The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Holden stays at the Wicker Bar and gets drunk. At one point, he gets the waiter’s attention and asks him to invite the French singer to have a drink with him, but he doubts the waiter will actually deliver the message. Still, he stays at the bar and continues to drink, thinking about calling Jane. Finally, at 1:00 in the morning, he stumbles outside while pretending he’s been shot in the stomach. He’s so drunk that he nearly convinces himself that he’s bleeding, and he staggers into a phonebooth, where he thinks once more about calling Jane but calls Sally’s house instead, infuriating both Sally and her grandmother for calling so late. Unbothered by Sally’s annoyance, he informs her multiple times that he’ll come over to help her trim the tree on Christmas Eve.
By this point, Holden has spun completely out of control. Sad and alone, he gets drunk because he thinks this is a way to drown his feelings. He also most likely sees drinking as a way of posturing as an adult, though the end result is that he winds up acting childish and stupid. Once more, he thinks about calling Jane, but he can’t because to speak to her while drunk would obliterate his idea of their relationship as an innocent and pure bond unsullied by the hardships of adulthood. Accordingly, he calls Sally instead, knowing that his relationship with her has already been ruined, meaning there’s nothing he can do to make things worse.
Themes
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Women and Sex Theme Icon
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
Returning to the bar after his phone conversation with Sally, Holden goes to the bathroom, fills the sink with cold water, and dunks his head into it. Next, he sits on the radiator until the bar’s piano player comes in and tells him to go home. On his way out of the bathroom, he realizes he’s crying, but he doesn’t know why. While collecting his things, he tries to flirt with the woman working the hat-check window, even though she’s old enough to be his mother. Thankfully, she’s very kind and politely refuses his invitation to go on a date.
Holden is unwilling to acknowledge his loneliness and sadness, but this doesn’t mean he can keep himself from exhibiting his emotions. In keeping with this, he discovers that he’s crying as he exits the bathroom, and although he claims to not know why, it seems likely that he must understand—on a certain level—that he’s deeply lonely. After all, why else would he invite the woman at the hat-check to go on a date? Unable to maintain a connection with anyone, he has spun out of control and thrust himself into the adult world, which only makes him feel more alienated and alone.
Themes
Phoniness Theme Icon
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Women and Sex Theme Icon
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
Holden walks to Central Park to check on the ducks in the lagoon. On his way, he drops the record he bought for Phoebe and nearly starts crying again, scooping up the broken pieces and putting them in his jacket pocket. When he finally reaches the park, he sees that the lagoon is partially frozen and that there are no ducks swimming in the water, so he makes his way to a bench and sits down, freezing because his head is still wet from plunging it into the sink at the Wicker Bar. Thinking he might catch pneumonia and die, he imagines his own funeral, which reminds him that he missed Allie’s funeral because he was still in the hospital after having smashed the garage windows with his bare hand.
Unlike the ducks in the Central Park lagoon—who have adapted to the cold weather—Holden has trouble with adapting to the natural transitions in his life. As a teenager, he struggles constantly with change and is in the midst of something of an identity crisis, trying to figure out where he fits into a world that he finds largely overwhelming and abhorrent. The shattering of Phoebe’s record only makes it even more difficult for Holden to believe that he can preserve a sense of childhood innocence. When he thinks of his own funeral while sitting next to the lagoon, he romanticizes the idea of eternal stasis, seeing death as perhaps the only way he’ll ever be able to resist change. In addition, imagining his own funeral allows him to think about how sorry everyone in his life would be if he died, thereby helping him believe that the connections he has made are more meaningful than they actually seem.
Themes
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
Envisioning his own death, Holden thinks of how awful Phoebe would feel if he died of pneumonia, so he decides to go see her. He knows going home is risky because he might get caught by his parents, but he suspects they’ll be asleep, so he plans to slip in and out without seeing them.
Holden manages to snap out of his morbid fantasy about death by focusing on Phoebe—or, more specifically, on his relationship with Phoebe, which is one of the only things in his life that gives him a sense of belonging, acceptance, and love.
Themes
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
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