Study Guide

The Catcher in the Rye Quotes

  • Madness

    Chapter 1
    Holden Caulfield

    I'll just tell you about this madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas just before I got pretty run-down and had to come out here and take it easy. I mean, that's all I told D.B. about, and he's my brother and all. He's in Hollywood. That isn't too far from this crumby place. (1.1)

    Since Holden (or Salinger, depending on how you want to look at it) isn't entirely forthcoming, we have to look carefully at these hints about where Holden is now (when he's seventeen) telling us the story about where he was then (when he was sixteen, around Christmas). We guess that he's in California "resting up." Wonder exactly what kind of break-down/episode happened?

    I ran all the way to the main gate, and then I waited a second till I got my breath. I have no wind, if you want to know the truth. I'm quite a heavy smoker, for one thing—that is, I used to be. They made me cut it out. Another thing, I grew six and a half inches last year. That's also how I practically got t.b. and came out here for all these goddam checkups and stuff. I'm pretty healthy though. (1.10)

    Check out those words "they" and "here." It's ambiguous, but we have an idea that "they" are some sort of professionals taking care of Holden, and "here" is some sort of institution or place that gives "checkups and stuff." Again, more hints that something went wrong with Holden. Clever, clever.

    Chapter 5

    I was only thirteen, and they were going to have my psychoanalyzed and all, because I broke all the windows in the garage. I don't blame them. I really don't. I slept in the garage the night he died, and I broke all the goddam windows with my fist, just for the hell of it. I even tried to break all the windows on the station wagon we had that summer, but my hand was already broken and everything by that time, and I couldn't do it. It was a very stupid thing to do, I'll admit, but I hardly didn't even know I was doing it, and you didn't know Allie. (5.7)

    On the one hand, yes: breaking all the windows in the garage sounds fairly unstable. On the other hand—his little brother just died, so maybe give the guy a break?

    Chapter 6
    Holden Caulfield

    "What'd you do?" I said. "Give her the time in Ed Banky's goddam car?" My voice was shaking something awful.

    […]

    The next part I don't remember so hot. All I know is I got up from the bed, like I was going down to the can or something, and then I tried to sock him, with all my might, right smack in the toothbrush, so it would split his goddam throat open. […] It probably would've hurt him a lot, but I did it with my right hand, and I can't make a good fist with that hand. On account of that injury I told you about." (6.32-36)

    It’s a little anti-social to flip out on a guy like Holden does to Stradlater, just because you suspect him of sleeping with a girl you like—but it’s not unheard of, or anything. The troubling part is that Holden doesn’t “remember so hot.”

    Chapter 17
    Holden Caulfield

    "Boy, do I hate it," I said. "But it isn't just that. It's everything. I hate living in New York and all. Taxicabs, and Madison avenue buses, with the drivers and all always yelling at you to get out at the rear door, and being introduced to phony guys that call the Lunts angels, and going up and down in elevators when you just want to go outside, and guys fitting your pants all the time at Brooks, and people always–"

    "Don't shout, please," old Sally said. Which was very funny, because I wasn't even shouting."

    […]

    "Why not? Why the hell not?"

    "Stop screaming at me, please," she said. Which was crap, because I wasn't even screaming at her." (17.41-55)

    Again we get subtlety. Twice Sally asks Holden to stop shouting—he insists he's not, but, you know, we don't quite believe him. The whole shouting/mumbling thing he’s apparently doing here sounds pretty cray-cray to us. (We’d cross the street, is what we’re saying.)

    Chapter 22

    "I thought it was 'If a body catch a body,'" I said. "Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be. I know it's crazy." (22.55)

    A few times in The Catcher in the Rye, Holden says things like "I'm a madman" or "I'm crazy" or "It's a crazy idea." At first, it sounds like joking self-deprecation… but by this point in the novel, we’re starting to agree with him.

    Chapter 24
    Holden Caulfield

    "I had this terrific headache all of a sudden." (24.21)

    A headache isn’t so surprising—but the fact that it’s a “sudden” headache is a little more eyebrow-raising. It sounds like Holden’s depression is getting really physical, really fast.

    I would have walked […], but I felt funny when I got outside. Sort of dizzy. (24.2)

    We’re not too surprised at this point that Holden isn’t feeling well—a lot of alcohol, not too much food or sleep—but the “funny” “dizzy” feeling is a little troubling.

    Chapter 25
    Holden Caulfield

    "So I went in this very cheap-looking restaurant and had doughnuts and coffee. Only, I didn't eat the doughnuts. I couldn't swallow them too well. The thing is, if you get very depressed about something, it's hard as hell to swallow." (25.3; 25.7)

    If Holden can’t eat doughnuts, he must be really depressed. The question is, at what point (if ever) does depression actually become a form of insanity?

    After I came out of the place where the mummies were, I had to go to the bathroom. I sort of had diarrhea, if you want to know the truth. I didn't mind the diarrhea part too much, but something else happened. When I was coming out of the can, right before I got to the door, I sort of passed out. I was lucky, though. I mean I could've killed myself when I hit the floor, but all I did was sort of land on my side. It was a funny thing, though. I felt better after I passed out. I really did. My arm sort of hurt, from where I fell, but I didn't feel so damn dizzy. (25.41)

    While we would like to write this off as hangover blues, we're starting to wonder if there isn't something more serious going on here. Did you notice how Salinger built this up, starting with a headache, then sweating, then nausea, and then the passing out?

    Anyway, I kept walking and walking up Fifth Avenue, without any tie on or anything. Then all of a sudden, something very spooky started happening. Every time I came to the end of a block and stepped off the goddam curb, I had this feeling that I'd never get to the other side of the street. I thought I'd just go down, down, down, and nobody'd ever see me again. Boy, did it scare me. You can't imagine. I started sweating like a bastard – my whole shirt and underwear and everything. Then I started doing something else. Every time I'd get to the end of a block I'd make believe I was talking to my brother Allie. I'd say to him, "Allie, don't let me disappear. Allie, don't let me disappear. Allie, don't let me disappear. Please, Allie." And then when I'd reach the other side of the street without disappearing, I'd thank him. Then it would start all over again as soon as I got to the next corner. But I kept going and all. I was sort of afraid to stop, I think – I don't remember, to tell you the truth. I know I didn't stop till I was way up in the Sixties, past the zoo and all. Then I sat down on this bench. I could hardly get my breath, and I was still sweating like a bastard. I sat there, I guess, for about an hour. (25.8)

    This is Holden’s rock-bottom, and you have to admit that he sounds pretty crazy here—like, he’s actually having a psychotic break. He says he’s “making believe,” but he’s “afraid to stop”—like the boundaries of reality and, well, madness are really starting to blur.

    Chapter 26
    Holden Caulfield

    That's all I'm going to tell about. I could probably tell you what I did after I went home, and how I got sick and all, and what school I'm supposed to go to next fall, after I get out of here, but I don't feel like it. I really don't. That stuff doesn't interest me too much right now.

    A lot of people, especially this one psychoanalyst guy they have here, keeps asking me if I'm going to apply myself when I go back to school next September. (26.1-2)

    Once he’s done telling the longest story about three days ever, Holden brings us back to his own present time. Here’s what we know: he’s in some sort of institution. He "got sick" at some point. And he’s supposed to go back to school. But is he better? Can we tell based on the way he tells his story?

  • Sadness

    Chapter 1
    Holden Caulfield

    What I was really hanging around for, I was trying to feel some kind of good-by. I mean I've left schools and places I didn't even know I was leaving them. I hate that. I don't care if it's a sad good-by or a bad good-by, but when I leave a place I like to know I'm leaving it. If you don't, you feel even worse. (1.8)

    Hello, paradox: Holden wants to make connections with people (or, in this case, with places), but to do so means to make an emotional investment that will probably end up depressing him. Here, however, he seems to decide that he would rather feel sad about leaving a place than feel sad about the fact that he doesn't get to feel connected enough to feel sad. Make sense? Now compare this to the last paragraph of the novel, where Holden says not to tell stories, as you then miss the people in them. Does this mean he's changed his mind?

    Chapter 2

    After I shut the door and started back to the living room, he yelled something at me, but I couldn't exactly hear him. I'm pretty sure he yelled "Good luck!" at me. I hope not. I hope to hell not. I'd never yell "Good luck!" at anybody. It sounds terrible, when you think about it. (2.78)

    From Holden’s perspective, literally anything can sound depressing: like wishing someone "good luck"—which, if you think about it, could just imply that the person needs it.

    Holden Caulfield

    The minute I went in, I was sort of sorry I'd come. He was reading The Atlantic Monthly, and there were pills and medicine all over the place, and everything smelled like Vicks Nose Drops. It was pretty depressing. I'm not too crazy about sick people, anyway. What made it even more depressing, old Spencer had on this very sad, ratty old bathrobe that he was probably born in or something. I don't much like to see old guys in their pajamas and bathrobes anyway. (2.3)

    Holden is depressed by physical illness (obviously), but he’s not in such great physical condition himself by the end of the novel. Just what do you think he’s wearing at the place he’s been sent to “rest up”?

    Chapter 7

    Everybody was asleep or out or home for the weekend, and it was very, very quiet and depressing in the corridor. […] All of a sudden, I decided what I'd really do, I'd get the hell out of Pencey – right that same night and all. I mean not wait till Wednesday or anything. I just didn't want to hang around any more. It made me too sad and lonesome. […] Besides, I sort of needed a little vacation. My nerves were shot. They really were. (7.58)

    Holden has a good point: empty corridors really are kind of depressing. His point about his “nerves” is just a little clue that there might be something more serious wrong.

    One thing about packing depressed me a little. I had to pack these brand-new ice skates my mother had practically just sent me a couple of days before. That depressed me. I could see my mother going in Spaulding's and asking the salesman a million dopy [sic] questions—and here I was getting the ax again. It made me feel pretty sad. She bought me the wrong kind of skates—I wanted racing skates and she bought hockey—but it made me sad anyway. Almost every time somebody gives me a present, it ends up making me sad. (7.60)

    What’s sad about a present? Well, first, they’re the wrong skates; second, his mother went to all this trouble to buy him skates, and now he's let her down by "getting the ax" at yet another school. When he says that he finds any present from anyone to be depressing, it seems as though he feels he doesn't ever deserve gifts.

    Then I went over and laid down on Ely's bed. Boy, did I feel rotten. I felt so damn lonesome. (7.29)

    Even though he's judged Ackley to be pimply and disgusting (and painted a portrait of him as a social outcast), Holden still reaches out to the guy when he feels lonely. Cue major character conflict: he hates everybody, but he’s lonely.

    Chapter 10

    They were so ignorant, and they had those sad, fancy hats on and all. And that business about getting up early to see the first show at Radio City Music Hall depressed me. If somebody, some girl in an awful-looking hat, for instance, comes all the way to New York – from Seattle, Washington, for God's sake – and ends up getting up early in the morning to see the goddam first show at Radio City Music Hall, it makes me so depressed I can't stand it. I'd've bought the whole three of them a hundred drinks if only they hadn't told me that. (10.50)

    Holden is depressed that these girls are just lapping up phoniness of New York. They've traveled all this way just to see a bunch of phony dancers prancing around Radio City Music Hall. Well, when you put it that way …

    Chapter 12

    New York's terrible when somebody laughs on the street very late at night. You can hear it for miles. It makes you feel so lonesome and depressed. I kept wishing I could go home and shoot the bull for a while with old Phoebe. (12.1)

    The literal only thing that seems to make Holden feel better is thinking about Phoebe—maybe because she’s the only person he can connect with.

