternoon I was standing way the hell up on top of Thornton Hill, right next to this crazy cannon that was in the Revolutionary War and all.

It has been thought that Pencey Prep was the name given to Valley Forge Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania, which J. D. Salinger attended. The distance from Wayne to Manhattan is less than 100 miles.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Pencey Prep is a fictional boarding school that is located in Agerstown, Pennsylvania. Holden explains that the school, which is well known, is often advertised in magazines and that the ads show a boy jumping over a fence on a horse. The ad reads, "Since 1888 we have been molding boys into splendid, clear-thinking young men." Holden finds the characterization of the school as one where people play polo and as one in which people are "molded" phony. Holden claims that although the students at the school are wealthy, many of the students are crooks and swipe things from each other's rooms. Pencey's main football rival is nearby Saxon Hall. Agerstown is a fictional Pennsylvania town to which Holden and his schoolmates occasionally go to have a hamburger or see a movie. Holden is kicked out of Pencey, and he claims that the school gives a lot of people the ax.

Read the study guide:
The Catcher in the Rye

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question