The Catcher in the Rye

Holden Caulfield Character Analysis

The novel's narrator and protagonist, Holden is a high school junior who has flunked out of prep school several times. He is from New York City, where his younger sister, Phoebe, still lives with his parents. Holden also has a deceased younger brother, Allie, and an older brother, D.B. On the brink of adulthood, Holden struggles to bridge the gap between the innocent perfection he perceives in childhood (namely in Phoebe and Allie) and the "phoniness" that he thinks makes up most of adulthood and the rest of society. The novel opens with Holden recuperating from an undisclosed ailment in a rest home, and he tells the reader that he will relay the “madman stuff” that happened to him just before last Christmas. His story begins shortly after he learns that he has failed out of his most recent school, Pencey Prep. Wanting to bid this chapter of his life a proper farewell, he visits his elderly history teacher, Mr. Spencer, who tells him to heed the headmaster’s advice to play the game of life by the rules. This idea frustrates Holden, who thinks it’s absurd to approach life with such a narrowminded worldview. That night, he discovers that his roommate, Ward Stradlater, is going on a date with Jane Gallagher, a girl whose family lived in the neighboring house two years ago when Holden’s family summered in Maine. Since then, Holden has built up an image of Jane as a perfect woman, which is why he finds himself distraught by the idea that Stradlater might try to have sex with her. When Stradlater returns, Holden picks a fight with him before deciding to leave Pencey that instant, packing his bags and leaving Pennsylvania for New York City without another thought. For the next several days, Holden makes his way through the city, posing as an adult, drinking scotch and sodas, encountering prostitutes, and calling up old acquaintances like his on-again-off-again girlfriend, Sally Hayes. He also meets up with his old mentor, Carl Luce, sneaks into his family’s apartment to see Phoebe, and spends the night at the house of his old English teacher, Mr. Antolini. But every time Holden reaches out to someone from his past, he ends up alienating them and going off on his own again, wishing all the while that he could work up the courage to call Jane. The lofty plans he makes for the future also fall through as he physically and mentally deteriorates over the course of a few days in the city. In the end, Holden has a mental breakdown, which occurs some time before he begins writing his story. By the novel’s conclusion, he is facing depression and struggling with the harsh inevitability of growing up.

Holden Caulfield Quotes in The Catcher in the Rye

The The Catcher in the Rye quotes below are all either spoken by Holden Caulfield or refer to Holden Caulfield. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Phoniness Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer 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, Mr. Spencer
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 3 Quotes

[Ackley] took another look at my hat […]. "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, Robert Ackley
Related Symbols: Holden’s Red Hunting Hat
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 5 Quotes

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
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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), Ward Stradlater
Related Symbols: Holden’s Red Hunting Hat
Page Number: 68
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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)
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:
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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), Maurice
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:
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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:
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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), Maurice, Sunny
Page Number: 136
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Chapter 16 Quotes

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:
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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), Phoebe Caulfield
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:
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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), Phoebe Caulfield
Page Number: 157
Explanation and Analysis:
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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
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“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:
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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:
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Chapter 22 Quotes

"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
Page Number: 220
Explanation and Analysis:
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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), Phoebe Caulfield
Related Symbols: The Catcher in the Rye
Page Number: 224
Explanation and Analysis:
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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:
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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:
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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:
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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), Phoebe Caulfield
Related Symbols: The Catcher in the Rye
Page Number: 264
Explanation and Analysis:
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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:
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Holden Caulfield Character Timeline in The Catcher in the Rye