    Chapter 13

    I took her dress over to the closet and hung it up for her. It was funny. It made me feel sort of sad when I hung it up. I thought of her going in a store and buying it, and nobody in the store knowing she was a prostitute and all. The salesman probably just thought she was a regular girl when she bought it. It made me feel sad as hell—I don't know why, exactly. (13.53)

    Holden doesn't know why he finds everything so depressing, but we can take a guess: he’s upset that Sunny is prostitute, that she needs to hide it from others, and that she probably doesn’t feel too good about it.

    Chapter 14

    After old Sunny was gone, I sat in the chair for a while and smoked a couple of cigarettes. It was getting daylight outside. Boy, I felt miserable. I felt so depressed, you can't imagine. What I did, I started talking, sort of out loud, to Allie. I do that sometimes when I get very depressed. I keep telling him to go home and get his bike and meet me in front of Bobby Fallon's house. Bobby Fallon used to live quite near us in Maine. […] We thought we could shoot something without BB guns. Anyway, Allie heard us talking about it, and he wanted to go, and I wouldn't let him. I told him he was a child. So once in a while now, when I get very depressed, I keep saying to him, "Okay. Go home and get your bike and meet me in front of Bobby's house. Hurry up." […] I keep thinking about it, anyway, when I get very depressed. (14.1)

    Holden tries to combat his depression by altering past actions, which is… doomed to failure. He needs to take some proactive steps, but he’s too far gone to even know what to do.

    Chapter 15
    Holden Caulfield

    All the two of them were eating for breakfast was toast and coffee. That depressed me. I hate it if I'm eating bacon and eggs or something and somebody else is only eating toast and coffee. (15.17)

    Holden feels guilty about being privileged. His family clearly has money (he bounces between expensive boarding schools, his father is a "corporation lawyer," he has nice suitcases from Mark Cross, etc.), and it bothers him that not everyone has the same advantages—especially the nuns, who he later comments never get to go to "swanky lunches." Poor little rich boy.

    After they left, I started getting sorry that I'd only given them ten bucks for their collection. But the thing was, I'd made that date to go to the matinee with old Sally Hayes, and I needed to keep some dough for the tickets and stuff. I was sorry anyway, though. Goddam money. It always ends up making you blue as hell. (15.32)

    Money depresses Holden because it creates interpersonal barriers for him. Since isolation is what makes him feel sad, anything that prevents him from connecting to other people—like money—is going to be depressing. (Just try not having it, Holden, and then see how you feel.)

    Chapter 17
    Holden Caulfield

    I was way early when I got there, so I just sat down on one of those leather couches right near the clock in the lobby and watched the girls. […] It was really nice sightseeing, if you know what I mean. In a way, it was sort of depressing, too, because you kept wondering what the hell would happen to all of them. When they got out of school and college, I mean. You figured most of them would probably marry dopey guys. Guys that always talk about how many miles they get to the gallon in their goddam cars. (17.1)

    Sometimes, Holden makes personal connections without ever reaching out—or even talking—to another individual. Here, he even makes himself depressed over the futures of the girls he's watching, even though he doesn’t know the first thing about them.

    Chapter 22
    Phoebe Caulfield

    "You don't like anything that's happening."

    It made me even more depressed when she said that.

    "Yes I do. Yes I do. Sure I do. Don't say that. Why the hell do you say that?"

    "Because you don't. You don't like any schools. You don't like a million things. You don't."

    "I do! That's where you're wrong—that's exactly where you're wrong!

    Why the hell do you have to say that?" I said. Boy, she was depressing me. (22.18-23)

    All right, keep telling yourself that, Holden. He won’t admit it, but his depression admits it for him: if it weren’t true, he wouldn’t feel so depressed when Phoebe points out that he hates everything.

    Chapter 25
    Phoebe Caulfield

    "Wait a second—take the rest of your dough, too." I started giving her the rest of the dough she'd lent me."

    "You keep it. Keep it for me," she said. Then she said right afterward—"Please."

    That's depressing, when somebody says "please" to you. I mean if it's Phoebe or somebody. That depressed the hell out of me. But I put the dough back in my pocket. (25.79-81)

    And … it's depressing that she says "please"? Apparently—because she's the one doing him the favor, and she has to act like he’s helping her out.

    Holden Caulfield

    There was this magazine that somebody'd left on the bench next to me, so I started reading it. […] It was all about hormones. It described how you should look. […] I looked exactly like the guy with lousy hormones. So I started getting worried about my hormones. Then I read this other article about how you can tell if you have cancer or not. It said if you had any sores in your mouth that didn't heal pretty quickly, it was a sign that you probably had cancer. I'd had this sort on the inside of my lip for about two weeks. So figured [sic] I was getting cancer. That magazine was some little cheerer upper.

    Nice. On top of everything else, Holden now thinks he’s dying of cancer—even though it’s probably just stress.

  • Isolation

    Chapter 1

    Anyway, it was the Saturday of the football game. […] I remember around three o'clock that afternoon I was standing way the hell up on top of Thomsen Hill. […] You could see the whole field from there, and you could see the two teams bashing each other all over the place. […] You could hear them all yelling. (1.3)

    Holden clues us in right away: while everyone else is off at the game, he's isolated, aloof, and watching people instead of connecting with them. What a party animal, right?

    Chapter 9

    The first thing I did when I got off at Penn Station, I went into this phone booth. I felt like giving somebody a buzz […] but as soon as I was inside, I couldn't think of anybody to call up. My brother D.B. was in Hollywood. My kid sister Phoebe […] was out. Then I thought of giving Jane Gallagher's mother a buzz […]. Then I thought of calling this girl […] Sally Hayes. […] I thought of calling […] Carl Luce. […] So I ended up not calling anybody. I came out of the booth, after about twenty minutes or so. (9.1)

    You just know that Holden’s Facebook newsfeed is empty: one by one, he’s blocked every single one of his friends for saying something “phony.” (We get it. Ours clears out pretty fast, too, at least during an election cycle.)

    Holden Caulfield

    "Well – take me to the Edmont then," I said. "Would you care to stop on the way and join me for a cocktail? On me, I'm loaded." (9.10)

    Holden is so desperate for someone to talk to that he tries inviting the cabbie out for a drink, which… is actually kind of sweet. These days you can’t even get a cab driver off his cell phone long enough to make an invite.

    Chapter 10

    While I was changing my shirt, I damn near gave my kid sister Phoebe a buzz, though. I certainly felt like talking to her on the phone. Somebody with sense and all. But I couldn't take a chance on giving her a buzz, because she was only a little kid and she wouldn't have been up, let alone anywhere near the phone. I thought of maybe hanging up if my parents answered, but that wouldn't've worked, either. They'd know it was me. My mother always knows it's me. She's psychic. But I certainly wouldn't have minded shooting the crap with old Phoebe for a while. (10.2)

    The one person he seems to feel closest to (and the one person he reaches out to) is his younger sister, Phoebe. Sure—but only because she hasn’t had a chance to disappoint him yet. Just wait until she hits puberty, Holds.

    Chapter 16

    But there was one nice thing. This family that you could tell just came out of some church were walking right in front of me – a father, a mother, and a little kid about six years old. They looked sort of poor. […] The kid was swell. […] He was making out like he was walking a very straight line, the way kids do, and the whole time he kept singing and humming. […] It made me feel better. It made me feel not so depressed anymore. (16.3)

    Sometimes, just observing is enough to give Holden a sense of connection; watching the little boy makes him "not so depressed anymore." Careful: it’s a slippery slope to a restraining order.

    Chapter 20

    When I finally got down off the radiator and went out to the hat-check room, I was crying and all. I don't know why, but I was. I guess it was because I was feeling so damn depressed and lonesome. Then, when I went out to the checkroom […] the hat-check girl was very nice. […] I sort of tried to make a date with her. […] She said she was old enough to be my mother and all. (20.37)

    Holden keeps tying together the words "depressed" and "lonesome," suggesting that being lonely makes him depressed. Notice how, once again, he tries to reach out to anyone around him, including the hat-check girl, as he earlier did with the cab drivers? But it’s a catch-22, because his depression ends up pushing people away. How … depressing.

    Chapter 26

    If you want to know the truth, I don't know what I think about it. I'm sorry I told so many people about it. About all I know is, I sort of miss everybody I told about. Even old Stradlater and Ackley, for instance. I think I even miss that goddam Maurice. It's funny. Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody. (26.3)

    Maurice is the elevator pimp, so we have to ask: is this uplifting. Does it mean that Holden made enough personal connections to miss the people he interacted with? Or does it just show us that Holden is as isolated now as he was when all of this began?

    I saw one guy, a gray-haired, very distinguished-looking guy with only his shorts on, do something you wouldn't believe me if I told you. First he put his suitcase on the bed. Then he took out all these women's clothes, and put them on. Real women's clothes—silk stockings, high-heeled shoes, brassiere, and one of those corsets with the straps hanging down and all. Then he put on this very tight black evening dress. I swear to God. Then he started walking up and down the room, taking these very small steps, the way a woman does, and smoking a cigarette and looking at himself in the mirror. He was all alone, too. Unless somebody was in the bathroom—I couldn't see that much. (9.14)

    Notice how this “pervert” is all alone? It’s almost like that’s the worst part for Holden—that you’d go to all this trouble to dress up like a woman without even an audience.

    Mr. Antolini

    "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)

    Get out your highlighters, Shmoopers, because this is key: Mr. Antolini is telling Holden that education is important because it’ll make him feel less alone. It’s like an online support group for depressed people, but in actual books and literature. We love this.

  • Wisdom and Knowledge

    Chapter 2
    Mr. Spencer

    DEAR MR. SPENCER [he read out loud]. That is all I know about the Egyptians. I can't seem to get very interested in them although your lectures are very interesting. It is all right with me if you flunk me though as I am flunking everything else except English anyway. Respectfully yours, HOLDEN CAULFIELD.

    He put my goddam paper down then and looked at me like he'd just beaten hell out of me in ping-pong or something. I don't think I'll ever forgive him for reading me that crap out loud. I wouldn't've read it out loud to him if he'd written it—I really wouldn't. In the first place, I'd only written that damn note so that he wouldn't feel too bad about flunking me. (2.47-50)

    Holden may not know much about the Egyptians, but he does know a lot about people: enough to try to ease Mr. Spencer’s conscience about flunking him, and enough to know he’d never embarrass someone by reading a dumb essay out loud.

    Holden Caulfield

    "Oh, I have a few qualms, all right. Sure. . . but not too many. Not yet, anyway. I guess it hasn't really hit me yet. It takes things a while to hit me. All I'm doing right now is thinking about going home Wednesday. I'm a moron."

    "Do you feel absolutely no concern for your future, boy?"

    "Oh, I feel some concern for my future, all right. Sure. Sure, I do." I thought about it for a minute. "But not too much, I guess. Not too much, I guess."

    "You will," old Spencer said. "You will, boy. You will when it's too late." (2.64-67)

    Compare this conversation with Spencer to Holden's later conversation with Mr. Antolini. There seems to be some structural significance to these two conversations being placed—almost like bookends—around the rest of the text. Both men refer to some sort of crisis or downfall that Holden is surely approaching. Both talk (if somewhat indirectly here) about the importance of education. Both are a little gross—the white, hairless legs of Mr. Spencer and the fact that Mr. Antolini touches Holden while he's sleeping. How does Holden react here? Is it different from the way he reacts later?

