The Catcher in the Rye

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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 2 Quotes
"Life is a game, boy. Life is a game that one plays according to the rules."
"Yes, sir. I know it is. I know it."
Game, my ass. Some game. If you get on the side where all the hot-shots are, then it's a game, all right—I'll admit that. But if you get on the other side, where there aren't any hot-shots, then what's a game about it? Nothing. No game.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker)
Page Number: 12-13
Explanation and Analysis:

When Mr. Spencer advises Holden to see his life as a game, Holden pretends to affirm the sentiment. But in reality, he believes this worldview is only helpful to those who already hold positions of relative advantage.

The disconnect between Holden’s external speech and his interior monologue marks his distance from adult society. His spoken language is polite and submissive, using the term “sir” and repeating with subservience “I know it is. I know it,” as if he does not have any additional independent thoughts. Yet when the text moves into his mind, we see a very different tone: one that immediately swears—“my ass”—and then goes on to invalidate his previous comment.

Holden’s specific contention with Mr. Spencer’s point is worth considering: he finds the thoughts of empowered adults irrelevant because their advice only applies to those within parallel positions of power—the ones “on the side where all the hot-shots are.” That is to say, the metaphor of the "game" implies a mindset that presumes one can actually dictate the rules. Holden does not simply say that he is disadvantaged in the game, however, but rather denies the entire metaphorical system. With the use of interior monologue, he rejects the worldview hoisted on him by others and sets the stakes of his own game.

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Chapter 3 Quotes
[Ackley] took another look at my hat while he was cleaning them. "Up home we wear a hat like that to shoot deer in, for Chrissake," he said. "That's a deer shooting hat."
"Like hell it is." I took it off and looked at it. I sort of closed one eye, like I was taking aim at it. "This is a people shooting hat," I said. "I shoot people in this hat."
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker), Robert Ackley (speaker)
Related Symbols: Holden's Red Hunting Hat
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

As Holden sits in his room reading, his neighbor Ackley arrives and teases him for wearing the hunting hat. In response, Holden adopts an aggressive and morbid personality.

Holden’s red hat plays an important symbolic role throughout the text—as an image of both independence and of ridicule. Here, it is primarily the second, for Ackley claims Holden is out of place for wearing a hunting hat in the dorm room. This disconnect stresses how Holden refuses to conform to the structured setting of his school: his clothing belongs in a freer, more rural setting. When anti-conformism makes him an object of derision for Ackley, Holden becomes oddly morbid: that the hat becomes “a people shooting hat” might be a mere jest, but when Holden reiterates, “I shoot people in this hat” the tone grows more serious. Lighthearted as the scene might appear, it also carries a dark humor that Holden would be willing to harm other humans—treating them as flippantly as he would a deer. The hat thus symbolizes Holden’s misanthropic status both due to its physical appearance and to the way he turns it into a sardonic threat.

Chapter 5 Quotes
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.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker), Allie Caulfield
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

Holden decides to write the essay for Stradlater about his own brother Allie. He begins the description with this endearing comment on how Allie covered his baseball mitt in poetry.

Salinger presents this passage as an interior, self-correcting monologue inside Holden’s head: After he makes the first comment on the “left-handed fielder’s mitt,” Holden is careful to clarify that this was a pragmatic necessity for his brother because “He was left-handed.” Similarly, he goes on to specify that the left-handedness is not the pertinent feature of the mitt: What is “descriptive”—as the essay is reportedly supposed to be—is how it is covered with poetry. Adding the detail “In green ink” then reinforces the sense that the text is Holden’s process of thinking-through the essay he will write. It is as if he imagines an audience in his head receiving the monologue being transcribed by Salinger.

Beyond making use of unusual stylistic elements, this passage marks the first more humanizing presentation of Holden’s character. Whereas before he has seemed entirely misanthropic, here he shows earnest interest in Allie, and an idealization of his lost younger brother. Thus Holden does not seem to be merely distant from his family, but rather remains at least partially connected to them through this memory. Furthermore, his interest in the “poems” on Allie’s mitt reveals Holden’s attraction to certain forms of art. He does not, in fact, find everything to be phony.

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... 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.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker), Allie Caulfield
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

Holden describes his aggressive reaction to Allie’s death. He notes that his behavior was irrational, but also defends himself based on the unique connection he had with Allie.

