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.
Feeling restless, Holden goes to the Lavender Room, a nightclub in the Edmont. Before leaving the room, he thinks about calling his sister Phoebe again, but decides against it. He doesn't want his parents to discover that he was expelled from Pencey. He tries to order a cocktail in the Lavender Room, but the waiter asks Holden for identification proving he is legally allowed to drink. Holden tries to convince the waiter that he is old enough to drink by pointing out his height and grey hair. The waiter doesn't believe Holden forcing him to order a Coke. He sees three women sitting alone and approaches the table. Although they don't take him seriously, they all agree to dance with him. Holden is disappointed by their lack of conversational skills and obsession with celebrities, but joins their party and buys them drinks. As soon as they finish their drinks, the three women leave Holden in the nightclub.
Unable to sleep, Holden changes into a fresh shirt and goes to the Lavender Room, a nightclub on the first floor of the hotel. He considers calling Phoebe, again, before leaving his room. He provides a description of her as he recalls the time that he took her to see Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps. He notes that she knows the entire movie by heart and can speak the lines verbatim before the characters say them. He also notes the short stories Phoebe writes about a young, girl detective by the name of Hazel Weatherfield. These are examples of the exceptional brilliance he admires in her as young child; however, he feels that she is too emotional. He decides not to call her and leaves for the Lavender Room.
Holden finds a table in the Lavender Room and attempts to order a cocktail when the waiter attends to him. Holden believes that his height of over six feet and graying hair will convince the waiter to serve him alcohol, but the waiter asks for verification of his age. Unable to provide any, Holden pretends he is offended, but eventually orders a Coke. He then notices a table with three women sitting around it. They are obviously without escorts. He approaches the table to flirt with the only blonde in the group. Although they seem amused and uninterested in Holden, clearly much younger than they, the blonde agrees to dance with him. While dancing, he attempts to engage her in conversation by asking her where she and her friends are originally from. She tells him Seattle but is not interested in continuing the conversation. The only times she speaks to him is when he uses vulgar language, something that upsets her. Several times she has to ask him to censor himself. They finish dancing and return to the table.
He sits with them, uninvited and finds himself dancing with the blonde woman's friends who are, to his surprise, talented dancers. Utterly bored by their lack of conversational skills and obsessive interest in movie stars, he amuses himself by telling the third and ugliest of the three women that Gary Cooper is on the other side of the room. She eagerly looks for him until Holden tells her that he left. He's even more amused when she tells her friends that she saw Gary Cooper leaving the club. As the club begins to close, Holden buys two drinks for each of the women, cokes for himself, and a pack of cigarettes. As soon as they finish their second drinks, they stand up to leave. They tell him that they have to retire early because they plan to catch the first show at Radio City Music Hall. This, in conjunction with their obsession with celebrities, depresses him. He is also upset their leaving him to pay for the drinks they ordered before he joined them. Holden leaves the Lavender Room shortly after paying the bill, saying that it is not the type of place where one can stay without being drunk or having a nice girl to with whom to dance.
Holden sits in the lobby of the hotel after leaving the Lavender Room and thinks about Jane Gallagher. He remembers her dog as being the impetus for their meeting. Jane's Doberman Pincher used to pee on his lawn when they were neighbors in Maine. They spent time together playing checkers and going to the movies. On a day when they were playing checkers at her house, Jane's alcoholic step father came out to the porch looking for cigarettes. The incident made Jane cry. Holden refers to this as the day they almost hooked-up because when he comforted her, she allowed him to kiss her entire face except for her lips. He also remembers that she was a great girl to hold hands with in the movie theater. All the reminiscing about Jane depresses him because he also thinks about her and Stradlater in the backseat of car hooking-up. He decides to leave the hotel to go to Ernie's, a nightclub that he and D.B. used to frequent.
As Holden enters the lobby, he begins to reminisce about Jane Gallagher when she was his next door neighbor in Maine. They first met each other after his mother complained to her mother about Jane's Doberman Pincher urinating on the Caulfield's lawn. Soon after meeting, Holden and Jane became close. She was the only person to whom he showed Allie's poetry-inscribed baseball glove. He remembers the day when he and Jane nearly hooked-up.
They were playing checkers on her porch when her alcoholic step father, Mr. Cudahy, came out looking for cigarettes. Jane refused to answer him and kept her eyes on the checker board. When her step father finally went into the house, Holden asked her what was going on. She didn't answer him, but a single tear drop fell from her face onto the board. Holden sat next to her making her sob. She allowed him to kiss her entire face except for her lips. He asked her if Mr. Cudahy ever attempted to molest her, to which she responded no. One of the things he really admired about her was her ability to hold hands while seeing a movie. Holden loved that she held his hand without constantly rubbing it or letting her own hand go limp.
These thoughts of Jane make his mind wander to thoughts of her with Stradlater in the backseat of a car. It drives him crazy as he sits in the lobby unsure of what to do next. He gets depressed when he sees that the lobby is nearly empty, so he decides to leave the hotel. He retrieves his jacket from his room, checking to see if the people across from his room are still behaving strangely, but the lights are off in all of the rooms. He returns to the lobby, hails a taxi, and tells the driver to take him to Ernie's, a night club in Greenwich Village that he used to frequent with D.B. Ernie is a elitist, fat, black, piano player who, Holden believes, won't acknowledge a person unless he is a celebrity or someone important. However, Ernie is an exceptional musician and Holden likes to hear him play.