    "Well. . . they'll be pretty irritated about it," I said. "They really will. This is about the fourth school I've gone to." I shook my head. I shake my head quite a lot. "Boy!" I said. I also say "Boy!" quite a lot. (2.22)

    Holden obviously has an issue with formal education. (Or, maybe formal education has an issue with him?) But before you write him off as being anti-education, start keeping an eye out for what kind of informal instruction he pursues throughout The Catcher in the Rye.

    One of the biggest reasons I left Elkton Hills was because I was surrounded by phonies. That's all. They were coming in the goddam window. For instance, they had this headmaster, Mr. Haas, that was the phoniest bastard I ever met in my life. Ten times worse than old Thurmer. On Sundays, for instance, old Haas went around shaking hands with everybody's parents when they drove up to school. He'd be charming as hell and all. Except if some boy had little old funny-looking parents. You should've seen the way he did with my roommate's parents. I mean if a boy's mother was sort of fat or corny-looking or something, and if somebody's father was one of those guys that wear those suits with very big shoulders and corny black-and-white shoes, then old Hans would just shake hands with them and give them a phony smile and then he'd go talk, for maybe a half an hour, with somebody else's parents. I can't stand that stuff. It drives me crazy. It makes me so depressed I go crazy. I hated that goddam Elkton Hills. (2.61)

    It looks like Holden's problem with formal education is more about the people than the institution itself (if those can even be separated from each other). He sees formal education as always tied to a gross sort of classism. Is he right? Has it changed since then—or is elite education still interested in replicating a particular class structure?

    Chapter 17
    Holden Caulfield

    "You ought to go to a boys' school sometime. Try it sometime," I said. "It's full of phonies, and all you do is study so that you can learn enough to be smart enough to be able to buy a goddam Cadillac some day, and you have to keep making believe you give a damn if the football team loses, and all you do is talk about girls and liquor and sex all day, and everybody sticks together in these dirty little goddam cliques." (17. 46)

    Holden thinks that the whole point of education is to make you rich, so it’s inherently phony. To which we say—try being poor, Holden, and then turn up your nose at Cadillacs.

    Chapter 24
    Mr. Antolini

    "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?

    "Something else an academic education will do for you. If you go along with it any considerable distance, it'll begin to give you an idea what size mind you have. What it'll fit and, maybe, what it won't. After a while, you'll have an idea what kind of thoughts your particular size mind should be wearing. For one thing, it may save you an extraordinary amount of time trying on ideas that don't suit you, aren't becoming to you. You'll begin to know your true measurements and dress your mind accordingly." (24.65)

    Mr. Antolini explains the difference between institutionalized education and knowledge. Holden has been struggling (perhaps implicitly) to do this for most of the novel—so why does he just yawn instead of going to bed? Is he just not receptive to help of any kind right now? Is this a lesson that’s going to take time to sink in?

    "I'm not trying to tell you," he said, "that only educated and scholarly men are able to contribute something valuable to the world. It's not so. But I do say that educated and scholarly men, if they're brilliant and creative to begin with – which, unfortunately, is rarely the case – tend to leave infinitely more valuable records behind them than men do who are merely brilliant and creative. They tend to express themselves more clearly, and they usually have a passion for following their thoughts through to the end. And – most important – nine times out of ten they have more humility than the unscholarly thinker. Do you follow me at all?" (24.62)

    We’re not sure, but we have a suspicion that this is pretty close to Salinger's perspective. Mr. Antolini does seem to have a genuine love for his students (if possibly an inappropriate one…) and a genuine respect for learning. He doesn’t berate Holden; he talks to him like an equal.

  • Lies and Deceit

    Chapter 2
    Holden Caulfield

    One of the biggest reasons I left Elkton Hills was because I was surrounded by phonies. That's all. They were coming in the goddam window. For instance, they had this headmaster, Mr. Haas, that was the phoniest bastard I ever met in my life. Ten times worse than old Thurmer. On Sundays, for instance, old Haas went around shaking hands with everybody's parents when they drove up to school. He'd be charming as hell and all. Except if some boy had little old funny-looking parents. You should've seen the way he did with my roommate's parents. I mean if a boy's mother was sort of fat or corny-looking or something, and if somebody's father was one of those guys that wear those suits with very big shoulders and corny black-and-white shoes, then old Haas would just shake hands with them and give them a phony smile and then he'd go talk, for maybe a half an hour, with somebody else's parents. I can't stand that stuff. It drives me crazy. It makes me so depressed I go crazy. I hated that goddam Elkton Hills. (2.60)

    Welcome to Holden's obsession with "phonies." This seems to be the source of much of his dissatisfaction with the world around him—to be fair, it does sound like he’s surrounded by them. We don’t much like this Haas guy, either.

    Chapter 4
    Holden Caulfield

    You remember I said before that Ackley was a slob in his personal habits? Well, so was Stradlater, but in a different way. Stradlater was more of a secret slob. He always looked all right, Stradlater, but for instance, you should've seen the razor he shaved himself with. It was always rusty as hell and full of lather and hairs and crap. He never cleaned it or anything. He always looked good when he was finished fixing himself up, but he was a secret slob anyway, if you knew him the way I did. (4.2)

    Because Stradlater puts on a front, he's a hypocrite. Oh, and also a phony. The question is, does Holden follow his own rules? Or is he also constantly pretending to be someone he’s not?

    Chapter 8
    Holden Caulfield

    "Oh, how lovely! Perhaps you know my son, then, Ernest Morrow? He goes to Pencey."

    "Yes, I do. He's in my class."

    Her son was doubtless the biggest bastard that ever went to Pencey, in the whole crumby history of the school. He was always going down the corridor, after he'd had a shower, snapping his soggy old wet towel at people's asses. That's exactly the kind of a guy he was.

    "Oh, how nice!" the lady said. But not corny. She was just nice and all. "I must tell Ernest we met," she said. "May I ask your name, dear?"

    "Rudolf Schmidt," I told her. I didn't feel like giving her my whole life history. Rudolf Schmidt was the name of the janitor of our dorm. (8.9-13)

    There’s literally no reason for Holden to lie here: he’s not in trouble (exactly), he’s not running away from school—he just doesn’t “feel” like telling the truth. So, why isn’t this phony?

    Mrs. Morrow

    She had a terrifically nice smile. She really did. Most people have hardly any smile at all, or a lousy one. "Ernest's father and I sometimes worry about him," she said. "We sometimes feel he's not a terribly good mixer."

    "How do you mean?"

    "Well. He's a very sensitive boy. He's really never been a terribly good mixer with other boys. Perhaps he takes things a little more seriously than he should at his age."

    Sensitive. That killed me. That guy Morrow was about as sensitive as a goddam toilet seat. (8.9-23)

    Holden knows Ernest is a jerk, but he indulges Mrs. Morrow anyway. She’s deceiving herself; he’s letting her deceive herself; and he’s, well, deceiving her. And he’s doing it just to be nice. Important lesson: sometimes you have to lie to be nice. Is this part of why Holden seems to hate everything so much—because either you’re an honest jerk or a lying nice boy?

    Chapter 17
    Holden Caulfield

    At the end of the first act we went out with all the other jerks for a cigarette. What a deal that was. You never saw so many phonies in all your life, everybody smoking their ears off and talking about the play so that everybody could hear and know how sharp they were. Some dopey movie actor was standing near us, having a cigarette. […] He was with some gorgeous blonde, and the two of them were trying to be very blasé and all, like as if he didn't even know people were looking at him. Modest as hell. I got a big bang out of it. (17.14)

    Oh, yeah, Holden is practically ROFLing with how funny he finds this. It’s like he’s trying to find all the phoniness amusing, but the bitterness just keeps seeping through.

    Then all of a sudden, she saw some jerk she knew on the other side of the lobby. Some guy in one of those very dark gray flannel suits and one of those checkered vests. Strictly Ivy League. Big deal. […] Finally, though, the jerk noticed her and came over and said hello. You should've seen the way they said hello. You'd have thought they hadn't seen each other in twenty years. […] The funny part was, they probably met each other just once, at some phony party. (17.14)

    Speaking of parties, Holden sounds like he’d be really fun at one. Not. What we want to know is—why does he care so much whether this dumb guy is being phony?

    "Hello?" I said. I made my voice quite deep so that she wouldn't suspect my age or anything. I have a pretty deep voice anyway. (9.19)

    Holden must have the worst fake I.D. ever, because he’s constantly trying to fool people about his age and failing. For someone obsessed with childhood, he sure is eager to seem older.

    […] You should've seen him when old Sally asked him how he liked the play. He was the kind of a phony that have to give themselves room when they answer somebody's question. He stepped back, and stepped right on the lady's foot behind him. He probably broke every toe in her body. […] Then he and old Sally started talking about a lot of people they both knew. It was the phoniest conversation you ever heard in your life. They both kept thinking of places as fast as they could, then they'd think of somebody that lived there and mention their name. I was all set to puke when it was time to go sit down again. I really was. (17.14)

    Holden has this puking problem a lot: every time someone’s particularly phony, he feels like puking. Sure, it’s partly a figure of speech. But it’s also part of his actual physical aversion to life—life literally makes him sick.

  • Youth

    Chapter 2
    Holden Caulfield

    "Boy!" I said. I also say "Boy!" quite a lot. Partly because I have a lousy vocabulary and partly because I act quite young for my age sometimes. I was sixteen then, and I'm seventeen now, and sometimes I act like I'm about thirteen. It's really ironical, because I'm six foot two and a half and I have gray hair. I really do. The one side of my head – the right side – is full of millions of gray hairs. I've had them ever since I was a kid. And yet I still act sometimes like I was only about twelve. Everybody says that, especially my father. It's partly true, too, but it isn't all true. People always think something's all true. I don't give a damn, except that I get bored sometimes when people tell me to act my age. Sometimes I act a lot older than I am – I really do – but people never notice it. People never notice anything. (2.22)

    Is it just us, or does “I act quite young for my age sometimes” sound a lot like Holden’s just repeating something adults have said to him? Notice that one side of his head is all gray—as thought part of him is still a kid, and part of him is all adult. Sounds about right to us.

    Chapter 10
    Holden Caulfield

    I ordered a Scotch and soda, and told him not to mix it—I said it fast as hell, because if you hem and haw, they think you're under twenty-one and won't sell you any intoxicating liquor. I had trouble with him anyway, though. "I'm sorry, sir," he said, "but do you have some verification of your age? Your driver's license, perhaps?" I gave him this very cold stare, like he'd insulted the hell out of me, and asked him, "Do I look like I'm under twenty-one?"

    "I'm sorry, sir, but we have our—"

    "Okay, okay," I say. I figured the hell with it. "Bring me a Coke." He started to go away, but I called him back. "Can'tcha stick a little rum in it or something?" I asked him. I asked him very nicely and all. "I can't sit in a corny place like this cold sober. Can'tcha stick a little rum in it or something?"

    "I'm very sorry, sir…" he said, and beat it on me. I didn't hold it against him, though. They lose their jobs if they get caught selling to a minor. I'm a goddam minor. (10.6-10)

    Holden doesn’t mind being young—right up until it prevents him from getting a drink. That’s the thing about growing up: you lose something things (like innocence) but you gain others—like the privilege of hangover. Hm. Doesn’t sound so appealing, when you put it like that.

    It's immaterial to me," she said. "Hey—how old are you, anyhow?"

