The Catcher in the Rye is a novel written by J.D. Salinger in 1951. It is told from the first person perspective of a young boy named Holden Caulfield, who is in a psychiatric facility after the events of the novel. Holden dislikes the world around him and his story reflects that. It explores themes such as growing up, the phoniness that comes with growing up, and alienation from peers as a means of protecting oneself.
Holden wakes Ackley up after the fight he has with Stradlater. Ackley is awake and wants to know why his neighbors were fighting. Holden is reticent to tell him at first, but then finally tells Ackley the fight was about him. He then asks permission to spend the night in Ackley's roommate's bed. Ackley tells him no and goes back to sleep. Holden wakes him again to find out if he can join a monastery without being Catholic. Ackley, who is Catholic, tells him no and yells at him for bothering him with stupid questions. Holden assures Ackley that he has no intention of joining a monastery because he doesn't want to be surrounded by all stupid bastards (50). This comment increases the tension between the two, causing Holden to leave the room.
Holden says Ackley's name several times in an effort to wake him up. Ackley finally answers and wants to know what happened between him and Stradlater. Holden doesn't want to discuss the fight with Ackley. Instead he wants to play Canasta, an idea that does not thrill Ackley. Holden then asks him if he can sleep in his roommate's bed. Ackley is reticent to allow Holden to sleep in the bed. Although he knows his roommate is home for the weekend, Ackley claims he does not know when he'll return and does not want him to find Holden sleeping in his bed. Ackley asks about the fight between Holden and Stradlater. This time Holden tells him the fight was about him because he was defending his honor.
Soon, Ackley goes back to sleep and Holden lays down on the bed, plagued by images of Jane and Stradlater hooking-up in the backseat of a car. He wakes Ackley up again to ask him about the possibility of his joining a monastery even though he isn't Catholic. Ackley tells him that he must be Catholic and yells at Holden for waking him up to ask him such a question. Holden tells him to relax because he isn't going to join one out of fear of being placed in a monastery with all stupid bastards (50). Ackley is livid about Holden's comment about his religion. This conversation leads them to quickly grow annoyed with one another. Holden leaves the room soon after sarcastically thanking Ackley for his hospitality.
While in the hall, he decides to leave for New York that night rather than wait until Wednesday. He plans to wait in the city until the official beginning of Pencey's Christmas break when he'll return to his apartment to deal with his parents and their reactions to his expulsion. He quickly packs his bags, taking everything except for an old typewriter which he sells for twenty dollars to a classmate who borrowed it and never returned it. He counts the cash he has on hand remarking about his grandmother's senility causing her to give him birthday money several times a year. He leaves the dorm, stopping in the hallway long enough to yell Sleep tight, ya morons! (52).
Holden leaves Pencey and walks to the train station. He catches the late train to New York City on which he meets the mother of one of his classmates. She notices the Pencey sticker on his suitcase and asks him if he is a student at the school. He tells her yes and they begin to discuss her son Earnest. Holden lies to her about the popularity about her son, claiming that Earnest refused to accept a nomination as class president. He introduces himself as Rudolph Schmidt, Pencey's janitor. Holden then offers to buy her a drink in the club car, but she declines. She asks him about his reasons for going to New York so late at night and before Pencey has let out for the holiday season. Holden tells her that he is scheduled to have a brain tumor removed.
Holden walks to the train station in the middle of the freezing night because he does not want to wait for a taxi. He catches the late train to New York City with a stop in Trenton. An attractive older woman boards the train in Trenton and sits next to Holden. She is dressed like she just returned from a party and reading a fashion magazine. Holden finds her very attractive despite her being close to his mother's age. She sees a Pencey sticker on Holden's suitcase and asks him if he is a student there. When he answers in the affirmative, she wants to know if he acquaintances with her son, Ernest Morrow. Holden tells her that he does know Earnest.
Excited by meeting one of her son's classmates, she wants to know his name. He tells her his name is Rudolph Schmidt who is actually the janitor at Pencey. Although Holden dislikes Ernest, he tells his mother that he is the most popular boy in school. He goes so far as to tell her that he would have been elected president of the student body if he hadn't refused to let his classmates nominate him. Needless to say, Mrs. Morrow is pleasantly surprised by Holden's claims. She thinks Earnest is extremely sensitive and socially awkward. Holden can't believe that Mrs. Morrow doesn't know her son has an unpleasant disposition, but then admits that mothers always think the best of their children.
He offers her a cigarette which she hesitates taking because the car they're in is not a smoking car. Holden convinces her to accept the cigarette and they continue to discuss her son. Holden admires her holding the cigarette, noting that she looks nice smoking. After they finish their cigarettes, Holden invites her for a drink in the club care. She politely declines and wonders aloud if he is permitted to order drinks. Holden points out his height and gray hair to indicate that he usually does not have a problem. She inquires about his trip to New York and Holden tells her that he is having an operation to remove a brain tumor.
Holden wants to call someone that may be in the city when he arrives at Penn Station. For each person he thinks of, he finds a reason not to call them. His older brother is in Hollywood, his sister is too young to be awake at that hour, and Sally Hayes's mother hates him. He also considers calling Jane Gallagher, who is still at school, but decides against it. Instead of making a phone call, he hails a taxi and goes to the Edmont Hotel. While riding in the taxi, he asks the driver if he knows about the ducks in Central Park South. The driver drops Holden off without responding to the inquiry. From his room in the Edmont, Holden witnesses, on the other side of the hotel, a series of bizarre but interesting acts: a man dressing in women's clothes and a couple squirting their drinks all over each other. He is aroused by the couple and calls a woman, known for her promiscuity, who was referred to him by an acquaintance. The prostitute refuses to come meet him that late at night, but offers to make a date with him for the next day. Holden thanks her, but regretfully declines.