This interplay of reason and unreason is mediated by Holden’s parents’ response to his actions. That they wanted to have him “psychoanalyzed” after his aggressive behavior would strike the reader as entirely rational given their position—and Holden affirms this sympathetic interpretation when he says “I don’t blame them. I really don’t.” He then offers evidence of how this choice would be reasonable by reiterating how ludicrous his behaviors would have seemed. In particular that he acts “just for the hell of it…” highlights his own awareness of the lack of rational motivation.

A turn comes, however, when Holden says “I hardly didn’t even know I was doing it,” indicating that he should be absolved from the guilt of the mania because he was not conscious of his actions. The next defense “you didn’t know Allie” is of a rather different nature, for it relies not just on ignorance but implies that the aggressive response was actually reasonable considering the importance of his brother. Beyond continuing to humanize Holden—and implying that his current psychic issues are the result of a lost brother—this passage showcases Holden’s fraught relationship to his own conduct. Salinger illustrates how one may defend rash actions even as they accept how others would see them as inappropriate.

Chapter 7 Quotes
When I was all set to go, when I had my bags and all, I stood for a while next to the stairs and took a last look down the goddam corridor. I was sort of crying. I don't know why. I put my red hunting hat on, and turned the peak around to the back, the way I liked it, and then I yelled at the top of my goddam voice, "Sleep tight, ya morons!" I'll bet I woke up every bastard on the whole floor. Then I got the hell out.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker)
Related Symbols: Holden's Red Hunting Hat
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

Holden decides to depart Pencey and leave for New York City. As he leaves, he experiences a round of intense emotions, followed by an aggressive renunciation of all those who remain.

Salinger makes this passage a parody of departure narratives: The packing of bags, the moment of reflection, and the crying are all aspects of classic departures. Yet when Holden does not know why he is crying, he subtly denies that his emotional responses are due to this normal emotional arc. Perhaps he does feel some sadness at leaving a comfortable environment, but the emotion seems to stem more from his disillusionment and frustration with this supposedly phony society.

Holden more assertively renounces that society through his use of the red hunting hat: He wears it as a form of self-affirmation, as an indication that he is hunting humans, and as a reminder that he can behave “the way I liked.” That renunciation of normal social codes comes to a climax when he yells into the hallway—parodying the farewell phrase of “sleep tight” by actually rudely awakening everyone. In this moment, Holden shows himself not just to be mentally distant from and critical of those around him, but also willing to openly renounce and mock those he deems phony.

Chapter 9 Quotes
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?
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Ducks in the Lagoon in Central Park
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

Holden asks his cab driver about the Central Park ducks. Though the question is earnest, the driver does not take him seriously.

On the surface, Holden’s question seems ridiculous, or even sarcastic, thus showing that his occasional earnest statements are rebuffed by a society that expects social acts to be relatively artificial. Here, we get a sense of why Holden sees others as phony—for they demand such a practiced and coded type of social interaction that they do not have direct and meaningful conversations. The inability of a cab driver to answer this straightforward question speaks to such a disconnect.

More specifically, the ducks are a symbol for a helpless animal that has been abandoned in the middle of winter. That Holden wonders about their winter lodgings demonstrates his attention to beings that have been abandoned—and implies that he he has a similar worry for himself. In a sense, Holden is just like the ducks: uncertain of where to go now that he has entered a harsh adult world.

Chapter 10 Quotes
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.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker), Bernice Krebs
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:

While at the Lavender Room, Holden begins to dance with Bernice Krebs. He momentarily abandons his critical mindset to give this praising description of women.

Holden’s statements are a complicated combination of abhorrent sexism and refreshing earnestness. On one hand, it is relieving to see him say with relish “you never know where the hell you are”—for this sense of reckless abandon seems a hard-fought battle from Holden’s tendency to judge everything as “phony.” Indeed, becoming “knocked out" or “crazy” might be taken as an accomplishment for Holden, perhaps even as a sign of maturity considering it marks an interest in women.

The passage, however, also forefronts the way Holden objectifies women. He treats females as a general “they” group, and belittles their intelligence with the reference to “they’re sort of stupid.” In this sense, Holden’s behavior further incriminates him in the eyes of the reader. Thus the passage, as is characteristic of Salinger, makes the protagonist simultaneously more human and less sympathetic.

Chapter 13 Quotes
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.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker)
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

Holden accepts an offer from the elevator operator Maurice to be sent a prostitute. As a result, he reveals his anxiety over being a virgin and recounts his botched attempts to have intercourse.