    That annoyed me, for some reason. "Oh, Christ. Don't spoil it," I said. "I'm twelve, for Chrissake. I'm big for my age." (10.39-40)

    Here’s a good reason to want to grow up: adults don’t take kids seriously. But do adults take each other seriously, either? Do we ever see two adults interacting—or is Holden’s perspective of adulthood skewed because he can only ever see it as something different and apart?

    Chapter 16
    Holden Caulfield

    "She's prob'ly in the museum, then. We went last Saturday," the kid said.

    "Which museum?" I asked her.

    She shrugged her shoulders, sort of. "I don't know," she said. "The museum."

    "I know, but the one where the pictures are, or the one where the Indians are?"

    "The one where the Indians."

    "Thanks a lot." (16.16-21)

    Holden might have difficulty communicating with almost everyone, but he sure knows how to talk to a kid. He understands immediately that “Indians” are what she’ll remember.

    She was having a helluva time tightening her skate. She didn't have any gloves on or anything and her hands were all red and cold. I gave her a hand with it. Boy, I hadn't had a skate key in my hand for years. It didn't feel funny, though. You could put a skate key in my hand fifty years from now and I'd still know what it is. She thanked me and all when I had tightened it for her. She was a very nice, polite little kid. God, I love it when a kid's nice and polite when you tighten their skate for them or something. Most kids are. They really are. I asked her if she'd care to have a hot chocolate or something with me, but she said no, thank you. She said she had to meet her friend. Kids always have to meet their friend. That kills me. (16.23)

    Haha. Holden might know what a skate key is, but, uh, we had to ask our parents. (It’s a little key you’d use to tighten or loosen adjustable skates that you could put over your shoes.) In any case, this is like a kid from the ‘90s saying that she’d always recognize a pog—it’s just a part of childhood.

    Chapter 18

    The part that got me was, there was a lady sitting next to me that cried all through the goddam picture. The phonier it got, the more she cried. You'd have thought she did it because she was kindhearted as hell, but I was sitting right next to her, and she wasn't. She had this little kid with her that was bored as hell and had to go to the bathroom, but she wouldn't take him. She kept telling him to sit still and behave himself. She was about as kindhearted as a goddam wolf. (18.6)

    You know how Holden thinks his brother is such a phony? This is why. Screenwriters make people care about the kids on screen and ignore the kids right next to them.

    Chapter 21
    Holden Caulfield

    Old Phoebe didn't even wake up. When the light was on and all, I sort of looked at her for a while. She was laying there asleep, with her face sort of on the side of the pillow. You take adults, they look lousy when they're asleep, but kids don't. Kids look all right. They can even spit all over the pillow and they still look all right. (21.10)

    Well, we actually have to agree with Holden about this. There’s just something so peaceful and innocent about kids sleeping—right up until they wake up and turn into little monsters, right? Right??

    Phoebe Caulfield

    She has about five thousand notebooks. […] I opened the one on top and looked at the first page. […]

    Why has south eastern Alaska so many caning factories?
    Because there's so much salmon
    Why has it valuable forests?
    because it has the right climate.
    What has our government done to make
    life easier for the Alaskan Eskimos?
    look it up for tomorrow!!!
    Phoebe Weatherfield Caulfield
    Phoebe Weatherfield Caulfield
    Phoebe Weatherfield Caulfield
    Phoebe W. Caulfield
    Phoebe Weatherfield Caulfield, Esq.
    Please pass to Shirley!!!!
    Shirley you said you were sagitarius
    but your only Taurus bring your skates
    when you come over to my house

    […] I can read that kind of stuff, some kid's notebook […] all day and all night long. Kid's notebooks kill me. (21.15-19)

    Here we go: this is the least phony expression of thought we've seen so far in the novel. Phoebe just writes exactly what she’s thinking, no pretense about it.

    Chapter 25

    While I was waiting around for Phoebe in the museum, right outside the doors and all, these two little kids came up to me and asked if I knew where the mummies were. The one little kid, the one that asked me, had his pants open. I told him about it. So he buttoned them right up where he was standing talking to me – he didn't even bother to go behind a post or anything. He killed me. (25.21)

    Another thing about hid: they never worry about being embarrassed. (That’s why your mom has all those pictures of you running around naked as a toddler.) Unlike all the "phonies" Holden runs into, these kids aren’t worried about appearances.

  • Religion

    Chapter 3
    Holden Caulfield

    Where I lived at Pencey, I lived in the Ossenburger Memorial Wing of the new dorms. […] It was named after this guy Ossenburger that went to Pencey. He made a pot of dough in the undertaking business after he got out of Pencey. […] He made a speech that lasted about ten hours. He started off with about fifty corny jokes, just to show us what a regular guy he was. Very big deal. Then he started telling us how he was never ashamed, when he was in some kind of trouble or something, to get right down his knees and pray to God. He told us we should always pray to God—talk to Him and all—wherever we were. He told us we ought to think of Jesus as our buddy and all. He said he talked to Jesus all the time. Even when he was driving his car. That killed me. I just see the big phony bastard shifting into first gear and asking Jesus to send him a few more stiffs. (3.2)

    Holden obviously doesn’t think too much of religion—and he make a good point. But isn’t the problem Ossenburger, not the religion?

    Chapter 7
    Holden Caulfield

    "Listen. What's the routine on joining a monastery?" I asked him. I was sort of toying with the idea of joining one. "Do you have to be a Catholic and all?"

    "Certainly you have to be a Catholic. You bastard, did you wake me just to ask me a dumb questions"

    "Aah, go back to sleep. I'm not gonna join one anyway. The kind of luck I have, I'd probably join one with all the wrong kind of monks in it. All stupid bastards. Or just bastards."

    When I said that, old Ackley sat way the hell up in bed.

    "Listen," he said, "I don't care what you say about me or anything, but if you start making cracks about my goddam religion, for Chrissake–"

    "Relax," I said. "Nobody's making any cracks about your goddam religion." I got up off Ely's bed, and started towards the door. I didn't want to hang around in that stupid atmosphere any more. (7.50-54)

    Holden is right—he isn't making cracks about the religion itself, just like he doesn't really make cracks about education itself. What he's criticizing are the people inside the institutions, the phony people who use organizations for their own purposes.

    Chapter 14

    Finally, though, I got undressed and got in bed. I felt like praying or something, when I was in bed, but I couldn't do it. I can't always pray when I feel like it. In the first place, I'm sort of an atheist. I like Jesus and all, but I don't care too much for most of the other stuff in the Bible. Take the Disciples, for instance. They annoy the hell out of me, if you want to know the truth. They were all right after Jesus was dead and all, but while He was alive, they were about as much use to Him as a hole in the head. All they did was keep letting Him down. I like almost anybody in the Bible better than the Disciples. If you want to know the truth, the guy I like best in the Bible, next to Jesus, was that lunatic and all, that lived in the tombs and kept cutting himself with stones. I like him ten times as much as the Disciples, that poor bastard. […] I'd bet a thousand bucks that Jesus never sent old Judas to Hell. […] I think any one of the Disciples would've sent him to Hell and all—and fast, too—but I'll bet anything Jesus didn't do it. (14.2)

    All Holden really understands and thinks about is people. He can't accept the disciples as symbols or an allegory because he judges them as real individuals—making up backstories, motivations, and rationales.

    Holden Caulfield

    In the first place, my parents are different religions, and all the children in our family are atheists. If you want to know the truth, I can't even stand ministers. The ones they've had at every school I've gone to, they all have these Holy Joe voices when they start giving their sermons. God, I hate that. I don't see why the hell they can't talk in their natural voice. They sound so phony when they talk. (14.2)

    Since he doesn't like sermons, he's an atheist. Since he doesn't like Oral Expression classes, he isn't into learning. Hm. Sounds like Holden isn’t quite seeing the forest for the trees. As they say.

    Chapter 15
    Holden Caulfield

    The one next to me, with the iron glasses, said she taught English and her friend taught history and American government. Then I started wondering like a bastard what the one sitting next to me, that taught English, thought about, being a nun and all, when she read certain books for English. Books not necessarily with a lot of sexy stuff in them, but books with lovers and all in them. Take old Eustacia Vye, in The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy. She wasn't too sexy or anything, but even so you can't help wondering what a nun maybe thinks about when she reads about old Eustacia. I didn't say anything, though, naturally. All I said was English was my best subject. (15.18)

    We keep talking about how Holden sees people—not people's professions—yet here he has trouble getting past the fact that this woman is a nun. He might not have much respect for preachers or funeral directors, but he does seem to respect nuns.

    I knew this one Catholic boy, Louis Shaney, when I was at the Whooton School. […] Then, after a while, right in the middle of the goddam conversation, he asked me, "Did you happen to notice where the Catholic church is in town, by any chance?" The thing was, you could tell by the way he asked me that he was trying to find out if I was a Catholic. He really was. Not that he was prejudiced or anything, but he just wanted to know. He was enjoying the conversation about tennis and all, but you could tell he would've enjoyed it more if I was a Catholic and all. That kind of stuff drives me crazy. I'm not saying it ruined our conversation or anything—it didn't—but it sure as hell didn't do it any good. That's why I was glad those two nuns didn't ask me if I was a Catholic. It wouldn't have spoiled the conversation if they had, but it would've been different, probably. I'm not saying I blame Catholics. I don't. I'd be the same way, probably, if I was a Catholic. It's just like those suitcases I was telling you about, in a way. All I'm saying is that it's no good for a nice conversation. That's all I'm saying. (15.29)

    Okay, we kind of love the comparison of the Catholic stuff to the suitcase business from a few paragraphs earlier. First, it's structurally brilliant, as Salinger ties together two otherwise distinct portions of the chapter—it tells us that we’re not reading the ramblings of some teenage kid; we’re reading a carefully crafted novel. Second, it tells us that Holden sees religion as creating barriers—just like class differences. Maybe that’s why Holden resents religion (and maybe class as well): he's searching for personal connections, and these categories are "no good for a nice conversation."

  • Sexuality and Sexual Identity

    Chapter 4
    Holden Caulfield

    "She's a dancer," I said. "Ballet and all. She used to practice about two hours every day, right in the middle of the hottest weather and all. She was worried that it might make her legs lousy—all thick and all. I used to play checkers with her all the time."

    "You used to play what with her all the time?"

    "Checkers."

    "Checkers, for Chrissake!"

    "Yeah. She wouldn't move any of her kings. What she'd do, when she'd get a king, she wouldn't move it. She'd just leave it in the back row. She'd get them all lined up in the back row. Then she'd never use them. She just liked the way they looked when they were all in the back row." Stradlater didn't say anything. That kind of stuff doesn't interest most people. (4.44-48)

    Holden appreciates Jane as a person, whereas Stradlater seems to view her as a sexual object for him to impress (he doesn't care about the stuff Holden's telling him, and is distracted by his own appearance). No wonder Holden is uncomfortable at the thought of Stradlater and Jane together.

    "Her mother and father were divorced. Her mother was married again to some booze hound," I said. "Skinny guy with hairy legs. I remember him. He wore shorts all the time. Jane said he was supposed to be a playwright or some goddam thing, but all I ever saw him do was booze all the time and listen to every single goddam mystery program on the radio. And run around the goddam house, naked. With Jane around, and all."

    "Yeah?" Stradlater said. That really interested him. About the booze hound running around the house naked, with Jane around. Stradlater was a very sexy bastard.

    "She had a lousy childhood. I'm not kidding."

    That didn't interest Stradlater, though. Only very sexy stuff interested him. (4.50-53)

    We wonder if Jane and her "lousy childhood" serves as some sort of connection between her and Holden. After all, he later reveals that he, too, has had some "perverty" stuff happen to him "about twenty times since [he] was a kid."

