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The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger

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How do Holden and Stradlater treat Ackley and what is their relationship?

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Holden Caulfield and Ward Stradlater are roommates at Pencey Prep. Next door to their room lives Robert Ackley who is a senior, somewhat of a loner, and has very bad hygiene. Ackley gets along pretty well with Holden, but he does not like Stradlater because he thinks he's too rich and conceited. Holden identifies this accusation as false and reminds Ackley why he's really upset at Stradlater, as follows:

"The reason you're sore at Stradlater is because he said that stuff about brushing your teeth once in awhile. He didn't mean to insult you, for cryin' out loud. He didn't say it right or anything, but he didn't mean anything insulting. All he meant was you'd look better and feel better if you sort of brushed your teeth once in awhile" (24).

Holden seems pretty genuine when he tells Ackley this. Holden may think that Ackley is gross and disgusting, but he does not want to hurt the guy. Plus, it seems as if Holden truly believes that Stradlater told Ackley to brush his teeth more often in an effort to help him rather than to insult him. Stradlater must not have done a good job on the delivery, though, because Holden admits "he didn't say it right." Usually Holden will blatantly point it out if someone is being phony, and Holden doesn't call Stradlater a phony in this situation. Also, Stradlater always says something nice to Ackley when he enters the room, but Ackley won't answer back. Ackley must feel inferior compared to Stradlater, so he doesn't like him. Stradlater might feel superior, but he wouldn't say it to Ackley's face if he does. Stradlater may not hang out with Ackley, but he doesn't bully him or beat up on him in any way, either.

As far as Ackley and Holden's relationship, it seems like they are somewhat friends. Holden mostly feels sorry for Ackley in every way. He takes pity on the fact that Ackley stays in the dorm most Saturday nights rather than hanging out with friends or going on dates. Holden is younger, but he asks Ackley to go with him and his buddy Brossard to get hamburgers and see a movie. Ackley demonstrates that he and Holden talk more than mere acquaintances because he knows that Holden has been kicked out of school and asks Holden if he's told his parents yet. It would seem, then, that the two have some type of friendship even though they would seem like a mismatch for being close buddies. 

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