The Catcher in the Rye Study Guide

The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

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.

Chapter 16 Summary

Brief Summary

Holden wanders through the city after finishing breakfast. He cannot stop think about the nuns and their genuine altruism. It is hard for him to fathom. As he walks, he notices a presumably poor family with a little boy amusing himself in the street. The boy is singing a song that helps alleviate Holden's depression, if only briefly. The little boy inspires Holden to purchase a rare record for Phoebe. This in turn inspires him to finally call Jane Gallagher, but hangs up without a word when her mother answers. Feeling restless, Holden searches out Phoebe in the park, but does not find her there. He makes inquiries with a familiar looking girl who directs him to the Museum of Natural History. Although the museum is closed, Holden goes there and muses about his childhood days spent visiting its exhibits.

Detailed Summary

Holden takes a long walk after finishing breakfast. As he walks, he thinks about the nuns' altruism and is dumbfounded by the idea of anyone being as selfless as they. He remarks about Sally's mother and his aunt who self-servingly perform charitable work. It is hard for him to imagine Sally's mother taking donations outside of a department store because she expects to be acknowledged for her sacrifices and his aunt dresses for a garden tea party each time she volunteers, flaunting her moneyed status.

He indulges, again, in thoughts about Phoebe's pleasant demeanor and how she always understands Holden when he speaks to her. Suddenly he hears singing nearby and turns to find a small family walking by him. He assumes the family is poor because the father is wearing one of those pearl-gray hats that poor guys wear when they want to look sharp (115). The little boy is playing in the street, ignored by his parents, and singing If a body catch a body coming through the rye (115). Hearing the little boys singing cheers him up but seeing the dressed-up pedestrians going to the movies depresses him. He wanders down to Broadway to buy a hard-to-find record called Little Shirley Beans for Phoebe. Holden enjoys the record and believes Phoebe will as well because the black blues singer makes the children's song sound raunchy. Buying the record inspires him to call Jane Gallagher. He hangs up the phone when her mother answers, claiming he doesn't want to get into a long conversation with her.

He then goes to purchase tickets for a theater production called I Know My Love starring the Lunts, a famous family of performers. He thinks about a stage production of Hamlet that he saw with D.B. and Phoebe. He remembers enjoying the scene in which Ophelia jokes around with her brother's dagger while their father is giving him advice. After purchasing the tickets, his mind wanders back to Phoebe. He wants to see her so he goes to the park hoping to find her there roller skating, something she does on Sundays. He finds a girl that he recognizes sitting in the park trying to tighten her skates. He asks her if she knows of Phoebe's whereabouts. The young girl tells him Phoebe is probably at the Museum of Natural History on a school trip, but remembers the trip was actually on the previous day. However, Holden goes to the museum and happily remembers his trips to the museum with his former teacher Miss Aigletinger who never got upset with her students. He is fixated on the static nature of the exhibits in the museum. He reminds him that he is constantly changing while the life exhibited in the museum remains the same and also of how envious he was of that.

Chapter 17 Summary

Brief Summary

Holden goes to meet Sally at the theater, but she is late. He waits for her and watches all the young men and women home from school. He wonders about their future and whether they will all commit to the conventional life of marriage and boredom. Holden silently criticizes the play and its actors, the Lunts. They remind him of the atmosphere at Ernie's. During the intermission, he begins to regret asking Sally out because she speaks to an old, phony friend who attends Andover. After the play they go ice skating at Rockefeller Center. There he tells her about the depressing and cynical thoughts that caused him to leave Pencey. He suggests they run away together, but she does not like the idea of running away. They argue until he insults her and makes her cry. She does not want him to take her home, so he leaves Rockefeller Center alone and confused.

Detailed Summary

Holden goes to meet Sally in front of the Biltmore at 2 o'clock, but she is late. Holden waits for her on one of the leather couches in the lobby watching the students who are home for vacation. He comments on the girls' appearances, enjoying most of what he sees. Holden, then, grows depressed because he is wondering about the future of these young people. He assumes that most of the girls will marry dopey guys (123) or stereotypical guys who play golf and don't read- guys who are boring. He remembers another roommate from Elkton Hills by the name of Harris Macklin. His conversations were extraordinarily boring for Holden, but Harris could whistle.