    "Her mother belonged to the same club we did," I said. "I used to caddy once in a while, just to make some dough. I caddy'd for her mother a couple of times. She went around in about a hundred and seventy, for nine holes."

    Stradlater wasn't hardly listening. He was combing his gorgeous locks.

    "I oughta go down and at least say hello to her," I said.

    "Why don'tcha?"

    "I will, in a minute." He started parting his hair all over again. It took him about an hour to comb his hair.

    […]

    "Jane Gallagher. Jesus ... I couldn't get her off my mind. I really couldn't. "I oughta go down and say hello to her, at least."

    "Why the hell don'tcha, instead of keep saying it?" Stradlater said.

    I walked over to the window, but you couldn't see out of it, it was so steamy from all the heat in the can.. "I'm not in the mood right now," I said. I wasn't, either. You have to be in the mood for those things. […] I walked around the can for a little while. I didn't have anything else to do. (4.49-57)

    Here begins a desire-inaction pattern with regards to Jane that will continue for most of The Catcher in the Rye. Holden says he ought to go say hello, but can't get himself to follow through and actually do it. We see this again and again as he merely contemplates calling Jane. Admittedly, Holden is a coward, but his passivity here is a real indication of his genuine feelings for this girl.

    Chapter 6
    Holden Caulfield

    "If you didn't go to New York, where'd ya go with her?" I asked him, after a little while. I could hardly keep my voice from shaking all over the place. Boy, was I getting nervous. I just had a feeling something had gone funny.

    […]

    Stradlater kept taking these shadow punches down at my shoulder. He had his toothbrush in his hand, and he put it in his mouth. "What'd you do?" I said. "Give her the time in Ed Banky's goddam car?" My voice was shaking something awful.

    […]

    This next part I don't remember so hot. All I know is I got up from the bed, like I was going down to the can or something, and then I tried to sock him, with all my might, right smack in the toothbrush, so it would split his goddam throat open. (6.26-35)

    Holden is so angered by the thought of Stradlater and Jane because she's the only girl, as far as we can tell, that he has genuine feelings for. Since he can't reconcile respect for a girl with lusting after her, anything sex-related means she's being disrespected. Then again, it's Stradlater, so what are the odds that there is any respect in the first place.

    Chapter 7

    I kept laying there in the dark anyway, though, trying not to think about old Jane and Stradlater in that goddam Ed Banky's car. But it was almost impossible. The trouble was, I knew that guy Stradlater's technique. That made it even worse. We once double-dated, in Ed Banky's car, and Stradlater was in the back, with his date, and I was in the front with mine. What a technique that guy had. What he'd do was, he'd start snowing his date in this very quiet, sincere voice – like as if he wasn't only a very handsome guy but a nice, sincere guy, too. I damn near puked, listening to him. His date kept saying, "No – please. Please, don't. Please." But old Stradlater kept snowing her in this Abraham Lincoln, sincere voice, and finally there'd be this terrific silence in the back of the car. It was really embarrassing. I don't think he gave that girl the time that night – but damn near. Damn near. (7.40)

    Quick: name one positive sexual experience that Holden describes. We’ll wait.

    […]

    You can’t do it, right? His entire experience of sex is like this: coercion, convincing, and possible molestation.

    Most guys at Pencey just talked about having sexual intercourse with girls all the time – like Ackley, for instance – but old Stradlater really did it. I was personally acquainted with at least two girls he gave the time to. That's the truth. (7.32)

    Because Holden’s still uncomfortable with his own sexuality, he’s fascinated (and frankly kind of grossed out by) a guy who’s so obviously comfortable being with women. (Maybe a little too comfortable, if you ask us.)

    Chapter 8
    Holden Caulfield

    "Would you care for a cigarette?" I asked her.

    She looked all around. "I don't believe this is a smoker, Rudolf," she said. Rudolf. That killed me.

    "That's all right. We can smoke till they start screaming at us," I said. She took a cigarette off me, and I gave her a light.

    She looked nice, smoking. She inhaled and all, but she didn't wolf the smoke down, the way most women around her age do. She had a lot of charm. She had quite a lot of sex appeal, too, if you really want to know. (8.24-27)

    For being a sexually insecure sixteen-year-old, Holden has guts. We might need to think twice before writing him off as a socially inept kid.

    All of a sudden, this lady got on at Trenton and sat down next to me. Practically the whole car was empty, because it was pretty late and all, but she sat down next to me, instead of an empty seat, because she had this big bag with her and I was sitting in the front seat. She stuck the bag right out in the middle of the aisle, where the conductor and everybody could trip over it. She had these orchids on, like she'd just been to a big party or something. She was around forty or forty-five, I guess, but she was very good looking. Women kill me. They really do. I don't mean I'm oversexed or anything like that – although I am quite sexy. I just like them, I mean. They're always leaving their goddam bags out in the middle of the aisle. (8.4)

    It's interesting to see what Holden identifies as sexy, feminine attributes—like leaving bags in out in the middle of the aisle. His observations can actually be quite incisive, lending some weight to the argument that, actually, Holden is quite beyond his years (at least in some ways).

    Chapter 9

    The trouble was, that kind of junk is sort of fascinating to watch, even if you don't want it to be. For instance, that girl that was getting water squirted all over her face, she was pretty good-looking. I mean that's my big trouble. In my mind, I'm probably the biggest sex maniac you ever saw. Sometimes I can think of very crumby stuff I wouldn't mind doing if the opportunity came up. I can even see how it might be quite a lot of fun, in a crumby way, and if you were both sort of drunk and all, to get a girl and squirt water or something all over each other's face. The thing is, though, I don't like the idea. It stinks, if you analyze it. I think if you don't really like a girl, you shouldn't horse around with her at all, and if you do like her, then you're supposed to like her face, and if you like her face, you ought to be careful about doing crumby stuff to it, like squirting water all over it. It's really too bad that so much crumby stuff is a lot of fun sometimes. Girls aren't too much help, either, when you start trying not to get too crumby, when you start trying not to spoil anything really good. I knew this one girl, a couple of years ago, that was even crumbier than I was. Boy, was she crumby! We had a lot of fun, though, for a while, in a crumby way. Sex is something I really don't understand too hot. You never know where the hell you are. I keep making up these sex rules for myself, and then I break them right away. Last year I made a rule that I was going to quit horsing around with girls that, deep down, gave me a pain in the ass. I broke it, though, the same week I made it – the same night, as a matter of fact. I spent the whole night necking with a terrible phony named Anne Louise Sherman. Sex is something I just don't understand. I swear to God I don't. (9.14-15)

    Bust out those highlighters, Shmooperinos: Holden says if you like a girl, you shouldn't do "crumby" stuff to her. Crumby = dirty in the sex way, not in the mud-puddle way. To him, what's "sexy" is "dirty" and therefore degrading to the woman. So, if you like a woman as a person, not as a sex object, how could you ever get dirty with her?

    After he left, I looked out the window for a while, with my coat on and all. I didn't have anything else to do. You'd be surprised what was going on on the other side of the hotel. They didn't even bother to pull their shades down. I saw one guy, a gray-haired, very distinguished-looking guy with only his shorts on, do something you wouldn't believe me if I told you. First he put his suitcase on the bed. Then he took out all these women's clothes, and put them on. Real women's clothes – silk stockings, high-heeled shoes, brassiere, and one of those corsets with the straps hanging down and all. Then he put on this very tight black evening dress. I swear to God. Then he started walking up and down the room, taking these very small steps, the way a woman does, and smoking a cigarette and looking at himself in the mirror. He was all alone, too. Unless somebody was in the bathroom—I couldn't see that much. Then, in the window almost right over his, I saw a man and a woman squirting water out of their mouths at each other. It probably was highballs, not water, but I couldn't see what they had in their glasses. Anyway, first he'd take a swallow and squirt it all over her, then she did it to him – they took turns, for God's sake. You should've seen them. They were in hysterics the whole time, like it was the funniest thing that ever happened. I'm not kidding, the hotel was lousy with perverts. I was probably the only normal bastard in the whole place – and that isn't saying much. I damn near sent a telegram to old Stradlater telling him to take the first train to New York. He'd have been the king of the hotel. (9.14)

    Shmoop doesn’t like to judge, but we do see why Holden would think of a cross-dressing gentleman as a “pervert.” But a couple having a good time with some water? A little odd, but not exactly extraordinary. To Holden, everything “sexy” just ends up seeming perverted.

    Faith Cavendish

    "Where ya stopping at? Perhaps we could get together for cocktails tomorrow."

    "I can't make it tomorrow," I said. "Tonight's the only time I can make it." What a dope I was. I shouldn't've said that.

    "Oh. Well, I'm awfully sorry."

    "I'll say hello to Eddie for you."

    "Willya do that? I hope you enjoy your stay in New York. It's a grand place."

    "I know it is. Thanks. Good night," I said. Then I hung up.

    Boy, I really fouled that up. I should've at least made it for cocktails or something. (9.52-58)

    Faith Cavendish is a girl who “doesn’t mind doing it,” and it sounds like she wouldn’t mind doing it with Holden—but he backs down, just like always. Every time he actually has a chance to have sex, he … abstains. (Again, remind us why this book is banned?)

    Chapter 10

    I apologized like a madman, because the band was starting a fast one. She started jitterbugging with me – but just very nice and easy, not corny. She was really good. All you had to do was touch her. And when she turned around, her pretty little butt twitched so nice and all. She knocked me out. I mean it. I was half in love with her by the time we sat down. That's the thing about girls. Every time they do something pretty, even if they're not much to look at, or even if they're sort of stupid, you fall half in love with them, and then you never know where the hell you are. Girls. Jesus Christ. They can drive you crazy. They really can. (10.42)

    We’re thinking “half in love” is just code for “wholly in lust.”

    Holden Caulfield

    She was really a moron. But what a dancer. I could hardly stop myself from sort of giving her a kiss on the top of her dopey head – you know – right where the part is, and all. She got sore when I did it.

    "Hey! What's the idea?"

    "Nothing. No idea. You really can dance," I said. "I have a kid sister that's only in the goddam fourth grade. You're about as good as she is, and she can dance better than anybody living or dead." (10.25-27)

    Although he values intelligence in women, Holden often lets physical appearances cloud his judgment.

    The blonde was some dancer. She was one of the best dancers I ever danced with. I'm not kidding, some of these very stupid girls can really knock you out on a dance floor. You take a really smart girl, and half the time she's trying to lead you around the dance floor, or else she's such a lousy dancer, the best thing to do is stay at the table and just get drunk with her.

    "You really can dance," I told the blonde one. "You oughta be a pro. I mean it. I danced with a pro once, and you're twice as good as she was. Did you ever hear of Marco and Miranda?"

    "What?" she said. She wasn't even listening to me. She was looking all around the place. (10.13-15)

    Hm. Holden is hardly sexually or socially inept here. He's bold enough to ask the girl to dance in the first place, and then adept enough to make decent conversation. Again, we’re pretty sure he could get lucky if he really wanted to.

    Chapter 11

    I held hands with her all the time, for instance. That doesn't sound like much, I realize, but she was terrific to hold hands with. […] We'd get into a goddam movie or something, and right away we'd start holding hands, and we wouldn't quit till the movie was over. And without changing the position or making a big deal out of it. You never even worried, with Jane, whether your hand was sweaty or not. All you knew was, you were happy. You really were. (11.6)

    Holden doesn’t care about sex—he cares about companionship and emotion. And for some reason, he doesn’t think he can have both with Jane.