The novel’s tone shifts markedly here into a confessional. There is an implied listener in the phrasing “If you want to know”—as if Holden sees himself speaking earnestly to a judgmental audience. The following lines are similarly defensive and self-critical: he affirms that this is not due to a lack of interest from women, for he has had “quite a few opportunities.” Rather it seems to stem from some personal fear or insufficiency—yet Holden is unable to articulate just what this is. Though he can remember “one time in particular,” he cannot or chooses not to recall it with any specificity. The reader is left only with the paltry information “something went wrong.”

As is characteristic of Salinger’s writing, this passage causes the reader to empathize more with Holden, even as he also seems less likable. His hiring of a prostitute marks a lack of moral compass, but this saddened reflection on virginity shows him at his most vulnerable. Salinger implies that Holden’s earlier brazen behavior is just a front for personal insecurity about his ability to sexual perform—and his resulting relative lack of experience.

The trouble was, I just didn't want to do it. I felt more depressed than sexy, if you want to know the truth. She was depressing. Her green dress hanging in the closet and all. And besides, I don't think I could ever do it with somebody that sits in a stupid movie all day long. I really don't think I could.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker), Sunny
Page Number: 123
Explanation and Analysis:

When the prostitute Sunny comes to Holden’s room, his fear develops into depression and paralysis. Holden declines to have sex and explains, here, that the refusal comes from how sad he found the scene.

The moment clarifies the occasions Holden referred to earlier when he could have lost his virginity. It shows that in such instances, he becomes distraught by the depressing circumstances of the interaction. Sexual interest alone is insufficient to make him pursue sex, and Holden thus seems to want to search for something meaningful. One should note, however, that Holden’s response is not based on any kind of ethical principle. (He would likely find such moralizing to be “phony.”) Rather it is based on an immediate emotional response—as well as on the appearance of the scene in which he finds himself. Holden, above all, is disheartened by the physical detail of the “green dress,” and his reference to the “stupid movie” indicates that he is filtering his experience through a cinematic lens. That is to say, Holden seems to be watching the movie of his life, as well as the movie of Sunny’s life, play out—and he becomes “depressed” when he understands the nature of this hypothetical film.

The reference to the movies also implies that Holden's earlier criticism of "phony" movies and the people who enjoy them extends even to his instincts. This also suggests that Holden truly does want something meaningful from sex, since he feels he couldn't do it with just anyone, particularly someone he doesn't respect.

Chapter 14 Quotes
It took me quite a while to get to sleep—I wasn't even tired—but finally I did. What I really felt like, though, was committing suicide. I felt like jumping out the window. I probably would've done it, too, if I'd been sure somebody'd cover me up as soon as I landed. I didn't want a bunch of stupid rubbernecks looking at me when I was all gory.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker)
Page Number: 136
Explanation and Analysis:

After Sunny takes his money and Maurice punches him in the stomach, Holden tries to fall asleep. He considers suicide, but decides against it because of an imagined social response.

This passage shows Holden at the depths of his despair. Whereas his earlier comments have certainly conveyed depression and angst, contemplating suicide marks a significant shift toward the worse. He does not even try to hide the fact, explicitly using the term “committing suicide” and only then using the more euphemistic phrase “jumping out the window.” As with the prostitute, what stops Holden from acting is not an ethical belief—nor a rational consideration—but rather an issue with the cinematic quality of what would take place. Here, what he finds depressing is the way others would look at him “all gory.” This image reiterates the way Holden tends to see his life as a movie playing out before him, in which his actions are made largely based on whether he would be pleased or disheartened by the quality of the movie. Suicide is only ruled out because the resulting scene for the “stupid rubbernecks” would not fit with his aesthetic wishes.

Chapter 16 Quotes
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 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, with their pretty antlers and their pretty, skinny legs, and that squaw with the naked bosom would still be weaving that same blanket. Nobody'd be different. The only thing that would be different would be you.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Museum of Natural History
Page Number: 157-158
Explanation and Analysis:

As he considers visiting the Museum of Natural History, Holden contemplates the value of the permanent exhibits. He is comforted that they stay the same in the face of his own ever-shifting personality and experiences.

This passage brings up the question of aging and adolescence within the novel: the reader must wonder why Holden would find it meaningful that “everything always stayed right where it was.” His references to “Nobody” in “Nobody’d move” and “Nobody’d be different” indicate that Holden identifies actual people in his life with the inanimate exhibits before him. (Otherwise he would say “Nothing” instead of “Nobody.”) Thus the Museum of Natural History becomes a site of permanence and consistency, both things that Holden values and would likely juxtapose with the ever-changing adult society he has repeatedly deemed “phony.”

