In Grand Central Station, Holden sleeps on a 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.
Even Holden, now suffering depression from his alienation, wonders if he was right about Mr. Antolini's intentions.
As Holden walks down Fifth Avenue, he remembers shopping there with Phoebe. A sudden fear comes over Holden that he'll fall off the curb and not make it to the other side of every street he tries to cross. He begs Allie to protect him, and starts fantasizing about moving out West, living alone, and talking to no one.
Holden's panic attacks are of "falling," a reference to his Catcher fantasy and his fear of both growing up and dying. He tries to make Allie, his brother whose death trapped him forever in childhood, his Catcher.
He decides to see Phoebe one last time. He leaves a note at her school asking her to meet him at the Museum of Art. In the school, he notices that someone has scrawled "Fuck You" on the wall. Holden tries to erase the words, and says he'd like to kill the person who wrote them.
The scrawled curse words anger Holden because he can't stand to see children corrupted, though he's been using coarse language all through the novel.
While waiting for Phoebe at the Museum of Art, Holden tries to help some kids find the room with the mummies, but the kids get scared and run off. He then notices another "Fuck You" written on the wall of the hallway. He predicts that even his tombstone will have "Fuck You" written on it. He feels ill, and in the bathroom he faints. When he revives he goes outside to wait for Phoebe.
It's ironic that Holden scares the children he's trying to help, and a sign that something is really wrong with him. At the same time, he's clearly not able to understand the seriousness of his mental distress. He comments on his fainting as if it's nothing.
Phoebe shows up at the museum and begs Holden to take her with him out West. He refuses, which makes her furious. He starts to feel faint again. When she angrily returns his hunting hat, he promises not to go away at all. She remains angry, even when he offers to take her to the zoo.
Phoebe, a child, accepts Holden's scheme. In doing so, and in giving back his "protective" hat, she forces Holden to protect her. And to protect Phoebe, Holden has to give up his alienation and be realistic.
At the zoo, Holden convinces Phoebe to take a ride on the carousel, which plays the same song it played when he was a kid. Phoebe gives Holden back his red hunting hat and he puts it on as rain starts to fall. The hat protects him, and he watches Phoebe on the carousel. He feels so happy he could cry.
Phoebe on a carousel is an image of childlike innocence. Holden has "caught" her from coming west with him. In the process, he also "caught" himself. Yet the intensity of his joy indicates he still might not be "cured." Phoebe and the symbolic hunting hat shield Holden from his depression and looming adulthood.