    The other thing I just thought of. One time, in this movie, Jane did something that just about knocked me out. The newsreel was on or something, and all of a sudden I felt this hand on the back of my neck, and it was Jane's. It was a funny thing to do. I mean she was quite young and all, and most girls if you see them putting their hand on the back of somebody's neck, they're around twenty-five or thirty and usually they're doing it to their husband or their little kid – I do it to my kid sister Phoebe once in a while, for instance. But if a girl's quite young and all and she does it, it's so pretty it just about kills you. (11.6)

    Jane's action toward Holden—putting her hand on the back of his neck—is similar to his kissing her everywhere but her lips. They both take a more emotion-based attitude toward each other. It’s like they go out of their way to avoid being sexual. Hm. It is starting to sound a lot like they both have a history of abuse, isn’t it?

    Anyway, I was telling you about that afternoon Jane and I came close to necking. It was raining like hell and we were out on her porch, and 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. […] 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. […] I don't know why, but it bothered hell out of me. So what I did was, I went over and made her move over on the glider so that I could sit down next to her – I practically sat down in her lap, as a matter of fact. Then she really started to cry, and the next thing I knew, I was kissing her all over—anywhere—her eyes, her nose, her forehead, her eyebrows and all, her ears—her whole face except her mouth and all. She sort of wouldn't let me get to her mouth. Anyway, it was the closest we ever got to necking. […] I asked her […] if Mr. Cudahy – that was the booze hound's name – had ever tried to get wise with her. She was pretty young, but she had this terrific figure, and I wouldn't've put it past that Cudahy bastard. She said no, though. I never did find out what the hell was the matter. Some girls you practically never find out what's the matter. (11.5)

    The only remotely sexual action we see between Jane and Holden isn't actually that sexual—it's more about his comforting her than anything else. Meanwhile, it sounds like the two of them have similar histories of (maybe?) sexual abuse.

    Chapter 13

    Anyway, while I was putting on another clean shirt, I sort of figured this was my big chance, in a way. I figured if she was a prostitute and all, I could get in some practice on her, in case I ever get married or anything. I worry about that stuff sometimes. […] I wouldn't mind being pretty good at that stuff. Half the time, if you really want to know the truth, when I'm horsing around with a girl, I have a helluva lot of trouble just finding what I'm looking for, for God's sake, if you know what I mean. Take this girl that I just missed having sexual intercourse with, that I told you about. It took me about an hour to just get her goddam brassiere off. By the time I did get it off, she was about ready to spit in my eye. (13.25)

    If sex is all there is between two people—like Holden suspects it might be—then it had better be good. That's a lot for a sixteen-year-old to have to deal with.

    I knew I didn't have to get all dolled up for a prostitute or anything, but it sort of gave me something to do. I was a little nervous. I was starting to feel pretty sexy and all, but I was a little nervous anyway. If you want to know the truth, I'm a virgin. I really am. I've had quite a few opportunities to lose my virginity and all, but I've never got around to it yet. Something always happens. […] I came quite close to doing it a couple of times, though. One time in particular, I remember. Something went wrong, though – I don't even remember what any more. The thing is, most of the time when you're coming pretty close to doing it with a girl – a girl that isn't a prostitute or anything, I mean – she keeps telling you to stop. The trouble with me is, I stop. Most guys don't. I can't help it. You never know whether they really want you to stop, or whether they're just scared as hell, or whether they're just telling you to stop so that if you do go through with it, the blame'll be on you, not them. Anyway, I keep stopping. (13.24)

    This is a big conversation we need to have here. Check out Holden's "Character Analysis" for a big argument.

    Anyway, I kept walking around the room, waiting for this prostitute to show up. I kept hoping she'd be good-looking. I didn't care too much, though. I sort of just wanted to get it over with. (13.26)

    At this point, Holden doesn't see sex as something intimate or even just fun—it's a rite of passage he has to "get […] over with." Gee, that really puts a person in the mood.

    Holden Caulfield

    She came in and took her coat off right away and sort of chucked it on the bed. She had on a green dress underneath. Then she sort of sat down sideways on the chair that went with the desk in the room and started jiggling her foot up and down. She crossed her legs and started jiggling this one foot up and down. She was very nervous, for a prostitute. She really was. I think it was because she was young as hell. She was around my age. […] She had a tiny little wheeny-whiny voice. You could hardly hear her. She never said thank you, either, when you offered her something. She just didn't know any better.

    […]

    I took her dress over to the closet and hung it up for her. It was funny. It made me feel sort of sad when I hung it up. I thought of her going in a store and buying it, and nobody in the store knowing she was a prostitute and all. The salesman probably just thought she was a regular girl when she bought it. It made me feel sad as hell—I don't know why exactly. (13.26-53)

    Right away, we know this isn’t going to go well—because Holden sees Sunny as a person, not as a sexual object. He thinks about how she's nervous, too, tries to guess her age, notices her voice, speculates about her personal situation and even how she might view herself (like how she might feel ashamed about being a prostitute). Holden sees this as a liability—but we see it as him most (only?) redeeming feature.

    "Uh huh. Well, how 'bout it? Y'innarested? Five bucks a throw. Fifteen bucks the whole night." He looked at his wrist watch. "Till noon. Five bucks a throw, fifteen bucks till noon."

    "Okay," I said. It was against my principles and all, but I was feeling so depressed I didn't even think. That's the whole trouble. When you're feeling very depressed, you can't even think.

    […]

    I looked at the red thing with my number on it, on my key. "Twelve twenty-two,"

    I said. I was already sort of sorry I'd let the thing start rolling, but it was too late now. (13.13-19)

    And here we go again. Notice that Holden says "Okay" because he's feeling depressed. We've seen that his isolation makes him feel this way, so it makes sense that he's looking for companionship to make him feel better. Unfortunately, prostitutes aren't so much companions as people to have sex with, and we know for Holden, sex and emotion are sort of at odds. So basically, this is doomed from the start.

    Chapter 17
    Holden Caulfield

    We horsed around a little bit in the cab on the way over to the theater. At first she didn't want to, because she had her lipstick on and all, but I was being seductive as hell and she didn't have any alternative. Twice, when the goddam cab stopped short in traffic, I damn near fell off the seat. Those damn drivers never even look where they're going, I swear they don't. Then, just to show you how crazy I am, when we were coming out of this big clinch, I told her I loved her and all. It was a lie, of course, but the thing is, I meant it when I said it. I'm crazy. I swear to God I am. (17.10)

    Hm. Just a few chapters ago, Holden was saying how sick it made him to listen to Stradlater’s coaxing, and now here he is saying that Sally “didn’t have any alternative” because he was being “seductive as hell.” What’s up with that?

    Chapter 19
    Holden Caulfield

    Old Luce. What a guy. He was supposed to be my Student Adviser when I was at Whooton. The only thing he ever did, though, was give these sex talks and all, late at night when there was a bunch of guys in his room. He knew quite a bit about sex, especially perverts and all. He was always telling us about a lot of creepy guys that go around having affairs with sheep, and guys that go around with girls' pants sewed in the lining of their hats and all. And flits and Lesbians. […] He said it didn't matter if a guy was married or not. He said half the married guys in the world were flits and didn't even know it. He said you could turn into one practically overnight, if you had all the traits and all. He used to scare the hell out of us. I kept waiting to turn into a flit or something. The funny thing about old Luce, I used to think he was sort of flitty himself, in a way. (19.3)

    Men, women, the Discovery Channel—Holden is confused about himself, about sex, nervous about his own abilities, and just an all-around mess. Carl Luce doesn’t help: in Luce’s worldview, sexuality is something that can turn on you at any second. You could literally just wake up gay.

    Chapter 24
    Holden Caulfield

    I didn't know what the hell to talk about while I was waiting for the elevator, and he kept standing there, so I said, "I'm gonna start reading some good books. I really am." I mean you had to say something. It was very embarrassing.

    "You grab your bags and scoot right on back here again. I'll leave the door unlatched."

    "Thanks a lot," I said. "G'by!" The elevator was finally there. I got in and went down. Boy, I was shaking like a madman. I was sweating, too. When something perverty like that happens, I start sweating like a bastard. That kind of stuff's happened to me about twenty times since I was a kid. I can't stand it. (24.98-100)

    Look at how Holden acts even after he feels violated and nervous. He still makes conversation, still tries to somewhat smooth over the conversation. Despite everyone calling him "anti-social" all the time, he's a rather conscientious guy. On the other hand, it could be that he's just super embarrassed and talking to make himself feel better. Take your pick.

    Mr. Antolini

    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.

    "Jane Gallagher. Jesus . . . I couldn't get her off my mind. I really couldn't. "I oughta go down and say hello to her, at least."

    "Why the hell don'tcha, instead of keep saying it?" Stradlater said.

    I walked over to the window, but you couldn't see out of it, it was so steamy from all the heat in the can. "I'm not in the mood right now," I said. I wasn't, either. You have to be in the mood for those things. […] I walked around the can for a little while. I didn't have anything else to do. (4.49-57)

    Holden says he ought to go say hello to Jane, but can't get himself to follow through and actually do it. It’s not just that he’s a coward—he really likes this girl, and that means that he’s somehow unable to think about her in any sexual way.

  • Mortality

    Chapter 5

    I was only thirteen, and they were going to have me psychoanalyzed and all, because I broke all the windows in the garage. I don't blame them. I really don't. I slept in the garage the night he died, and I broke all the goddam windows with my fist, just for the hell of it. I even tried to break all the windows on the station wagon we had that summer, but my hand was already broken and everything by that time, and I couldn't do it. It was a very stupid thing to do, I'll admit, but I hardly didn't even know I was doing it, and you didn't know Allie. My hand still hurts me once in a while when it rains and all, and I can't make a real fist any more – not a tight one, I mean – but outside of that I don't care much. I mean I'm not going to be a goddam surgeon or a violinist or anything anyway. (5.7)

    Notice how they’re going to have Holden psychoanalyzed because he broke the windows in his garage—and not because his little brother just died. His reaction is categorized as anger—not sadness or depression or confusion.

    The thing was, I couldn't think of a room or a house or anything to describe the way Stradlater said he had to have. I'm not too crazy about describing rooms and houses anyway. So what I did, I wrote about my brother Allie's baseball mitt. It was a very descriptive subject. It really was. My brother Allie had this left-handed fielder's mitt. He was left-handed. The thing that was descriptive about it, though, was that he had poems written all over the fingers and the pocket and everywhere. In green ink. He wrote them on it so that he'd have something to read when he was in the field and nobody was up at bat. He's dead now. He got leukemia and died when we were up in Maine, on July 18, 1946. You'd have liked him. He was two years younger than I was, but he was about fifty times as intelligent. He was terrifically intelligent. His teachers were always writing letters to my mother, telling her what a pleasure it was having a boy like Allie in their class. And they weren't just shooting the crap. They really meant it. But it wasn't just that he was the most intelligent member in the family. He was also the nicest, in lots of ways. He never got mad at anybody. […] God, he was a nice kid, though. He used to laugh so hard at something he thought of at the dinner table that he just about fell off his chair. (5.7)

    We’re pretty sure that this all happened before the idea of grief counseling was really a standard thing—so, no wonder Holden uses any and every excuse to talk about Allie.

    Chapter 9
    Holden Caulfield

    I didn't want to start an argument. "Okay," I said. Then I thought of something, all of a sudden. "Hey, listen," I said. "You know those ducks in that lagoon right near Central Park South? That little lake? By any chance, do you happen to know where they go, the ducks, when it gets all frozen over? Do you happen to know, by any chance?" I realized it was only one chance in a million.