In addition to representing stability, the museum also serves as a way for Holden to visualize his own identity formation. In saying “The only thing that would be different would be you,” Holden implies that he values understanding the specificities of this difference. That is to say, a museum becomes a useful thought experiment in assessing one’s maturation and development. Salinger thus shows Holden to have, despite his tendency for rashness, a desire for both stability and introspection.

I got up close so I could hear what he was singing. He was singing that song, "If a body catch a body coming through the rye." He had a pretty little voice, too. He was just singing for the hell of it, you could tell. The cars zoomed by, brakes screeched all over the place, his parents paid no attention to him, and he kept on walking next to the curb and singing "If a body catch a body coming through the rye." It made me feel better. It made me feel not so depressed any more.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Catcher in the Rye
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:

As Holden walks by a church, he hears a boy singing the tune from which the novel’s title will be taken. He finds in this moment a source of endearing and heartening purity that contrasts with his otherwise disheartening existence.

When Holden refers to the tune as “that song,” he shows himself to be already familiar with it—indicating that it has a nostalgic effect. Though the meaning of the song’s image is not yet clear, we can already see in the image of “catch a body” that it describes one “body” supporting another. “Through the rye” summons a rural environment that opposes the harsh city, while the hypothetical “If” gives the tune a dreamy quality. It seems to exist in an idyllic alternative universe, one that brings Holden a sense of real peace.

What Holden finds particularly moving, however, is less the content of the song than the way in which the boy sings it. Specifically, he does so “for the hell of it”: entirely for himself and with no regard to the indifference of “cars,” “brakes,” or even “his parents.” The boy, then, would epitomize the kind of earnest poetics that Holden identifies with Allie—and also opposes the phony adult society that acts solely based on social recognition. It is no coincidence that Holden has this spiritual moment near a church, for the catcher symbol will act like a psalm or incantation for the lost Holden.

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.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker)
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:

Holden asks a girl about Phoebe and, as they part ways, he gives this odd, nostalgic reflection on childhood. He adopts an adult perspective again, observing the actions of kids as pure and admirable.

Earlier, Holden’s critical eye has been primarily oriented toward adult society. By presenting himself as an outsider toward more mature social interactions, Holden maintained his status as an adolescent and marked himself as relatively young. Yet here he adopts the perspective of an adult who gazes from a distance on the behaviors of the young. His repeated invocation of “kid,” particularly in the generalized plural “kids” implies that Holden considers himself outside of this group. Indeed, his ability to make general statements on how “most kids are” implies that he has gathered enough data on their behaviors to make an objective and universal statement.

Holden’s reflection speaks to the earnestness he finds valuable in childhood. When the girl says “she had to meet her friend,” she adopts adult language, which Holden finds quite comical: “That kills me.” Whereas he might find the same behavior artificial were it to come from a peer or an adult, Holden finds it to be entirely genuine coming from the girl. Salinger demonstrates Holden’s soft spot for younger children when he takes on this adult perspective—and clarifies that Holden may be trying to hold onto his own adolescence to preserve this innocent state.

Chapter 17 Quotes
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.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker), Sally Hayes
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:

Holden and Sally travel to the theater in a cab, and Holden finds himself acting increasingly irrational. He simultaneously professes his love, claims the statement is a lie, and defends the validity of the lie.

Salinger continues to construct a complicated, self-contradictory psyche for Holden: he seems capable of telling a “lie” that is also true in that he “meant it” at the moment when he spoke it. This disparity points out the fickleness of human identity, a factor that Holden despises in others but continues to encounter in himself. He describes such volatile emotions an indication of lunacy—“I’m crazy”—but Salinger implies, rather, that they are a universal aspect of the human experience.

It is important, here, to observe the reemergence of Holden’s confessional tone. The phrases “just to show you” and “I swear” reinforce how Holden feels his life to be constantly on display. He sets a high stake in an implied audience of his life, one that could presumably note the inconsistencies between his thoughts and his actions. Part of this stems from the structure of a novel, in which a character is indeed "on trial" through the narrative—but it also speaks more generally to Holden’s self-conscious character. He is self-admonishing, even self-hating, yet he also desperately wishes to be absolved of his guilt.

"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."
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker), Sally Hayes
Page Number: 170
Explanation and Analysis:

As Holden and Sally talk about schools, Holden offers a condemnation of his academy, and attacks its artificial rituals and social behaviors.

