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The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger

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Why does Holden say he is leaving Elkton Hills in Catcher in the Rye?

Holden leaves Elkton Hills in The Catcher in the Rye because he claims that he was surrounded by “phonies” there. As with all the schools he attends, Elkton Hills is the epitome of the hypocrisy and superficiality that Holden associates with the adult world and that makes it hard for him to fit in anywhere.

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Holden says that he "didn't exactly flunk out or anything" at Elkton Hills; he "just quit, sort of".  He says that one of his biggest reasons for leaving was because he was "surrounded by phonies...that's all...they were coming in the goddamn window".  As an example of what he is talking about, he describes the headmaster, Mr. Haas, who was "the phoniest bastard (he) ever met in (his) life".  On Sundays, Mr. Haas would greet the students' parents when they drove up to the school, but if a boy had "old funny-looking parents", he would spend little time with them and quickly go to talk to someone else" (Chapter 2).

Elkton Hills, along with the other prep schools Holden has attended, is representative of the corruption and hypocrisy inherent in the educational system and in the world at large.  While places like Pency Prep declare that their objective is "to mold splendid, clear-thinking young men" (Chapter 1), in reality, they are institutions rife with cruelty and pretence.  Elkton Hills in particular exemplifies the prep school environment at its worst.  Holden remembers an incident in particular when a classmate, James Castle, "a skinny little weak-looking guy", would not take back something he said about a very conceited guy, Phil Stabile.  What James Castle said was tactless but true, and when Phil Stabile and a group of his friends accosted James and did horrible things to him in a locked room to try to force him to retract his words, James resisted, and finally jumped out of a window to his death.  Holden remembers vividly seeing James' bloodied body, clothed in a sweater he had borrowed from Holden.  James' death may be seen as being symbolic of lost innocence - his own and Holden's - and the inevitable fate of those who dare to decry phoniness to speak the truth (Chapter 22).

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What does Holden give us as the reason for leaving Elkton Hills?

Holden leaves Elkton Hills mainly because of the phonies he sees on the prep school campus.  He describes them as “coming through the windows” because there are so many.  It really is an excuse to “quit” because he was about to be kicked out of Elkton Hills because of his grades.  Holden’s obsession with phoniness and phony people is a major theme throughout the novel.  When he is at Elkton Hills, he discusses the phoniness of the school’s headmaster, Mr. Haas, and the fakeness of the school itself.  Holden finds anything and everything wrong in just about every situation in which he finds himself.  He discusses how the Headmaster schmoozes with good looking parents to get contributions; he complains about the horrible steak and Brown Betty desert in the cafeteria on parent day; and he resents Stradlater’s attitude about his essay on Allie’s glove, and Stradlater’s date with Jane Gallagher . Holden is at the stage in his life where he hates just about everything, including himself. However, the one thing he professes to hate the most is phoniness, and it is the reason he gives the reader for leaving Elkton...

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Why did Holden leave Elkton Hills?

In Chapter 2 of The Catcher in the Rye, Mr. Spencer asks Holden why he was expelled from Elkton Hills prep school. Holden doesn't try to explain because he feels that the old man wouldn't understand him. However, he confides to the reader that:

One of the biggest reasons I left Elkton Hills was because I was surrounded by phonies.

Holden also thinks that Pencey is full of phonies. These are adolescent boys he is talking about. By Holden's standards most of us are probably phonies at that time of life. We are not exactly trying to find out who we are, but trying to make up an identity based on some people we admire and on our fantasies about who we would like to be. The following statement by V. S. Pritchett, English author and critic, sums it up pretty succinctly:

Well, youth is the period of assumed personalities and disguises. It is the time of the sincerely insincere.

It seems fair enough to say that Holden is a phony himself but that he can't see it in himself, only in others. He must be aware that he does a lot of pretending. Throughout the novel he is trying to appear older and more sophisticated than he really is. 

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Why did Holden leave Elkton Hills?

Holden is reluctant to explain to Pencey teacher Mr Spencer about his 'difficulties' at Elkton Hills School. He explains himself with typical teenage slang, ' I didn't exactly flunk out or anything. I just quit, sort of'. He is suggesting, half-heartedly, that the decision to leave was his own. The reader will note that on the other hand, it is the school that has taken the decision to expel him from Pencey.

Privately he elaborates 'I left Elkton Hills...because I was surrounded by phonies..they had this hadmaster, Mr Haas, that was the phoniest bastard I ever met in my life'. For Holden, Haas is a phoney because he doesn't treat poorer parents as politely and charmingly as he treats richer ones. It incenses Holden that in the supposedly level playing field of education, class and wealth should be an issue.

This is the first mention of 'phonies' - the first of many - in the book and is therefore very significant. Here, as later, it demonstrates Holden's idealism, his unwilingness to accept life's inconsistencies. However, the fact that he 'quit', shows that at this stage in his development, he is running away rather than facing up to life's inequalities in a more mature fashion.  

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Why did Holden leave Elkton Hills?

Holden gives a matter-of-fact explanation when recounting the details of how he left Elkton Hills. He claims that he “just quit, sort of.” He then goes on to elaborate on his reasons for leaving, the main one of which is that he was constantly surrounded by “phonies.” As Holden believes that just about everyone he meets is a phony, this is as plausible an explanation as any, if not exactly justifiable.

As a prime example of phoniness at the school, Holden cites the behavior of the headmaster, Mr. Haas, toward the students' parents when they come to visit the school on Sundays. If any boy should have odd-looking parents, Mr. Haas will spend much less time with them than the other parents, indicating that he has a somewhat shallow obsession with appearance. It is this, more than anything else, that makes him a phony in Holden's eyes.

Of course, Elkton Hills isn't the first school that Holden has unceremoniously left, and it certainly won't be the last. The problem is that he doesn't fit into any of them, just like he doesn't fit into the adult world that he finds such an endless source of vexation and general phoniness. To Holden, such elite prep schools are the epitome of everything he despises about the adult world: pretention, hypocrisy, and, of course, phoniness.

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