    He turned around and looked at me like I was a madman. "What're ya tryna do, bud?" he said. "Kid me?"

    "No—I was just interested, that's all."

    He didn't say anything more, so I didn't either. Until we came out of the park at Ninetieth Street. Then he said, "All right, buddy. Where to?" (9.4-7)

    Holden isn’t just obsessed with his mortality or his brother’s mortality—he’s obsessed with the idea that everything dies. No wonder he can’t make friends.

    Chapter 12
    Holden Caulfield

    "The ducks. Do you know, by any chance? I mean does somebody come around in a truck or something and take them away, or do they fly away by themselves – go south or something?"

    Old Horwitz turned all the way around and looked at me. He was a very impatient-type guy. He wasn't a bad guy, though.

    "How the hell should I know?" he said.

    "How the hell should I know a stupid thing like that?"

    "Well, don't get sore about it," I said. He was sore about it or something.

    "Who's sore? Nobody's sore."

    I stopped having a conversation with him, if he was going to get so damn touchy about it. But he started it up again himself. He turned all the way around again, and said, "The fish don't go no place. They stay right where they are, the fish. Right in the goddam lake."

    […] "Listen," he said. "If you was a fish, Mother Nature'd take care of you, wouldn't she? Right? You don't think them fish just die when it gets to be winter, do ya?"

    "No, but – "

    "You're goddam right they don't," Horwitz said, and drove off like a bat out of hell. He was about the touchiest guy I ever met. Everything you said made him sore. (12.8-28)

    Even when Holden does find someone else willing to discuss his interest in the ducks (and mortality), he classifies the man as "touchy" and paints a picture of him as emotionally unstable. In fact, the cab driver isn't that different from Holden, who experiences some emotional outbreaks of his own.

    I stopped having a conversation with him, if he was going to get so damn touchy about it. But he started it up again himself. He turned all the way around again, and said, "The fish don't go no place. They stay right where they are, the fish. Right in the goddam lake."

    […] "Listen," he said. "If you was a fish, Mother Nature'd take care of you, wouldn't she? Right? You don't think them fish just die when it gets to be winter, do ya?"

    "No, but—"

    "You're goddam right they don't," Horwitz said, and drove off like a bat out of hell. He was about the touchiest guy I ever met. Everything you said made him sore. (12.8-28)

    Even when Holden does find someone else willing to discuss his interest in the ducks (and mortality), he classifies the man as "touchy" and possibly emotionally unstable. Pot, meet kettle: the cab driver isn't all that different from Holden, who experiences some emotional outbreaks of his own.

    Chapter 14

    What I did, I started talking, sort of out loud, to Allie. I do that sometimes when I get very depressed. I keep telling him to go home and get his bike and meet me in front of Bobby Fallon's house. Bobby Fallon used to live quite near us in Maine. […] We thought we could shoot something without BB guns. Anyway, Allie heard us talking about it, and he wanted to go, and I wouldn't let him. I told him he was a child. So once in a while now, when I get very depressed, I keep saying to him, "Okay. Go home and get your bike and meet me in front of Bobby's house. Hurry up." […] I keep thinking about it, anyway, when I get very depressed. (14.1)

    Death: the final frontier. Holden is trying to comfort himself by altering his memory of a past event, but he can’t. Allie’s dead. Does this mean he’ll be more careful about how he treats the people in his life who are still alive?

    But I'm crazy. I swear to God I am. About halfway to the bathroom, I sort of started pretending I had a bullet in my guts. Old 'Maurice had plugged me. Now I was on the way to the bathroom to get a good shot of bourbon or something to steady my nerves and help me really go into action. I pictured myself coming out of the goddam bathroom, dressed and all, with my automatic in my pocket, and staggering around a little bit. Then I'd walk downstairs, instead of using the elevator. I'd hold onto the banister and all, with this blood trickling out of the side of my mouth a little at a time. What I'd do, I'd walk down a few floors—holding onto my guts, blood leaking all over the place—and then I'd ring the elevator bell. As soon as old Maurice opened the doors, he'd see me with the automatic in my hand and he'd start screaming at me, in this very high-pitched, yellow-belly voice, to leave him alone. But I'd plug him anyway. Six shots right through his fat hairy belly. Then I'd throw my automatic down the elevator shaft—after I'd wiped off all the finger prints and all. Then I'd crawl back to my room and call up Jane and have her come over and bandage up my guts. I pictured her holding a cigarette for me to smoke while I was bleeding and all. (14.44)

    Whoa, Holden. These are the kind of fantasies that today would earn Holden a quick trip to the school counselor. But we think we understand: in a world where he feels insignificant, these fantasies make him important, wanted, and loved. Unfortunately, that means Holden to feel the only thing important about himself is his potential death.

    Chapter 18
    Holden Caulfield

    Anyway, I'm sort of glad they've got the atomic bomb invented. If there's ever another war, I'm going to sit right the hell on top of it. I'll volunteer for it, I swear to God I will. (18.7)

    Talk about a death wish. And look—they even named a trope for it!

    Chapter 20

    Then, finally, I found it. What it was, it was partly frozen and partly not frozen. But I didn't see any ducks around. I walked all around the whole damn lake—I damn near fell in once, in fact—but I didn't see a single duck. I thought maybe if there were any around, they might be asleep or something near the edge of the water, near the grass and all. That's how I nearly fell in. But I couldn't find any. (20.40)

    Is Holden worried that the ducks have vanished—or is he just worried that he himself is going to vanish? We think there might be a little transference going on.

    I've lived in New York all my life, and I know Central Park like the back of my hand, because I used to roller-skate there all the time and ride my bike when I was a kid, but I had the most terrific trouble finding that lagoon that night. I knew right where it was – it was right near Central Park South and all – but I still couldn't find it. […] Then, finally, I found it. What it was, it was partly frozen and partly not frozen. But I didn't see any ducks around. I walked all around the whole damn lake – I damn near fell in once, in fact – but I didn't see a single duck. I thought maybe if there were any around, they might be asleep or something near the edge of the water, near the grass and all. That's how I nearly fell in. But I couldn't find any. (20.40)

    Holden is worried that the ducks have vanished – much like his concern, as we see later, that he himself will disappear.

    Then I thought about the whole bunch of them sticking me in a goddam cemetery and all, with my name on this tombstone and all. Surrounded by dead guys. Boy, when you're dead, they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you're dead? Nobody. (20.41)

    To Holden, can't be smoothed over with a lovely ceremony and a bunch of flowers. Flowers might smell nice, but the dead are still dead—and they’re sure not worrying about flowers.

    When the weather's nice, my parents go out quite frequently and stick a bunch of flowers on old Allie's grave (20.42)

    Holden doesn’t actually make the point, but he doesn’t have to: his parents only care about Allie as long as it doesn’t inconvenience them. Visiting the grave when it’s raining? No way.

    Finally I sat down on this bench, where it wasn't so goddam dark. Boy, I was still shivering like a bastard, and the back of my hair, even though I had my hunting hat on, was sort of full of little hunks of ice. That worried me. I thought probably I'd get pneumonia and die. I started picturing millions of jerks coming to my funeral and all. My grandfather from Detroit, that keeps calling out the numbers of the streets when you ride on a goddam bus with him, and my aunts – I have about fifty aunts – and all my lousy cousins. What a mob'd be there. They all came when Allie died, the whole goddam stupid bunch of them. I have this one stupid aunt with halitosis that kept saying how peaceful he looked lying there, D.B. told me. I wasn't there. I was still in the hospital. I had to go to the hospital and all after I hurt my hand. (20.42)

    Holden’s fantasy quickly turns away from the typical "You'd be sorry if I died" self-centered thought to think about Allie. No matter how many times a person says it is peaceful, death is anything but peaceful—or it shouldn’t be. Compare the aunt's use of this word (peaceful) to Holden's confinement to a hospital bed after his own violent reaction to Allie's death.

    Chapter 22

    There was this one boy at Elkton Hills, named James Castle, that wouldn't take back something he said about this very conceited boy, Phil Stabile. […] Stabile, with about six other dirty bastards, went down to James Castle's room and went in and locked the goddam door and tried to make him take back what he said, but he wouldn't do it. I won't even tell you what they did to him – it's too repulsive. […] Finally, what he did, instead of taking back what he said, he jumped out the window. I was in the shower and all, and even I could hear him land outside. […] There was old James Castle laying right on the stone steps and all. He was dead, and his teeth, and blood, were all over the place. […] He had on this turtleneck sweater I'd lent him. (22.30)

    Ouch. Talk about dying for an ignoble cause. Our question: is there a suggestion that Holden understands this attitude—that rather than give in and take back something he knows is true, the kid would kill himself? Isn’t this kind of what Holden is doing—refusing to live peacefully in a phony world?

    Holden Caulfield

    "You don't like a million things. You don't.

    […] Name one thing."

    […]

    "I like Allie."

    "Allie's dead – You always say that! If somebody's dead and everything, and in Heaven, then it isn't really–"

    "I know he's dead! Don't you think I know that? I can still like him, though, can't I? Just because somebody's dead, you don't just stop liking them, for God's sake – especially if they were about a thousand times nicer than the people you know that're alive and all." (22.22-38)

    Again, we see that Holden glorifies his dead brother. We don't doubt that Allie was a great person, but Holden, in his dissatisfaction with the existing world, can idealize his brother, instill in him all the values he feels are missing from reality. This, of course, only drives him further into isolation and anger at the people around him.

    Chapter 25

    Finally, what I decided I'd do, I decided I'd go away. I decided I'd never go home again and I'd never go away to another school again. […] I thought what I'd do was, I'd pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes. That way I wouldn't have to have any goddam stupid useless conversations with anybody. […] Everybody'd think I was just a poor deaf-mute bastard and they'd leave me alone. […] I'd meet this beautiful girl that was also a deaf-mute and we'd get married. She'd come and live in my cabin with me, and if she wanted to say anything to me, she'd have to write it on a goddam piece of paper, like everybody else. If we had any children, we'd hide them somewhere. We could buy them a lot of books and teach them how to read and write by ourselves. (25.8)

    After his encounter with Mr. Antolini, Holden imagines a kind of symbolic death: as a deaf-mute, he wouldn’t have to speak or listen to anybody—to interact with the world at all. But even this fantasy involves meeting another deaf-mute, because he just can’t stand to be alone. (There’s probably a dating website for exactly these kinds of pairings.)

    Anyway, I kept walking and walking up Fifth Avenue, without any tie on or anything. Then all of a sudden, something very spooky started happening. Every time I came to the end of a block and stepped off the goddam curb, I had this feeling that I'd never get to the other side of the street. I thought I'd just go down, down, down, and nobody'd ever see me again. Boy, did it scare me. You can't imagine. I started sweating like a bastard – my whole shirt and underwear and everything. Then I started doing something else. Every time I'd get to the end of a block I'd make believe I was talking to my brother Allie. I'd say to him, "Allie, don't let me disappear. Allie, don't let me disappear. Allie, don't let me disappear. Please, Allie." And then when I'd reach the other side of the street without disappearing, I'd thank him. Then it would start all over again as soon as I got to the next corner. But I kept going and all. I was sort of afraid to stop, I think – I don't remember, to tell you the truth. I know I didn't stop till I was way up in the Sixties, past the zoo and all. Then I sat down on this bench. I could hardly get my breath, and I was still sweating like a bastard. I sat there, I guess, for about an hour. (25.8)

    What would it mean for Holden to disappear? Notice that he doesn't ask not to get hit by a car, not to fall down a pothole, not to get struck by lightning; he asks not to disappear. It seems as though he's talking about dying here, but isn't able to use that label. Part of this may have to do with Holden not fully understanding how to deal with death – the death of his brother and his own mortality. Instead of facing the very real nature of death, he makes it supernatural and calls it "disappearing" instead of "dying."