It is difficult to know what to make of Holden’s comments here. On one hand, they might simply speak to his depressive nature, reaffirming how he finds everything in his world meaningless. On the other, one could identify a cultural critique in Holden’s words. Indeed, there is something artificial about the group-think style of living that places these high-achieving boys on a trajectory from “study” to “goddam Cadillac.” Holden is articulating, in immature language, a genuine criticism made by members of the counter culture. His focus on communal rituals—such as “the football team”—and empty discussions—“all you do is talk about girls and liquor and sex all day”—are similarly poignant. Indeed, many readers may empathize with the feeling that social rituals are meaningless and repetitive. Yet Holden is notably guilty of these very same behaviors: himself fixated on girls, liquor, and sex. Salinger thus gives us a character who offers genuine insights on social practices, but whose views also seem self-defeating and invalidated due to how carelessly they are applied.

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... It wouldn't be the same at all. You don't see what I mean at all.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker), Sally Hayes
Page Number: 172
Explanation and Analysis:

Holden interrupts Sally to further reject the trappings of adult life. He claims that living together when they are older would be horrifying and not at all equivalent to escaping to the woods now.

That Holden denies the existence of “marvelous places” in the future speaks to his deep anxieties about adulthood. Evidently, all experiences after college are held to be banal and phony. They are “entirely different” not because of their physical environment, but rather because of how codified and mechanical his life will become as an adult. Whereas escaping to the woods as an adolescent holds the potential of complete isolation (and perhaps a perpetuation of the "innocence" of childhood), travel as an adult brings baggage both literal and metaphorical. Holden is perturbed by the “suitcases and stuff” that would weigh them down, as well as the social networks that demand goodbyes and “postcards.” He identifies isolation and ease of travel with youth and sees adults as living artificial and ensnared lives. Though this may be an exaggerated image, Salinger once again grants Holden the benefit of a compelling critical eye. Adults, indeed, are weighed down by these concerns, and thus Holden’s wish to hold on to his adolescence is admirable even as it is unreasonable.

Chapter 22 Quotes
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.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Catcher in the Rye
Page Number: 224
Explanation and Analysis:

When Phoebe asks Holden what he would like to be, he returns to the tune he heard earlier about the catcher in the rye. Holden says he would like to be the catcher in the song, one who would prevent the kids from falling to harm.

Holden’s answer strikes Phoebe—and likely the reader—as relatively nonsensical. Catching children in the rye is not an actual profession, but perhaps this is why Holden finds it genuine as compared to the phony work done by his parents. Indeed, the way Holden introduces the phrase “Anyway, I keep picturing” indicates that his profession is not based on logical consideration but rather an idealized image of what he would life to look like. This response, then, verifies that Holden sees his life through a cinematic eye and makes choices according to the aesthetics and earnestness of this imagined film.

Through this filmic image, Holden wishes to be a savior for younger children. He does not himself wish to remain in a state of childhood, explicitly saying “nobody big, I mean — except me,” thus showing that he does value maturation. That merit comes from how Holden would be able to assist the “thousands of little kids,” demonstrating that he finds real value in acts of altruism. This imagined profession speaks to a genuine sense of goodness within Holden, but it also reveals his own wish to be saved from falling over the metaphorical cliff of adolescent despair. Holden may want to be the catcher in the rye, but he simultaneously wants to be caught by someone—and thus Salinger’s title refers to the protagonist as both catcher and caught, both thoughtful adult and astray youth.

"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, was she depressing me. "Because you don't," she said. "Name one thing."
"One thing? One thing I like?" I said. "Okay."
The trouble was, I couldn't concentrate too hot. Sometimes it's hard to concentrate.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker), Phoebe Caulfield (speaker)
Page Number: 220
Explanation and Analysis:

When Holden complains about the other students at Pencey, Phoebe challenges him to name something he likes. She pokes fun at his misanthropic behavior, showing that Holden’s critical views are equally and unfairly applied to everything.

The brilliance of Phoebe’s comment, “You don’t like anything that’s happening” is that it points out the indiscriminate quality of Holden’s criticisms. If he does indeed find everything negative, then his specific contentions with each school and each thing cannot be taken seriously. This would render Holden a banal cynic, as opposed to a genuine outsider who can articulate compelling views. To defend his position, Holden finds himself ironically affirming that he enjoys some elements of life: yet his repeated insistences “Yes I do. Yes I do. Sure I do,” only repeat empty terms instead of actually providing an example. And when he is pushed to “name one thing,” he cannot come up with a single example.