The timeline below shows where the character Holden Caulfield appears in The Catcher in the Rye. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
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It is several months into 1950, and 16-year-old Holden Caulfield is recuperating at an unspecified location after becoming “run-down.” His story begins, he says,... (full context)
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Holden’s story begins at Pencey Prep, an exclusive private school for boys in Agerstown, Pennsylvania. It... (full context)
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Holden never planned on attending the annual football game in the first place, since he’s supposed... (full context)
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While it’s true that Holden doesn’t care about the football game against Saxon Hall, he has also decided not to... (full context)
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As Holden stands on the hill, he tries to feel a sense of closure. He claims to... (full context)
Chapter 2 
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Once inside Mr. Spencer’s house, Holden feels depressed. He doesn’t like the way the house smells or looks, and he can’t... (full context)
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Mr. Spencer greets Holden warmly and claims to be feeling great despite his appearance. Before long, he brings up... (full context)
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Mr. Spencer asks Holden if his parents know about his expulsion yet, and Holden explains that Dr. Thurmer is... (full context)
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Mr. Spencer comments that he once met Holden’s parents, whom he thinks are “grand” people. This statement irritates Holden, who can’t stand the... (full context)
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After reading Holden’s essay aloud, Mr. Spencer asks if Holden blames him for flunking him. Holden assures him... (full context)
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As Holden goes on at length, Mr. Spencer cuts him off and asks how he feels about... (full context)
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When Mr. Spencer encourages Holden to plan for the future, Holden decides he has had enough. Although he recognizes that... (full context)
Chapter 3
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Holden returns to his dorm, thinking as he goes about how good he is at lying.... (full context)
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Alone in his room, Holden reads while wearing his new red hunting cap, which he bought while in New York... (full context)
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Ackley asks Holden about the fencing match in New York, and Holden is forced to tell him that... (full context)
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...that he and his date decided to leave the football game early. He then asks Holden if he can borrow his houndstooth jacket, but Holden hesitates to answer, instead wondering where... (full context)
Chapter 4
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Having nothing better to do, Holden keeps Stradlater company as he shaves. Holden notes that Stradlater is a “secret” slob, who... (full context)
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Once again, Holden asks the name of Stradlater’s date, and Stradlater suddenly remembers that the girl he’s about... (full context)
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As Stradlater shaves, Holden speaks at length about Jane, remembering that she’s a dancer and that she used to... (full context)
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Once more, Holden says he should go downstairs to say hello to Jane, and Stradlater asks him why... (full context)
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Holden asks what Stradlater and Jane are going to do, and Stradlater says they might go... (full context)
Chapter 5
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After dinner, Holden convinces his friend Mal Brossard to let Ackley come see a movie with them. Although... (full context)
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Finally, Holden tells Ackley to leave so he can work on Stradlater’s English homework. The assignment is... (full context)
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As Holden recalls the night of Allie’s death, he remembers that he responded to the news by... (full context)
Chapter 6
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Holden spends the next several hours fretting about what’s happening between Stradlater and Jane on their... (full context)
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Puffing away on his cigarette, Holden asks Stradlater what happened on his date with Jane, but Stradlater refuses to say. Nonetheless,... (full context)
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Unable to resist, Holden asks Stradlater if he and Jane had sex. This offends Stradlater, who refuses to answer.... (full context)
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After Stradlater leaves, Holden puts on his red hunting hat and looks at his face in the mirror, thinking... (full context)
Chapter 7
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When Holden enters Ackley’s room, he blinds him by turning on the light. Annoyed but too intrigued... (full context)
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Lonely and tormented by the suspicion that Stradlater may have had sex with Jane, Holden decides to leave Pencey and go to New York City until his parents learn he’s... (full context)
Chapter 8
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On the train to New York, a woman sits next to Holden. She notices his Pencey bag and says that her son is a boy named Ernest... (full context)
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Flirting with Ernest’s mother, Holden invites her to have a drink with him in the train’s bar, explaining that he’s... (full context)
Chapter 9
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In Penn Station in New York, Holden wants to talk to someone, and considers calling D.B., Phoebe (his younger sister), Jane, or... (full context)