    Finally we found the place where the mummies were, and we went in.

    "You know how the Egyptians buried their dead?" I asked the one kid. "Naa."

    "Well, you should. It's very interesting. They wrapped their faces up in these cloths that were treated with some secret chemical. That way they could be buried in their tombs for thousands of years and their faces wouldn't rot or anything. Nobody knows how to do it except the Egyptians. Even modern science." (25.32-35)

    Here’s something weird: The mummies don't worry Holden the way the ducks do, even though they’re dead. The mummies are preserved. This makes us think that Holden is more upset that Allie appears to have “disappeared” than he’s dead per se.

  • Innocence

    Chapter 7

    Most guys at Pencey just talked about having sexual intercourse with girls all the time – like Ackley, for instance – but old Stradlater really did it. I was personally acquainted with at least two girls he gave the time to. That's the truth. (7.32)

    The truth? To us, this sounds a little like a “friend of a friend” story—as though Holden really wants to believe that everyone around him is totally depraved.

    Chapter 13
    Sunny

    She came in and took her coat off right away and sort of chucked it on the bed. She had on a green dress underneath. Then she sort of sat down sideways on the chair that went with the desk in the room and started jiggling her foot up and down. She crossed her legs and started jiggling this one foot up and down. She was very nervous, for a prostitute. She really was. I think it was because she was young as hell. She was around my age. I sat down in the big chair, next to her, and offered her a cigarette.

    "I don't smoke," she said.

    She had a tiny little wheeny-whiny voice. You could hardly hear her. She never said thank you, either, when you offered her something. She just didn't know any better.

    "Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Jim Steele," I said.

    "Ya got a watch on ya?" she said. She didn't care what the hell my name was, naturally.

    "Hey, how old are you, anyways?"

    "Me? Twenty-two."

    "Like fun you are."

    It was a funny thing to say. It sounded like a real kid. You'd think a prostitute and all would say "Like hell you are" or "Cut the crap" instead of "Like fun you are." (13.30-35)

    Holden recognizes the lingering (and ironic) innocence in Sunny. Though she's a prostitute, she still avoids vulgarities.

    Chapter 16

    Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone. I know that's impossible, but it's too bad anyway. (16.25)

    The question here is, which things should stay the way they are? Dioramas at the museum? Sure, as long as we don’t learn new information that makes them outdated. Kids? Well, it starts to get a little creepy when you decide to put them in glass cases, is all we’re saying. A little Snow-White-and-the-Seven-Dwarves.

    The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody'd move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole […]. Nobody'd be different. The only thing that would be different would be you. Not that you'd be so much older or anything. It wouldn't be that exactly. You'd just be different, that's all. You'd have an overcoat on this time. Or that kid that was your partner in line last time had got scarlet fever and you'd have a new partner. Or you'd have a substitute taking the class, instead of Miss Aigletinger. Or you'd heard your mother and father having a terrific fight in the bathroom. Or you'd just passed by one of those puddles in the street with gasoline rainbows in them. I mean you'd be different in some way – I can't explain what I mean. And even if I could, I'm not sure I'd feel like it. (16.24)

    Holden likes the Natural History museum because, no matter what else changed in his life, it was always the same: it was like a little freeze-frame picture of his own childhood, a safe spot he could always come back to.

    Or, as Matthew McConaughey says in Dazed and Confused: the great thing about high school girls is that you get older, and they just stay the same age.

    Chapter 17

    I said no, there wouldn't be marvelous places to go to after I went to college and all. Open your ears. It'd be entirely different. We'd have to go downstairs in elevators with suitcases and stuff. We'd have to phone up everybody and tell 'em good-by and send 'em postcards from hotels and all. And I'd be working in some office, making a lot of dough, and riding to work in cabs and Madison Avenue buses, and reading newspapers, and playing bridge all the time, and going to the movies and seeing a lot of stupid shorts and coming attractions and newsreels. Newsreels. Christ almighty. There's always a dumb horse race, and some dame breaking a bottle over a ship, and some chimpanzee riding a goddam bicycle with pants on. It wouldn't be the same at all. You don't see what I mean at all. (17.60)

    It’s not exactly that Holden’s afraid of getting older; it more that he finds adult like repulsive. He wants to escape the system before he ends up just another "phony" concerned with money and parties and social formalities. (Although, only a rich kid could sneer at “making a lot of dough.” Just saying.)

    Chapter 22
    Holden Caulfield

    "You know that song 'If a body catch a body comin' through the rye'? I'd like – "

    "It's 'If a body meet a body coming through the rye'!" old Phoebe said. "It's a poem. By Robert Burns."

    "I know it's a poem by Robert Burns."

    She was right, though. It is "If a body meet a body coming through the rye." I didn't know it then, though.

    "I thought it was 'If a body catch a body,'" I said. "Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be. I know it's crazy." (22.51-55)

    Even more nobly, Holden doesn't just want to "save guys' lives," he wants to save kids' lives. As we discuss in lengthy detail in "What's Up With the Title?" the irony is that this song is actually about sex—and casual sex, at that. What Holden is attempting, then, is made futile.

    Chapter 24

    I didn't know what the hell to talk about while I was waiting for the elevator, and he kept standing there, so I said, "I'm gonna start reading some good books. I really am." I mean you had to say something. It was very embarrassing.

    "You grab your bags and scoot right on back here again. I'll leave the door unlatched."

    "Thanks a lot," I said. "G'by!" The elevator was finally there. I got in and went down. Boy, I was shaking like a madman. I was sweating, too. When something perverty like that happens, I start sweating like a bastard. That kind of stuff's happened to me about twenty times since I was a kid. I can't stand it. (24.98-100)

    As you have probably come to expect by now, there are few different ways to interpret this passage. If Holden has in fact been subject to such come-ons, we can sort of see why he wants to protect children's innocence so badly. If he hasn't (and therefore has read too much into instance after instance), then that is a hint that something isn't quite right with him.

    Chapter 25

    That's the whole trouble. You can't ever find a place that's nice and peaceful, because there isn't any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you're not looking, somebody'll sneak up and write "Fuck you" right under your nose. I think, even, if I ever die, and they stick me in a cemetery, and I have a tombstone and all, it'll say "Holden Caulfield" on it, and then what year I was born and what year I died, and then right under that it'll say "Fuck you." I'm positive, in fact. (25.39)

    Check out how this passage connects two of Holden's major obsessions: mortality and the "filth" of the world (which many would categorize under "loss of innocence"). This reminds us that, in a way, growing up—getting exposed to "filth" and various "fuck you"s—is a sort of death in itself: a death of innocence. We just suspect that it happens a lot earlier than Holden thinks.

    I went down by a different staircase, and I saw another "Fuck you" on the wall. I tried to rub it off with my hand again, but this one was scratched on, with a knife or something. It wouldn't come off. It's hopeless, anyway. If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn't rub out even half the "Fuck you" signs in the world. It's impossible. (25.18)

    It’s impossible to erase all the filth (and phoniness), so you either have to learn to live with the fact that the world simply isn’t innocent, or… not. And “not” involves some really unpleasant options, like having a mental breakdown or committing suicide.

    Holden Caulfield

    But while I was sitting down, I saw something that drove me crazy. Somebody'd written "Fuck you" on the wall. It drove me damn near crazy. I thought how Phoebe and all the other little kids would see it, and how they'd wonder what the hell it meant, and then finally some dirty kid would tell them – all cockeyed, naturally – what it meant, and how they'd all think about it and maybe even worry about it for a couple of days. I kept wanting to kill whoever'd written it. I figured it was some perverty bum that'd sneaked in the school late at night to take a leak or something and then wrote it on the wall. I kept picturing myself catching him at it, and how I'd smash his head on the stone steps till he was good and goddam dead and bloody. But I knew, too, I wouldn't have the guts to do it. I knew that. That made me even more depressed. (25.16)

    Ouch. Holden, baby, sorry to break it to you—but it was almost certainly one of the kids who wrote that. At least, judging by our elementary school, it was.

    Holden Caulfield

    Lawyers are all right, I guess – but it doesn't appeal to me," I said. "I mean they're all right if they go around saving innocent guys' lives all the time, and like that, but you don't do that kind of stuff if you're a lawyer. All you do is make a lot of dough and play golf and play bridge and buy cars and drink Martinis and look like a hot-shot. And besides. Even if you did go around saving guys' lives and all, how would you know if you did it because you really wanted to save guys' lives, or because you did it because what you really wanted to do was be a terrific lawyer, with everybody slapping you on the back and congratulating you in court when the goddam trial was over, the reporters and everybody, the way it is in the dirty movies? How would you know you weren't being a phony? The trouble is, you wouldn't. (20.46)

    Oh, yeah, all the lawyers who go around saving innocent guys’ lives all the time—as though there really are that many innocent guys to save, even if they wanted it. Thinking that there are enough innocent people to save is just part of Holden’s own innocence.

    "Hey, how old are you, anyways?"

    "Me? Twenty-two."

    "Like fun you are."

    It was a funny thing to say. It sounded like a real kid. You'd think a prostitute and all would say "Like hell you are" or "Cut the crap" instead of "Like fun you are." (13.30-35)

    Aw, how cute: a prostitute who won’t say “hell” or “crap.” Holden still sees a lingering innocence in her—which means, obviously, that he can’t have sex with her. (But he can refuse to pay her jacked-up price and get socked in the stomach for his chivalry.)

    "I thought it was 'If a body catch a body,'" I said. "Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around—nobody big, I mean—except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff—I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be. I know it's crazy." (22.51-55)

    Irony alert: the song Holden is talking about is about casual sex, not saving kids’ lives. See “What’s Up with the Title?” for some more thoughts on this.

  • Other

    Chapter 20
    Holden Caulfield

    Anyway, I kept walking and walking up Fifth Avenue, without any tie on or anything. Then all of a sudden, something very spooky started happening. Every time I came to the end of a block and stepped off the goddam curb, I had this feeling that I'd never get to the other side of the street. I thought I'd just go down, down, down, and nobody'd ever see me again. Boy, did it scare me. You can't imagine. I started sweating like a bastard—my whole shirt and underwear and everything. Then I started doing something else. Every time I'd get to the end of a block I'd make believe I was talking to my brother Allie. I'd say to him, "Allie, don't let me disappear. Allie, don't let me disappear. Allie, don't let me disappear. Please, Allie." And then when I'd reach the other side of the street without disappearing, I'd thank him. Then it would start all over again as soon as I got to the next corner. But I kept going and all. I was sort of afraid to stop, I think—I don't remember, to tell you the truth. I know I didn't stop till I was way up in the Sixties, past the zoo and all. Then I sat down on this bench. I could hardly get my breath, and I was still sweating like a bastard. I sat there, I guess, for about an hour. (25.8)

    Holden doesn't ask not to get hit by a car, not to fall down a pothole, not to get struck by lightning; he asks not to disappear. It seems as though he's talking about dying here, but isn't able to use that label. Part of this may have to do with Holden not fully understanding how to deal with death—the death of his brother and his own mortality. Instead of facing the very real nature of death, he makes it supernatural and calls it "disappearing" instead of "dying."