Sex is complicated. But for Holden, and specifically for Holden's relationship with Jane, it's really, really complicated—because he actually likes her. They hold hands, they sit close to each other, Jane puts her hand on the back of his neck … cute, but not exactly the most exciting Friday night with your significant other.
And before you remind us that this was the 1940s and sex wasn’t invented until 1963, we’ll just point out that the other boys at Pencey weren’t keeping aspirin between their knees, or anything. Holden isn’t holding himself back because of good old-fashioned family values.
Holden actually tells us a lot about Jane—she’s “fond of all athletic sports” (11.1); she’s “muckle-mouthed”; she’s “always reading, and she read very good books” (11.3); and she “wouldn’t take her kings out of the back row” when she played checkers” (11.5). But the most telling info we get is this little incident that Holden describes:
all of a sudden this booze hound her mother was married to came out on the porch and asked Jane if there were any cigarettes in the house. I didn't know him too well or anything, but he looked like the kind of guy that wouldn't talk to you much unless he wanted something off you. He had a lousy personality. Anyway, old Jane wouldn't answer him when he asked her if she knew where there was any cigarettes. So the guy asked her again, but she still wouldn't answer him. She didn't even look up from the game. Finally the guy went inside the house. When he did, I asked Jane what the hell was going on. She wouldn't even answer me, then. She made out like she was concentrating on her next move in the game and all. Then all of a sudden, this tear plopped down on the checkerboard. On one of the red squares—boy, I can still see it. She just rubbed it into the board with her finger. (11.6)
Much like with the Mr. Antolini incident, Holden’s not sure what’s actually going on—but it’s almost certainly something sexual—especially considering his earlier statement, back in Chapter Four, that her "booze-hound" stepfather used to run around the house naked). No wonder their relationship never gets physical; as Holden says, “you don’t always have to get too sexy to get to know a girl” (11.1).
Of course, Holden's inability to reach out to Jane despite his feelings is a big reminder of his passivity and indecision. When he finds out she's downstairs waiting for Stradlater, he says over and over that he'll go down to say hello, but never does. He repeatedly contemplates calling her once he's in New York, but can't bring himself to go through with it. And then, when he finally does pick up the phone, she's not there. Once again, he’s failed to make a connection.Jane Gallagher Timeline