The teachers Mr. Spencer and Mr. Antolini in J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye”
“Life is a game, boy. Life is a game that one plays according to the rules.” is a quotation by Mr. Spencer, originally by Dr. Thurmer. In thoughts Holden reacts to this aphorism negatively. He tells us, that life is only a game if you are a “hot-shot”. He does not see himself as a “hot-shot” and so he does not like the idea of life being a game.
I am not sure whether life is a game. A game usually has an aim but what is the aim of life? Presuming life is a game, my next question would be: What kind of a game is life? Is it a ‘luck game’ or a ‘knowledge game’? A game where ability counts or one where only the fittest survive? Is it a game that you play alone or in a group? And who plays the game? Are we the players or only the figures that someone else – perhaps destiny – plays with?
The next sentence is even more exciting: “according to the rules”. To which rules, Mr. Spencer? Who makes the rules? Do you know the rules? I would really like to hear them. Please, tell me.
“The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.” While reading the novel this quotation reminded me of another one. Willy Brandt once said “Who is not a communist at the age of 20 is heartless, who is still a communist at the age of 30 is brainless”. When you are young you might have visions, dreams and you are willing to fight for your dreams. Perhaps Salinger thinks of Holden’s vision of a world without phoneys and his dream of standing in a rye field and saving little children from falling down the cliffs. While I am writing these lines I am not so sure anymore whether the children really would be dead if Holden did not catch them. Perhaps he wants to save them not to get ‘mature’, not to become adults. That would mean that every person sooner or later will fall down the cliffs and that is it what drives Holden crazy.
And now let us have a look into the novel. On page 187 Mr. Antolini perfectly describes that fall. I just read it again and you really get goose-pimples. Exactly that vision that Holden describes before, while talking to Phoebe, Mr. Antolini uses to tell Holden about life.