We should note that Holden is at least partly sensitive to Phoebe’s criticisms. Were they to come from another character, Holden would likely find her points irrelevant or themselves phony, yet here he takes them quite seriously. Salinger stresses, then, Holden’s close relationship to his siblings and the way he will accept criticism from those whose opinion he values. Furthermore, Holden does not want to just be seen as a depressive who finds everything meaningless: he evidently maintains a wish to enjoy certain things and to defend that his criticisms of specific “phony” things are indeed valid.

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.

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.

Chapter 25 Quotes
[W]hile 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....I hardly even had the guts to rub it off the wall with my hand, if you want to know the truth. I was afraid some teacher would catch me rubbing it off and would think I'd written it. But I rubbed it out anyway, finally.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker), Phoebe Caulfield
Page Number: 260
Explanation and Analysis:

When Holden goes to Phoebe’s school, he sees this note written on the wall. He becomes furious in response and tries desperately to remove the profane language.

Though the reader should be skeptical of Holden’s repeated use of the word “crazy” by now, it is evident that the words move him into a state of intense anger. His anger comes, as usual, from a envisioned scene: the kids reading the words and then learning their significance. For Holden, this moment stands for their corruption and their permanent departure from childhood into adolescence. Holden himself often swears, demonstrating that he has no direct issue with this language as such. Rather, he hates the effect it would have on the kids, reinforcing the way Holden wants to play a protective “catcher” role for younger children.

That Holden hesitates from removing it indicates a continued care in how he is perceived by others—for he does not want to be associated with such profane behavior. Again, Salinger stresses the fact that despite Holden’s misanthropic rejection of society, he is deeply attentive to how others might perceive his actions. Yet in this case, his wish to protect the schoolchildren overwhelms those sensibilities—implying that Holden may have grown a bit more selfless.

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 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.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker)
Page Number: 264
Explanation and Analysis:

After seeing a second inscription of “Fuck You,” Holden despairs about the lack of security and innocence in the world. He morbidly remarks that his own tombstone with be marked by a similar statement.

Holden’s yearning from “a place that’s nice and peaceful” speaks to his childhood nostalgia and to his wish to be caught by a metaphorical catcher in the rye. He is distraught at the way “Fuck you” violates sacred spaces for Phoebe and for the other children—because the language will corrupt them just as Holden himself as been corrupted. His next comment intriguingly flashes forward from this violation of childhood to a violation of death: the idea that profanity would be scrawled on his tomb.

This image corroborates the presentation of Holden as an exceedingly morbid character with a sardonic sense of humor. But it also implies an anxiety that this humor will permanently mark his tombstone and thus epitomize his life. Holden seems terrified by the idea that he will be remembered as a nihilistic corrupter, and we should remember that similar fears have stopped him from committing suicide before. Thus the profane language both verifies how Holden grants a sanctified place to childhood and reveals his fear that he will be misremembered as just a profane cynic.

All the kids kept trying to grab for the gold ring, and so was old Phoebe, and I was sort of afraid she'd fall off the goddam horse, but I didn't say anything or do anything. The thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off, they fall off, but it's bad if you say anything to them.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker), Phoebe Caulfield
Related Symbols: The Catcher in the Rye
Page Number: 273
Explanation and Analysis:

Holden watches Phoebe on the carousel and reflects on the way she and many others will make mistakes. He believes that intervention must have a limit and that children should be allowed to make errors and suffer the consequences.

This point of view marks a striking inversion in Holden’s character. Before, he praised the role of the catcher in the rye: a figure who would have prevented any children from falling. Yet here, despite the fear “she’d fall off the goddamn horse,” Holden believes that his inaction is actually preferable. He implies that being overly protective actually serves children badly and that they must be allowed to make their own mistakes.

Again, Holden has adopted an oddly mature perspective on children. The line “The thing with kids is” marks him as a wizened adult offering advice, whereas in just the previous chapter he has been receiving advice from Mr. Antolini. Salinger stresses the way Holden’s identity continues to shift based on his social context—becoming at times the wise sage, at others the uneducated, rebellious teenager. And as with the image of the catcher in the rye, his comment invariably reflects back on what Holden himself requires: at the novel’s end, perhaps, he no longer wants just to be caught by others, but rather seems to have recognized that the process of falling itself has merit. Thus the poetic moment of the carousel expresses his maturation both in the way he looks from a distance at the state of childhood, and in the way that he himself no longer craves being saved by another.

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