The Catcher in the Rye

Holden Caulfield Character Analysis

The novel's narrator and protagonist, Holden is a seventeen year-old high school junior who has flunked out of prep school several times. His sister is Phoebe, and he has a deceased younger brother, Allie and an older brother, D. B. On the brink 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 strategy that Holden uses to counter the onslaught of prep school teachers and pubescent classmates that threaten his childhood innocence is evasion: he ditches school for New York and spends a few days bouncing between hotels and bars. Holden's escape to New York is an act of desperation, not maturity, as shown by his often inappropriately childish behavior throughout the novel. He wears an awkward hunting hat in the middle of Manhattan and asks cab drivers about the ducks in Central Park, for example. Holden's eventual mental breakdown, which occurs some time before he begins writing his story, signifies the severity of his suffering as he faces the inevitability of growing up. His dream of becoming a "catcher in the rye" represents his wish to save other children from the descent into adulthood that he vainly tries to resist.

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 (speaker)
Page Number: 12-13
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 3 Quotes
[Ackley] took another look at my hat while he was cleaning them. "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 (speaker), Robert Ackley (speaker)
Related Symbols: Holden's Red Hunting Hat
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 5 Quotes
My brother Allie had this left-handed fielder's mitt. He was left-handed. The thing that was descriptive about it, though, was that he had poems written all over the fingers and the pocket and everywhere. In green ink.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker), Allie Caulfield
Page Number: 49
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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
Explanation and Analysis:

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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)
Related Symbols: Holden's Red Hunting Hat
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

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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)
Related Symbols: The Ducks in the Lagoon in Central Park
Page Number: 78
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Chapter 10 Quotes
She knocked me out. I mean it. I was half in love with her by the time we sat down. That's the thing about girls. Every time they do something pretty, even if they're not much to look at, or even if they're sort of stupid, you fall half in love with them, and then you never know where the hell you are. Girls. Jesus Christ. They can drive you crazy. They really can.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker), Bernice Krebs
Page Number: 95
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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)
Page Number: 120
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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)
Page Number: 136
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 16 Quotes
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)
Related Symbols: The Museum of Natural History
Page Number: 157-158
Explanation and Analysis:

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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)
Page Number: 155
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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
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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
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Chapter 22 Quotes
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)
Related Symbols: The Catcher in the Rye
Page Number: 224
Explanation and Analysis:

