The Catcher in the Rye

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Mr. Antolini Character Analysis

Holden's former English teacher, now an instructor at New York University. Mr. Antolini is one of the few adults Holden respects, and one of the few who is willing to both engage with Holden and yet also not to let Holden get away with any of his tricks. He warns Holden that Holden is headed for a "terrible fall."

Mr. Antolini Quotes in The Catcher in the Rye

The The Catcher in the Rye quotes below are all either spoken by Mr. Antolini or refer to Mr. Antolini. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Phoniness Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Little, Brown edition of The Catcher in the Rye published in 2001.
Chapter 24 Quotes
This fall I think you're riding for — it's a special kind of fall, a horrible kind. The man falling isn't permitted to feel or hear himself hit bottom. He just keeps falling and falling. The whole arrangement's designed for men who, at some time or other in their lives, were looking for something their own environment couldn't supply them with. Or they thought their own environment couldn't supply them with. So they gave up looking.
Related Characters: Mr. Antolini (speaker), Holden Caulfield
Page Number: 243
Explanation and Analysis:

Holden visits his old English teacher, Mr. Antolini, who offers this compelling advice on his future. Mr. Antolini claims that Holden is following a well-trod narrative in which he expects too much from the world and will thus end up inevitably disappointed.

Mr. Antolini’s story, here, is more compelling for Holden than the comments he has received from other adults—for instead of offering stock phrases, Mr. Antolini closely examines Holden’s position and gives a specific diagnosis of his problem: “a special kind of fall.” Holden’s fall, he contends, is notable because it is infinite. Whereas a normal fall, say a specific negative experience, has a painful endpoint and impact of pain, Holden’s fall is permanent because it stems from the mental state he applies to every experience.

This mental state is the result of “looking for something their own environment couldn’t supply them with”—that is to say setting unreasonably high expectations for people and for experiences that consistently disappoint. Alternatively, it may be the result of presuming this fact to be the case, as if the environment may indeed be able to provide the wished-for experience. In either case, these permanently-falling men nihilistically abandon the entire quest for happiness and meaning because of the mismatch between expectation and reality. Salinger thus universalizes Holden’s experience and contends that one must continue to find meaning in the world even if it does not satisfy all of one’s desires.

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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... 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.
Related Characters: Mr. Antolini (speaker), Holden Caulfield
Page Number: 246
Explanation and Analysis:

Mr. Antolini continues to offer Holden advice on his "outsider" mindset. He notes that the experience has been had by many before and that Holden can take solace in their written reflections.

By fitting Holden’s life into a common narrative, Mr. Antolini both validates Holden's frustrations and shows how they are not as unique as he might consider them to be. He thus negates any claim Holden may have to exceptionalism, for he is “not the first person” to have gone through this story. By placing the terms “confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior” in a single sentence, Mr. Antolini implies that Holden’s critical mindset of being “sickened” may, in fact, be the result of the first two qualities: His perceptions are not so much objective interpretations of humanity as they are the results of his own sense of being lost. Adding “many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually,” Mr. Antolini reiterates that even the most abstract worries of Holden are nothing novel.

Though this response might seem to deny the meaning of Holden’s mindset, Mr. Antolini actually interprets this commonality as a sign of hope. Saying, “some of them kept records of their troubles,” he speaks to the wide canon of memoir and fiction that discuss one’s anxiety about and alienation from society. (Indeed, this is one of the more prevalent motivators and subjects of art!) Since others have been moved to engage with these issues, Holden can “learn from them” and thus find solace and advice on how to confront these anxieties. Salinger offers a subtle wink at the reader, here, for this novel is itself one of those “records.” He implies that it may serve a similar source of learning for readers experiencing their own moral and social troubles—and indeed, Catcher in the Rye has become a classic precisely because of this.

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Mr. Antolini Character Timeline in The Catcher in the Rye

The timeline below shows where the character Mr. Antolini appears in The Catcher in the Rye. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 22
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Holden thinks about calling up Mr. Antolini , his former English teacher at Elkton Hills. (full context)
Chapter 23
Phoniness Theme Icon
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
Holden calls Mr. Antolini . Upset that Holden has been expelled from another school, Mr. Antolini invites Holden to... (full context)
Chapter 24
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Mr. Antolini has just had a party, and his apartment is full of glasses and dishes. Yet... (full context)
Phoniness Theme Icon
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Mr. Antolini questions Holden about his expulsion from Pencey and tells Holden that his father is very... (full context)
Phoniness Theme Icon
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
After Mrs. Antolini brings coffee and heads to bed, Mr. Antolini says he's worried that Holden is heading for a "terrible fall" that will result in... (full context)
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Holden does his best to listen, but eventually his tiredness makes him yawn. Mr. Antolini makes his bed, and Holden falls asleep. (full context)
Phoniness Theme Icon
Women and Sex Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
Suddenly Holden wakes. He feels Mr. Antolini 's hand brushing his forehead. Mr. Antolini says he was just "admiring" Holden, but Holden... (full context)
Chapter 25
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
...bench. He says he never felt more depressed than at this moment. He thinks about Mr. Antolini and wonders if he possibly misunderstood his intentions. (full context)