The Catcher in the Rye Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis
by J. D. Salinger

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Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Howie Coyle: a student and basketball player at Pencey Prep

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Jane Gallagher: an old friend of Holden’s who goes on a date with Stradlater

Holden engages in conversation with Stradlater while he prepares for his date. Holden makes a point of describing Stradlater as a person who is excessively concerned about his personal appearance, but, in reality, is a “secret slob.” While he is shaving, Stradlater asks Holden to do him a favor: to write a composition for him. He cautions Holden not to make it too good, for fear that the teacher will discover that Stradlater really did not write it. Further discussion reveals that Stadlater’s date is an old friend of Holden’s. Holden, very animated, begins telling him all about her: that she is a dancer, likes to play checkers, and had a rough childhood. Stradlater, however, is not interested because he sees Jane as a mere sexual commodity, just another conquest. It suddenly occurs to Holden that Jane is not safe around Stradlater. After Stradlater leaves, Ackley returns to Holden’s room. Holden is glad to see him because his presence distracts him from worrying about Jane’s well-being.

Discussion and Analysis
Holden’s feelings toward Ackley are characterized by both strong dislike, on the one hand, and a willingness to tolerate him, on the other. Ackley’s physical blemishes and personality flaws are clearly visible for all to see—his pimply face, his disgusting personal habits, his unlimited selfishness. But Holden tolerates Ackley because his company, unpleasant as it is, is better than being alone.

On the surface, Ackley and Stradlater are direct opposites. Ackley is unpleasant to look at and be around; Stradlater is good looking and can be very charming. But the truth is: they are very much alike.

Ackley’s flaws are manifest. His personal habits and hygiene are repulsive. He savors gossip and enjoys “running down” students whom he does not like, which is just about everyone.

Stradlater’s faults are hidden behind a facade of good looks and a smooth tongue. He is indifferent to other people. For example, Stradlater compliments Holden on his new hat, but only because he hopes that flattery will persuade Holden to ghost-write a composition for him. His behavior is transparent to Holden. As Stradlater prepares to go on a date with an old friend of Holden’s, Jane Gallagher,...

(The entire section is 610 words.)