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Before Holden checks in to a room in the Edmont, he takes off his hunting hat because... (full context)
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Once again, Holden thinks about calling Jane, but he finds the idea exhausting because he would have to... (full context)
Chapter 10
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Holden decides to go downstairs to the Lavender Room, where the hotel serves drinks and hosts... (full context)
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Once in the Lavender Room, Holden tries to order a scotch and soda, but the waiter asks to see some proof... (full context)
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Bernice rejects Holden’s advance, eventually asking him how old he is. This offends him, but he still sits... (full context)
Chapter 11
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In the hotel lobby, Holden thinks again about Jane Gallagher and Stradlater, hoping that nothing happened between them on their... (full context)
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Holden remembers how happy he used to be when he held Jane’s hand and says that... (full context)
Chapter 12
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On his way to Ernie’s, Holden strikes up a conversation with his cab driver, Horwitz. When he asks about the ducks... (full context)
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At Ernie’s, Holden is disgusted to find the place full of “phonies” from fancy colleges and prep schools.... (full context)
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As Holden takes in the scene, a young woman named Lillian Simmons approaches him. Lillian used to... (full context)
Chapter 13
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Feeling terrible for running from Ernie’s, Holden walks 41 blocks back to his hotel, thinking about how he wished he still had... (full context)
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As Holden thinks about his lost gloves and his own cowardliness, he becomes more and more depressed.... (full context)
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While taking the elevator back to his hotel room, Holden meets Maurice, the elevator operator. Maurice offers to send a prostitute to his room for... (full context)
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Back in his hotel room, Holden waits for Maurice to send a prostitute. Before long, a young woman named Sunny arrives.... (full context)
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Sunny is frustrated by Holden’s lack of sexual desire, telling him that Maurice woke her up specifically to meet him.... (full context)
Chapter 14
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Alone in his hotel room once again, Holden starts talking aloud to Allie. He does this sometimes when he feels very depressed. When... (full context)
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Unable to sleep, Holden lights a cigarette and sits on the bed smoking until a knock sounds on the... (full context)
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When Sunny and Maurice leave, Holden imagines that he’s in an action movie, pretending that he’s been shot in the gut... (full context)
Chapter 15
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When Holden wakes up the next morning (after only a few hours of sleep), he thinks once... (full context)
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Holden checks out of the hotel and goes to Grand Central Station to store his bags... (full context)
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Holden starts talking to the nuns in the sandwich shop and learns that they’ve come to... (full context)
Chapter 16
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Holden decides to buy a record for Phoebe. The album is for children, and Holden knows... (full context)
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Holden goes to Broadway to buy theater tickets for his date with Sally. He despises the... (full context)
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Holden gets tickets for him and Sally to go to a play starring several famous actors.... (full context)
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Having secured theater tickets, Holden goes to the park to find Phoebe. When he arrives, though, she’s nowhere to be... (full context)
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Holden thinks about how comforting it is that the displays in the Museum of Natural History... (full context)
Chapter 17
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Holden has time to spare before Sally arrives, especially since she’s always late. As he waits,... (full context)
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On the cab ride to the theater, Holden convinces Sally to “horse around” with him, though she doesn’t want to at first because—according... (full context)
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Holden doesn’t find the play as bad as he expected it to be, but he still... (full context)
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Holden suspects that Sally only wants to go skating because the rink gives girls a small... (full context)
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On edge because of the play and because of Sally’s question about Christmas Eve, Holden suddenly leans forward and asks if she ever gets fed up with stuff like school.... (full context)
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Holden tells Sally that she should try going to a boys’ school sometime, since boys’ schools... (full context)
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Sally reminds Holden that they’re too young to go off on their own, insisting that they’ll have plenty... (full context)
Chapter 18
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Holden stops into a drugstore for a sandwich after leaving Sally. Once again, he goes into... (full context)
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Holden takes out his address book and sifts through it, hoping to find somebody who might... (full context)