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"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 (speaker)
Page Number: 220
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)
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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Get the entire The Catcher in the Rye LitChart as a printable PDF.
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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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Holden Caulfield, the novel's narrator and protagonist, says he wants to tell the story of some... (full context)
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Holden refuses to talk about his childhood, though he comments that his parents are "touchy as... (full context)
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Holden begins his story at Pencey Prep, an exclusive private school for boys in Agerstown, Pennsylvania,... (full context)
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Holden isn't even supposed to be at Pencey. He was supposed to be in New York... (full context)
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Holden also mentions that he's failed four of his five classes—everything but English—and been expelled. So... (full context)
Chapter 2
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Mr. Spencer's house makes Holden depressed. It's smell and appearance reminds him of old age. (full context)
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...Spencer greets him warmly, and they start to talk. At one point, Mr. Spencer tells Holden to heed Dr. Thurmer's advice that life is a game that must be played by... (full context)
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Mr. Spencer next comments that he once met with Holden's parents, who are "grand" people, which strikes Holden as a "phony" word. Mr. Spencer continues... (full context)
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Eventually, Holden begins to tune out, and wonders to himself where the ducks in the Central Park... (full context)
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Mr. Spencer asks why Holden failed out of two other prep schools (Whooton and Elkton Hills). Thinking Spencer wouldn't understand,... (full context)
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When Mr. Spencer encourages Holden to plan for the future, Holden has had enough. He assures Spencer he's just going... (full context)
Chapter 3
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Holden returns to his dorm in Ossenburger Hall, which is named after a Pencey alum who... (full context)
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Alone in his room, Holden reads Isaac Dinesen's Out of Africa while wearing his new red hunting cap. But Robert... (full context)
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Eventually, Ward Stradlater, Holden's big, strong, handsome roommate enters. Ackley hates Stradlater, and leaves. Stradlater says he has a... (full context)
Chapter 4
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Holden keeps Stradlater company as he shaves to prepare for his date. Holden comments that Stradlater... (full context)
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Stradlater asks Holden to do his English homework for him. Holden asks Stradlater who he's dating. When Stradlater... (full context)
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Though annoyed, Stradlater says that his date is Jane Gallagher, whom he mistakenly calls "Jean." Holden knows her, and goes on for a while about playing checkers with her one summer,... (full context)
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Holden remains in the bathroom, uncomfortable with thoughts of Jane and the sexually experienced Stradlater together.... (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. But... (full context)
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Back at Pencey, Ackley hangs out in Holden's room telling a story about having sex with a girl, which Holden knows is a... (full context)
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Holden finally gets Ackley to leave by starting Stradlater's composition. Though it's off topic, he writes... (full context)
Chapter 6
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After returning from his date, Stradlater reads the composition, then angrily tells Holden that it's no wonder he's getting expelled: he doesn't do anything "the way you're supposed... (full context)
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Holden starts smoking a cigarette in the room just to annoy Stradlater, then asks what happened... (full context)
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After Stradlater leaves, Holden puts on his red hunting hat and looks at his face in the mirror. He... (full context)
Chapter 7
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Holden asks Ackley if he can sleep in his room, since his roommate is out of... (full context)
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...lonely and tormented by the suspicion that Stradlater may have had sex with Jane Gallagher, Holden decides to leave Pencey and hide out for a few days in New York City... (full context)
Chapter 8
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...next to him. She notices his Pencey bag, and says her son is Ernest Morrow. Holden hates Ernest, but lies and says that Ernest is extremely popular and would be class... (full context)
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Holden introduces himself to the woman as Rudolf Schmidt, the name of Pencey's janitor, and invites... (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., his younger sister Phoebe, Jane, or... (full context)
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Instead, Holden puts on his hunting cap and hails a cab to the Edmont Hotel. On the... (full context)
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From his room in the hotel, Holden can see into other rooms. In one, a man is cross-dressing. In another, a couple... (full context)
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...instead calls Faith Cavendish, a woman whose number he got from a guy who told Holden she was promiscuous. She refuses to meet him that night, but offers to meet him... (full context)
Chapter 10
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Holden again considers calling Phoebe. Holden describes Phoebe: she has red hair, is very intelligent, funny,... (full context)
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Bored and not tired, Holden goes to the hotel nightclub, the Lavender Room. He orders a drink, but the waiter... (full context)
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Soon Holden starts flirting with three women visiting from Seattle. He asks one, a blond named Bernice... (full context)
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Holden soon becomes depressed by the women's obsession with movie stars. He eventually lies and says... (full context)
Chapter 11
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In the hotel lobby, Holden thinks about the summer he spent with Jane Gallagher in Maine. Their families had rented... (full context)
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Once Jane's stepfather made her cry simply by asking for cigarettes. Holden comforted and kissed her. He comments that when he would hold Jane's hand he would... (full context)
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Now depressed, Holden remembers a bar called Ernie's that D.B. once took him to, and hails a cab. (full context)
Chapter 12
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Holden strikes up a conversation with his cab driver, who's named Horwitz, then finally asks about... (full context)
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At Ernie's, the scene disgusts Holden: it's filled with the "phonies" from fancy colleges and prep schools whom he despises. In... (full context)
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A girl named Lillian Simmons, who used to date D.B., approaches Holden. They exchange a few words, but Holden feels unbearably awkward. He lies that he was... (full context)
Chapter 13
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Feeling terrible for running from Ernie's, Holden walks forty-one blocks back to his hotel. He wishes he had his gloves, which were... (full context)
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...the elevator operator, Maurice, offers to send a prostitute to his room for five dollars. Holden accepts, but immediately regrets it. He's a virgin and thinks that he isn't aggressive enough... (full context)
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A young prostitute, Sunny, arrives. Holden tries to talk to her, but she just undresses, sits on his lap, and talks... (full context)
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Holden pays Sunny five dollars, but she claims he owes her ten. He refuses. She leaves... (full context)
Chapter 14
