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Then something happened. I don't even like to talk about it. I woke up all of a sudden. I don't know what time it was or anything, but I woke up. I felt something on my head, some guy's hand. Boy, it really scared hell out of me. What it was, it was Mr. Antolini's hand. What he was doing was, he was sitting on the floor right next to the couch, in the dark and all, and he was sort of petting me or patting me on the goddam head. Boy, I'll bet I jumped about a thousand feet.
"What the hellya doing?" I said.
"Nothing! I'm simply sitting here, admiring – "
"What're ya doing, anyway?" I said over again. I didn't know what the hell to say—I mean I was embarrassed as hell.
"How 'bout keeping your voice down? I'm simply sitting here – "
"I have to go, anyway," I said—boy, was I nervous! I started putting on my damn pants in the dark. I could hardly get them on I was so damn nervous. I know more damn perverts, at schools and all, than anybody you ever met, and they're always being perverty when I'm around. (24.82-88)
There's way too much to say about this paragraph for us to cram it into a teeny-tiny thought here. Check out Mr. Antolini's "Character Analysis" for solid analytical indulgence.
"Here's what he said: '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.'" (24.56)
It sounds here like Mr. Antolini might be worried that Holden’s going to commit suicide. But what’s Holden’s “cause”? He wants to be the catcher in the rye—to protect the innocence of youth. If Holden did manage to turn himself away from the rest of the [adult] world, as a kind of recluse, maybe he would “die nobly.”
"And I hate to tell you," he said, "but I think that once you have a fair idea where you want to go, your first move will be to apply yourself in school. You'll have to. You're a student – whether the idea appeals to you or not. You're in love with knowledge. And I think you'll find, once you get past all the Mr. Vineses […] you're going to start getting closer and closer – that is, if you want to, and if you look for it and wait for it – to the kind of information that will be very, very dear to your heart. Among other things, you'll find that you're not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You're by no means alone on that score, you'll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You'll learn from them - if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It's a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn't education. It's history. It's poetry." (24.60-62)
Mr. Antolini gives us a new perspective: education is of inherent value itself rather than a means to a martini/golfing/monetary end, and it’s a way of connecting to people who feel just the same things you do. Is this a convincing argument? And—just a thought—could it be that this book we’re reading is the “something” that Holden has to teach?