After dinner, Holden convinces his friend Mal Brossard to let Ackley come see a movie with them. Although nobody ever invites him anywhere, Ackley pretends to hesitate when Holden invites him. Before he agrees to come, he asks who else will be going, and when Holden tells him that Mal will be there, Ackley acts disappointed before finally accepting. When the trio eventually realizes that Mal and Ackley have both already seen the movie, they eat hamburgers and play pinball instead. Afterward, Ackley follows Holden back to his room and tells him a story about having sex with a girl, which Holden knows is a lie.
It’s surprising that Holden is willing to spend time with Ackley, considering how “phony” Ackley behaves by trying to act like he doesn’t want to go to the movies. In turn, it becomes clear that Holden is lonely and simply wants to find people with whom he can pass the time, perhaps hoping to take his mind off Stradlater and Jane. To that end, the evening he ends up spending with Ackley and Mal is very innocent and childish in comparison to what might be happening between Stradlater and Jane—something that no doubt unsettles Holden.
Finally, Holden tells Ackley to leave so he can work on Stradlater’s English homework. The assignment is to write a descriptive short essay about a house or some other significant place. As long as it’s descriptive, Stradlater has instructed him, the composition can be about nearly anything. Taking this to heart, Holden decides to write about his brother Allie’s baseball mitt, which Allie covered with poems that he wrote with a green pen. Holden was 13 when Allie died of leukemia at age 11. He describes Allie as kind, innocent, and the smartest person in his family.
With the revelation of Allie’s death, suddenly Holden’s teenage insecurity, angst, and disillusionment don’t seem quite so typical. Indeed, the death of his younger brother explains why he sees life’s supposed “rules” as arbitrary and cruel, which is most likely why he found it so hard to agree with Dr. Thurmer and Mr. Spencer that life is like a game in which a person must follow the rules. In addition, Allie’s death clarifies why Holden seems to have fixated on childhood, seeing it as a state of purity and innocence. In the same way that he thinks of his deceased brother as the perfect person, he idealizes his memory of Jane from two years ago.
As Holden recalls the night of Allie’s death, he remembers that he responded to the news by sleeping in the garage and breaking all the windows with his bare hands. Because of this, his parents wanted to have him psychoanalyzed, and Holden doesn’t blame them, recognizing that punching out the windows was a stupid thing for him to have done. He now has trouble making a fist with his right hand, which sometimes still hurts. But Holden leaves these details out of Stradlater’s homework assignment, instead focusing on simply describing Allie’s baseball mitt. To make sure he does a good job, he takes the mitt itself out of his bag, and though he feels strange about using it for Stradlater’s homework, he can’t deny that it feels good to write about the mitt.
It’s understandable that Holden would be devastated by his brother’s death, but his reaction to the news is notably violent and self-destructive, indicating that he has trouble processing his emotions. Unfortunately, it seems as if his parents never actually took him to a psychoanalyst, who might have been able to help him deal with his feelings. As a result, he has no emotional outlet, which is why he takes pleasure in writing about Allie’s mitt for Stradlater’s homework assignment, finally finding an arena in which he can express the way he feels.