While riding in the taxi to Ernie's, Holden asks the driver if he knows where the ducks go when the lagoon freezes over in the winter. The driver thinks that Holden's interest in the ducks is stupid but tells him that he knows the fish stay in the frozen pond getting nutrients from the ice through their scales. Holden invites the driver for a drink when they arrive at Ernie's, but the driver does not have time. Holden enters the crowded club, immediately annoyed because he believes all the customers are Ivy League phonies who do not good music when they hear it. He sits at a table with an obstructed view and is served a Scotch and soda. As he enjoys his drink, one of D.B.'s ex-girlfriends, Lillian, sees him and invites him to sit with her and her date. Holden does not want to sit with them, so he tells her that he has to leave to meet a friend. A few moments later he leaves the club so as not to make Lillian feel bad about his not wanting to sit with her. However, he is upset that he has to leave and blames her for ruining his night.
The taxi Holden gets into smells like vomit. He believes that he always gets the taxis that smell like someone has been sick in them. As they drive through the streets, Holden notices that it is unusually quiet and lonesome on the streets for a Saturday night. He hears someone laugh and grows even more depressed because the sound echoes through the empty streets, reminding him of how lonely he feels. He starts a conversation with the taxi driver, Horowitz, about the ducks in Central Park South. He asks Horowitz if he knows where the ducks go when the lagoon freezes over in the winter. The taxi driver turns around and tells Holden that it would be impossible for him to know a stupid thing like that (82). Holden ends the conversation because he thinks he's annoyed Horowitz.
Suddenly Horowitz tells him that the fish don't go anywhere when the lagoon freezes over. Holden's response is that the fish are different, but he doesn't convince Horowitz. They stop speaking again for a few moments. Then, Holden expresses interest in learning about how the fish survive when the water is frozen solid. Horowitz tells him that the fish receive nutrients through their scales until the ice thaws and they are able to swim freely. He goes on to say that Mother Nature has taken care of the fishes by making it their nature to survive deep, winter freezes by allowing their pores (83) to remain open for nutrients. Holden invites Horowitz for a drink when they arrive at Ernie's, but he declines the offer, telling Holden that he doesn't have time for drinking.
Ernie's is swarmed with people, mostly from prep schools and colleges. Ernie was playing the piano, which left the rather large crowd hushed. Holden is annoyed by this because he doesn't believe that anyone is as good as demanding silence from the crowd. He insults Ernie's performance, complaining about the improvisational nuances he adds to the song he's playing. He believes that Ernie's ego has been inflated by the attention the phonies who go to his bar pay him. Holden is then seated at a table behind a pole, preventing him from seeing anything. He is able to order a Scotch and soda without having to show the waiter identification. As he is waiting for his drink, Holden surveys the room and notices that he is surrounded by Ivy League bastards (85) engaged in boring conversation. While watching a girl being under the table by her date as her date tells her about a near suicide in his dorm, Holden begins to feel uncomfortable about being alone in the club. He tells the waiter to ask Ernie if he would join him for a drink. Then Lillian, a girl D.B. dated, approaches his table with her date, a naval officer. She blocks the aisle near his table as they exchange polite conversation about D.B. She asks Holden to join her and her date, but Holden declines, claiming he was about to leave to meet a friend. Realizing that the lie he tells put him in precarious situation, he leaves the club upset that he couldn't hear Ernie play another song. He blames Lillian for his leaving the club and ruining his night.
In this section, Holden's increasing desperation for human connections is made all the more evident. After failing to make a date with Faith Cavendish in Chapter 9, Holden goes to the Lavender Room. He is clearly in need of companionship, but, as per his usual behavior, he creates a false persona that further alienates him. For example, in the Lavender Room, Holden carries himself as though he is a swinging bachelor out for a night on the town. He believes that his unusual height and gray hair will support his performance, but the waiter does not buy into Holden's illusion. Neither do the three women from Seattle. They clearly see that he is a teenage boy playing at a game, so they humor him. Rather than see understand the abrasive reaction he gets from the women, he blames their disinterest on what he considers to be their provincial attitudes and low intelligence. Again, the reader can refer back to Chapters 3 and 4 to confirm Holden's tendency to make superficial judgments of people, especially when they penetrate his delusional protective devices. Instead of displaying mature perceptivity, Holden proves even more that he is a mere child. This is evidenced by his foolish insistence on paying for the women's cocktails despite his not being of legal drinking age: I bought them all two drinks apiece and I ordered two more Cokes for myself. (74)
Another primary example of Holden's growing need for companionship is his racing thoughts about other people. His sister Phoebe and Jane Gallagher play significant roles as nostalgic motifs while strangers, such as the other customers in the Lavender Room, become easy targets for the judgmental posture he exhibits throughout the text. However, his racing thoughts are indicative of his inability for profound introspection. At no point in this section does Holden perform a substantial self-reflective exercise beyond remembering incidents from his childhood, which he allows to filter through his mind unquestioned. In fact, the reader can interpret his obsession with others is also one of Holden's commonly used deflective devices.
Yet it is through his memories of Phoebe and Jane in particular, that we learn precisely that which Holden is seeking from others. He mentions in Chapter 11 that when one is with Jane all [one] knew was, [he] was happy (79). Holden finds happiness with Jane for two reasons: 1) her interest in Holden's stories about Allie and allowance of Holden to discuss Allie with her and 2) she comforts him and eases his sexual anxiety. Again in Chapter 11, Holden tells the reader specifically about Jane's tremendous handholding skills. Unlike other girls, she neither incessantly moves her hand around nor does she allow it to go limp. Handholding as a concept symbolizes safety and guidance as well as protection. Holden's choice to focus on this particular aspect of Jane's personality tells the reader that Holden is looking for some one who can guide and safe-keep him through a life that he cannot navigate on his own. Essentially, he needs someone to hold his hand through his traumatic and painful journey of self-discovery.