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The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger

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Why was Holden repeatedly expelled from schools in The Catcher in the Rye?

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Toward the beginning of the novel, Holden visits his teacher Mr. Spencer to say goodbye before he leaves Pencey Prep permanently. The reader learns that Holden flunked out of Pencey Prep after failing four of his five classes. During his conversation with Mr. Spencer, Holden's teacher brings up his performance...

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at his previous two prep schools, Whooton School and Elkton Hills. Holden mentions that he didn't struggle academically at Elkton Hills before admitting to Mr. Spencer that he "just quit, sort of." Holden then laments to the reader about the numerous phonies that surrounded him at Elkton Hills and says that he couldn't take it. Later on, Holden admits to drinking Scotch in the chapel one Saturday night when he attended Whooton School and mentions that he would also get into numerous arguments over religion with his classmates.

Since Holden is an unreliable narrator, the reader can never fully trust everything he says or completely believe his stories, which makes it difficult to discern the exact reason he was kicked out of Whooton School and Elkton Hills. Judging by Holden's comments, one could infer that he was expelled for lack of class participation or refusal to complete assignments. Holden could have also been expelled for disciplinary reasons or disrupting the academic environment by continually arguing with his peers. Holden could also be lying to the reader and have actually failed most of his classes like he did at Pencey Prep.

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There are quite a few reasons why Holden might have been kicked out of the two schools that he attended before attending (and then leaving) Pencey Prep.  First, he may have suffered from the same bad grades that were about to get him kicked out of Pencey.  Holden tells the reader that he was failing four classes and was about to be kicked out but he decided to leave before that could happen.  This is one possibility.  A second possible reason that he was kicked out of those schools could have been his behavior.  Holden has difficulty getting along with many people and throughout the novel he makes many comments about getting into fights (even though he claims to be a pacifist).    This tendency to fight, argue, and simply not get along with others could have been the reason.  Finally, Holden is a perpetual liar.  It is also possible that his lying was to blame for him getting kicked out of school.

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