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Holden, alone, remembers a time when he excluded Allie from a game. He still feels guilty... (full context)
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A knock sounds on the door. Holden opens it. Maurice demands five dollars, and pins Holden while Sunny takes the money from... (full context)
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Holden images himself as a movie star shot in the gut by an enemy, and imagines... (full context)
Chapter 15
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The next morning Holden calls up Sally Hayes. He says that Sally is a girl who seems intelligent and... (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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While having breakfast at a sandwich shop, Holden meets two nuns carrying cheap suitcases. He talks with them, though as they discuss Romeo... (full context)
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Though low on funds, Holden gives the nuns a ten-dollar donation. After the nuns leave, Holden wishes he had given... (full context)
Chapter 16
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It's now Sunday. Holden buys a children's record for Phoebe and thinks about how Phoebe always understands what he's... (full context)
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Holden buys theater tickets for his date with Sally, even though he hates actors in particular... (full context)
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Holden then heads over to the Mall, a part of the park where Phoebe often roller-skates... (full context)
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But when Holden arrives at the museum he finds he doesn't want to go inside. He takes a... (full context)
Chapter 17
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Sally shows up ten minutes late to meet Holden, but looks so good he doesn't hold it against her. He feels like marrying her,... (full context)
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At the play, the actors' performances seem phony and conceited to Holden. During intermission, Sally talks to a boy named George who she knows from Andover. Their... (full context)
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After the performance, Holden and Sally go ice-skating. Holden guesses that Sally wanted to go ice-skating just to wear... (full context)
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Soon they head inside. As they drink cokes, Holden asks Sally if she gets fed up with stuff like school. Holden then says that... (full context)
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Suddenly Holden suggests they should run away to New England and live in a cabin together. Sally... (full context)
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Holden remarks in retrospect that he wouldn't want to go with Sally on a trip anyway,... (full context)
Chapter 18
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Holden thinks about calling up Jane Gallagher again, and remembers a time when he saw her... (full context)
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Holden calls up Carl Luce, a friend from the Whooton School who attends Columbia. They plan... (full context)
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In the meantime, Holden goes to Radio City Music Hall to see a movie. He's annoyed by the Rockettes... (full context)
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The movie is about the war. Afterward, as Holden walks to meet Luce, he thinks about D.B.'s experience in World War II. He thinks... (full context)
Chapter 19
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Holden waits for Carl Luce at the Wicker Bar in the Seton Hotel. He says the... (full context)
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Holden says Luce knew more about sex than anybody at the Whooton School, even though he... (full context)
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Luce asks Holden if he's ever going to grow up, and says Holden's sex life is lousy because... (full context)
Chapter 20
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Holden gets drunk at the Wicker Bar. He thinks about calling Jane, but instead calls Sally... (full context)
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Back in the bar, Holden goes to the bathroom and imagines himself as an actor "concealing the fact that I... (full context)
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Holden walks to Central Park to check on the ducks in the lagoon. During the walk,... (full context)
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Holden sits on a bench, freezing. He thinks he might catch pneumonia and imagines his own... (full context)
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Holden thinks how awful Phoebe would feel if he died of pneumonia, so he decides to... (full context)
Chapter 21
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Holden sneaks into his family's apartment. He finds Phoebe in D.B.'s room, where she likes to... (full context)
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While Phoebe sleeps, Holden looks through her school notebooks. Her scribbling and drawings delight him and he likes that... (full context)
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Holden wakes Phoebe up. She's overjoyed to see him and floods him with news, from her... (full context)
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Phoebe then realizes Holden is home two days too early. Holden admits he got expelled. Phoebe keeps repeating that... (full context)
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Holden tells her not to worry: he's going away to a ranch in Colorado. She keeps... (full context)
Chapter 22
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Phoebe asks why Holden flunked out of Pencey. He tries to explain about phonies. Phoebe says Holden doesn't like... (full context)
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While thinking up an answer, Holden's mind wanders to the nuns he met that morning, and to James Castle, an Elkton... (full context)
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Holden finally says he likes Allie and talking to Phoebe. Phoebe says that doesn't count because... (full context)
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Phoebe then asks Holden what he would like to be. After some thought, he mentions the lyric "If a... (full context)
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Phoebe realizes that Holden has misheard the words to a Robert Browning poem. She explains that the actual line... (full context)
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Holden thinks about calling up Mr. Antolini, his former English teacher at Elkton Hills. (full context)
Chapter 23
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Holden calls Mr. Antolini. Upset that Holden has been expelled from another school, Mr. Antolini invites... (full context)
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Holden convinces Phoebe to dance with him, but their parents come home. Holden hides in the... (full context)
Chapter 24
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...had a party, and his apartment is full of glasses and dishes. Yet he welcomes Holden, and his wife heads off to make some coffee. (full context)
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Mr. Antolini questions Holden about his expulsion from Pencey and tells Holden that his father is very concerned about... (full context)
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After Mrs. Antolini brings coffee and heads to bed, Mr. Antolini says he's worried that Holden is heading for a "terrible fall" that will result in a life of bitterness. Holden... (full context)
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Holden does his best to listen, but eventually his tiredness makes him yawn. Mr. Antolini makes... (full context)
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Suddenly Holden wakes. He feels Mr. Antolini's hand brushing his forehead. Mr. Antolini says he was just... (full context)
Chapter 25
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In Grand Central Station, Holden sleeps on a bench. He says he never felt more depressed than at this moment.... (full context)
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As Holden walks down Fifth Avenue, he remembers shopping there with Phoebe. A sudden fear comes over... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Phoebe shows up at the museum and begs Holden to take her with him out West. He refuses, which makes her furious. He starts... (full context)
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At the zoo, Holden convinces Phoebe to take a ride on the carousel, which plays the same song it... (full context)
Chapter 26
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Holden ends the novel by refusing to say what happened after the carousel other than that... (full context)
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In fact, Holden says that he now wishes that he hadn't talked so much about what happened to... (full context)