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Holden thinks about the books D.B. gave him after coming home from World War II. Although... (full context)
Chapter 19
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Holden waits for Carl Luce at the Wicker Bar in the Seton Hotel, which he describes... (full context)
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When Luce arrives, Holden points out the group of men at the other end of the bar and asks... (full context)
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After a while, Holden says the main problem with his sex life is that he can’t become intimate with... (full context)
Chapter 20
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Holden stays at the Wicker Bar and gets drunk. At one point, he gets the waiter’s... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Holden walks to Central Park to check on the ducks in the lagoon. On his way,... (full context)
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Envisioning his own death, Holden thinks of how awful Phoebe would feel if he died of pneumonia, so he decides... (full context)
Chapter 21
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Holden sneaks into his family’s apartment by lying to the elevator operator, who is new to... (full context)
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Holden wakes Phoebe, who’s overjoyed to see him and immediately floods him with news, telling him... (full context)
Chapter 22
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...into the living room to fetch a cigarette from a small box on the table, Holden reenters Phoebe’s room. She is still “ostracizing” him, but she has at least started talking... (full context)
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Phoebe doesn’t say anything to Holden, but he can tell she’s listening, so he keeps talking about how much he hates... (full context)
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Phoebe accuses Holden of never liking anything. When he argues this point, she challenges him to name one... (full context)
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Finally, Holden says that he likes Allie and talking to Phoebe. Phoebe, for her part, says this... (full context)
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Still trying to answer Phoebe’s question, Holden mentions the song he heard a little boy singing on the street earlier that day.... (full context)
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After listening to Holden talk about becoming the catcher in the rye, Phoebe once again reminds him that their... (full context)
Chapter 23
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Holden calls Mr. Antolini, who tells him he can come over right away if he wants,... (full context)
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Back in Phoebe’s room, Holden convinces his little sister to dance with him. Since he thinks Phoebe is one of... (full context)
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When his mother leaves the room, Holden creeps out of the closet and prepares to leave. Because he’s running low on money,... (full context)
Chapter 24
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When Holden arrives at Mr. Antolini’s apartment, he sees that Mr. Antolini and his wife have just... (full context)
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Mr. Antolini questions Holden about his expulsion, saying that he hopes he didn’t fail English. Holden assures him that... (full context)
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Mr. Antolini tells Holden that he had lunch with his father recently. This apparently took place shortly before Holden’s... (full context)
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Mr. Antolini elaborates on his ideas, telling Holden that he can envision him dying “nobly” for some pointless cause. He then quotes a... (full context)
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Unlike Holden, Mr. Antolini shows no signs of being tired. Continuing his lecture, he says he suspects... (full context)
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As Mr. Antolini holds forth with his advice, Holden accidentally yawns. He immediately feels rude for doing this, but Mr. Antolini simply laughs and... (full context)
Chapter 25
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In Grand Central Station, Holden sleeps on a bench in a waiting area. Having never felt more depressed in his... (full context)
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As Holden exits Grand Central Station, he begins to feel sick, realizing that he has a cold... (full context)
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Holden decides that the only thing for him to do is leave New York City once... (full context)
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After delivering the note for Phoebe, Holden exits the school by using a different staircase. On his way out, he notices yet... (full context)
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Holden sets out for the Museum of Art. On his way, he considers calling Jane Gallagher,... (full context)
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Upset, Holden goes to the bathroom in the museum, feeling suddenly ill. After he uses the toilet,... (full context)
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Holden grabs Phoebe’s suitcase and leaves it at the coat-check in the museum. He then tries... (full context)
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After meandering silently through the zoo, Holden and Phoebe start to walk toward a large carousel where Holden, Allie, and D.B. used... (full context)
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When Phoebe finishes riding the carousel, Holden encourages her to take another ride. Before she does, though, she takes the hunting hat... (full context)
Chapter 26
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Holden concludes by refusing to say what happened after he and Phoebe went to the carousel... (full context)
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D.B. visits Holden quite frequently. He recently asked how Holden feels about everything that has happened to him... (full context)