As soon as Holden arrives at Penn Station, he is compelled to call someone. He doesn't know who he should call. D.B. is in Hollywood and his sister, Phoebe, is too young to be awake at such a late hour. Besides, his parents would most like answer the phone and they would want to know why he is calling and from where. He considers Jane Gallagher but decides against. Then he considers calling another girl, Sally Hayes, who lives in the city; however, her mother would most likely be the one to answer the phone and she hates him. He changes his mind about the phone call and takes a taxi to the Edmont Hotel.
On the way to the hotel, he asks the driver if he knows where the ducks go when the lagoon in Central Park South freezes. The driver isn't interested in the conversation so he doesn't respond to Holden's inquiries. He is dropped off at the Edmont and given a room the window of which faces the other side of the hotel. He looks out the window and sees a succession of strange acts taking place in the rooms directly across from him. There is a man dressing in women's clothing in one room. In another room there is a couple taking turns spitting mouthfuls of their drinks at each other. This last act he witnesses arouses him, particularly the girl who he finds attractive. Holden then discusses his issues with intimacy. He believes that if you don't really like a girl, you shouldn't horse around with her at all (62). Yet he continues to break all of these rules he makes for sex. He declares that he doesn't really understand sex. He again thinks of calling Jane Gallagher, but decides against it because he isn't in the right mood.
After smoking a cigarette, he calls Faith Cavendish; a loose woman recommended to him by a boy he met a party. She his upset by his late night phone call and demands to know who he is. Holden tells her that his acquaintance, Eddie Birdsell, referred him to her and this sooths her temper. Although she is flattered by the recommendation, Faith tells Holden that due to the late hour, they cannot arrange a date for that night. However, she does offer to meet him tomorrow, but Holden doesn't want to wait that long. He regretfully hangs up the phone without arranging to meet her the next day.
Although Holden never explicitly states that he is experiencing a nervous breakdown, this section illustrates a succession of events telling the reader that this is what Holden is experiencing. From his attack on Stradlater to seeking solace in Ackley's bedroom, Holden's behavior strongly suggests that he is losing the questionable control he has of himself. His irrational decision-making, incessant lying, and simultaneous search and avoidance of people does nothing to ease the mental strain under which he finds himself.
For example, after leaving Pencey with a loud and garish so long to his classmates, he walks to the train station. This impatience continues to grow on his way to and during his stay in the city. Then, while on the late train, he attempts to seduce a woman who is close to his mother's age through lies about his identity and her son's, his classmate's, social standing at Pencey. From earlier implications about his sexual awkwardness, the reader can assume that Holden's advances towards Mrs. Morrow are facilitated by her age. There is a virtual guarantee that nothing sexual will occur between them, therefore he does not need to worry about his performance. These lies are also, in effect, a protective measure to avert attention away from the trouble in which he has placed himself. After arriving in New York City, he is compelled to call someone, but finds several excuses as to why he shouldn't. He clearly is lonely, but he is unable to follow through with making a much needed human connection, particularly with Jane Gallagher. His cynical and bored-with-life guise allows him to blame this failure to connect with one of the few people for whom he cares deeply on a lack of interest. He simple didn't feel like it (59).
The scene in the taxi is compelling because he eagerly invites the driver into his world: first through inquiring about the ducks in Central Park South-another significant motif in the narrative, and then by inviting the driver, who is obviously working, for a cocktail. While his attempt to reach out to the taxi driver is may appear admirable to the reader at first, it becomes less so when the reader remembers the driver is a stranger. Holden risks nothing, especially exposing his vulnerability, by interacting with him.
The reader is confronted with Holden's sexual anxiety, again, at the Hotel Edmont. While in his room, he witnesses two sexually ambiguous acts on the other side of the hotel: a cross-dressing man and a couple spitting on each other. As perverse as he believes this behavior to be, he is equally fascinated by it. The reader can relate his voyeuristic interest in the other hotel guests to that which he had in Stradlater and Ackley. To a certain extent, Holden derives pleasure from seeing other people's potentially embarrassing idiosyncrasies because it enables him to consider his own with less severity. In fact he tells the reader that the couple's behavior arouses him, especially the girl who he finds attractive. He thinks it might be fun to do what they are doing, but he doesn't like the idea of it. It would be more accurate for Holden to say that he doesn't like the idea of being in a sexually tense situation where there are mutual expectations of performance. He doesn't provide a clear reason for his fear of intimacy with the opposite sex, though the reader can infer that it is a result of his fear of intimacy on any level.
Supposedly, Holden is so aroused by the behavior he witnesses that he calls Faith Cavendish, a woman known for making herself sexually available. He makes a poor attempt at setting up a date with her for that night, an offer that she declines. However, she suggests they meet the next day for cocktails. Holden lies to her by claiming he is in town for only one night. He says goodbye to her with deep regret for not accepting her alternative offer. The reader can apply the same reasoning to this situation that he applies to the incident with Mrs. Morrow. Holden, most likely, has no expectation of obtaining a date with Faith, therefore, thinks it's safe to call her. Yet when she expresses interest in seeing him another night, he immediately lies to escape the prospect of being intimate with her.