Holden stops into a drugstore for a sandwich after leaving Sally. Once again, he goes into a phone booth and thinks about calling Jane Gallagher, wanting to take her dancing. Before calling her, though, he gets lost in a memory he has of Jane telling him why she was dating a guy who Holden disliked. According to Holden, Jane’s boyfriend was conceited, but Jane insisted that he actually had an inferiority complex. Holden, for his part, thinks that girls often say boys have inferiority complexes when, in reality, they’re simply jerks. He also thinks that girls frequently think boys who actually have inferiority complexes are jerks. Turning his attention back to the present moment, Holden calls Jane but hangs up when nobody answers.
Forever attuned to how people present themselves in public, Holden can’t stand the idea of Jane dismissing her boyfriend’s conceited behavior. Given that Holden himself is the kind of person who dislikes and lashes out at people he thinks are conceited, it seems likely that he has an inferiority complex. Accordingly, he wants people like him to get credit for their private struggles, not people who are well-liked and confident. What he fails to realize, though, is that Jane’s remark about her boyfriend’s inferiority complex proves that everyone deals with various hardships that aren’t always evident to others.
Holden takes out his address book and sifts through it, hoping to find somebody who might be free for the evening. The problem, though, is that he only has three people in his address book: Jane, a teacher named Mr. Antolini who used to teach at Elkton Hills, and his father’s work number. Instead of calling any of these people, he decides to reach out to Carl Luce, an older boy he knows from the Whooton School. Carl is a very smart person, but Holden never actually liked him. All the same, he decides that Carl might like to have dinner with him so that they can engage in a “slightly intellectual conversation.” Carl now attends Columbia, and though he declines Holden’s offer to meet for dinner, he agrees to have drinks at 10:00 that evening.
Once more, Holden finds himself yearning for human interaction. He has just squandered his chance to connect with Sally, but he already wants to reach out to somebody again, clearly not liking the idea of being alone. When he gets in touch with Carl Luce, though, it becomes clear that he is simply going to repeat his pattern of contacting people he doesn’t like, remembering he doesn’t like them, insulting them, and alienating himself yet again.
To pass the time before he’s supposed to meet Carl Luce, Holden goes to the movies at Radio City Music Hall. He’s annoyed by the Rockettes pre-movie dance, but remembers how he and Allie used to love the man in the orchestra who played kettledrum because the musician seemed to enjoy it so much. Because the movie is set during wartime, Holden thinks about his brother D.B.’s experience in World War II, and this leads him to consider the fact that he himself could never be in the military because it would require him to commit to something for such a long time. This, he thinks, is the problem with joining the army, in addition to the idea of having to spend so much time with people like Stradlater or Ackley, who Holden thinks are the sort of people who would be in the military.
In characteristic fashion, Holden balks at the idea of belonging to any group of people. Indeed, he finds the idea of joining the army unappealing not because he might have to put himself in danger, but because he would have to fraternize with people he thinks are inauthentic and shallow. Furthermore, the mere fact that he goes to the cinema is worth noting, since he supposedly hates movies so much. Once again, he reveals his own hypocrisy, inadvertently casting himself as just as “phony” as the people in his life whom he criticizes so harshly.
Holden thinks about the books D.B. gave him after coming home from World War II. Although D.B. said he hated being in the army, he loved Ernest Hemingway’s novel A Farewell to Arms, which Holden found quite boring and “phony.” In contrast, Holden loves The Great Gatsby. As he thinks about this, he suddenly declares to himself that he’s glad the atomic bomb has been invented, deciding that if there’s ever another war, he’ll gladly volunteer to sit right atop the bomb as it plunges toward the enemy.
Even though Holden dislikes school, he is a rather voracious reader. This proves that his academic problems have nothing to do with his actual intelligence, but rather with his unwillingness to apply himself. As he sits in the movie theater and thinks about war, he has yet another suicidal fantasy, though in this one he imagines himself as a martyr, suggesting that he is perhaps more self-obsessed or conceited than he’d like to admit. At the same time, though, this is still a suicidal thought, once again signaling the worrying depths of his unhappiness.