Finally, Sally arrives and Holden is taken aback by her stunning appearance, so he immediately forgives her. The hail a taxi in which they make-out on the way to the theater. He tells Sally that he loves her although he knows it is a lie. Holden is annoyed by the show because the actors seem, to him, to be too good and drawing extreme adoration from the audience that he considers phony. He thinks that, like Ernie's fans, the audience's obsession with the Lunts has inflated their ego and doubts the quality of their performance. Holden and Sally wait in the lobby of the theater during intermission where Sally runs into an old friend from Andover, her school's brother school. Their pretentious conversation about the play and their shared past upsets Holden and tempts him to end the date. Yet, she suggests they go ice-skating at Rockefeller Center and he reluctantly agrees. She's excited about the prospect of renting one of the light blue skating skirts one of her friends told her about.

He watches Sally while they skate poorly around the rink and begins to wonder if the only reason she agreed to go skating was to giver he a chance to flaunt her cute ass to the young men. Holden thinks they are the worst skaters on the rink and believes the other skaters are staring at them. They decide to take a break to sit indoors and have drinks. He orders her a Coke and tries to order a Scotch and soda for himself, but must settle on a Coke as well. He notices that Sally's demeanor has changed for the worse. While he's lighting matches and letting them burn, she demands to know if he coming to her tree-trimming party. He tells her yes and then begins expressing his innermost thoughts to Sally: his hatred of school, his desire to escape the phony society in which he feels trapped, and his contempt for conventional living. He wants to know if she hates these things as well, but she is reluctant to concur. She believes that school offers more than dirty little goddamn cliques (131). Sally cannot understand what he is talking about because he's monologue is disjointed. When he tells her that she is the only reason for his staying in New York, Sally condescendingly tells him that he is sweet.

He proposes that he and Sally run away to the woods to live a simple, virtually money-free life. Sally is disturbed by Holden's conversation and proposition. She expresses her vehement disapproval of his ideas which she considers to be absurd. She tells him the primary reason neither one of them can run away is because they're both practically children (132). She also reminds him that they need money to survive and will have to work for that money. She tells him she prefers the traditional path of college and marriage. He tells her that she doesn't understand him to which she claims he doesn't understand himself, either. Holden grows agitated by her response and tells her You give me a royal pain in the ass (133). Surprised and hurt by his insult, she cries. Holden makes vain attempts to apologize, but the damage is already done. Holden apologizes profusely before leaving alone, embarrassed and slightly confused by what transpired between them.

Chapter 16-17 Analysis

These chapters represent yet another dramatic shift in the text, such that the reader is given proof that Holden is in the process of a nervous breakdown. After leaving the nuns, he wanders aimlessly through the city, watching all the people from whom he feels completely alienated. From the well dressed people heading to the movies to the poor family walking down the street with their son, Holden believes he has nothing in common with any of them. The only people to whom he relates on his walk are the children he comes across. First, there is the small son of the poor family. His oblivious self-amusement and mindless singing inspire happiness in Holden. In fact, the song the little boy sings inspires Holden even more as the reader will learn later. Second, Phoebe moves him to seek out a rare record that he knows she will enjoy. Third, he finds a familiar little girl in the park and asks her help in finding Phoebe, rather than calling her at or going home where she will most likely be. Lastly, on his way to the Museum of Natural History, he sees two children on a see-saw. He stops to equalize the weight distribution as for them. Although these interactions are minor in action, they speak volumes about Holden's struggle with the outside world. Unlike his interactions with fellow teenagers and adults, Holden approaches these children free of judgments and with genuine happiness. The Museum of Natural History symbolizes his obsession with salvaging the magical and ethereal world of childhood. Similarly to the way in which museums preserve the precious artifacts of history, Holden wishes to preserve and conserve the purity of childhood.

When he returns the world in which he now belongs, the adult world, his cynicism and bitterness return. His date with Sally Hayes begins a succession of poor choices that leads to the emotional eruption at Rockefeller Center. He decides to purchase tickets to a musical despite the fact that he hates the theater as much as he hates the movies. Add to that his dislike for the Lunts, and already he is in an unpleasant situation. Then, on their way to theater, Holden tells Sally that he loves while admitting that he lied to her. He acknowledges his erratic behavior with a simple, but troubling summation: I'm crazy. I swear to God (125). Throughout the date, Holden oscillates between loving and hating Sally. This can be explained, in part, by his sexual confusion and his need to abide by the dating rules he creates for himself. Though he it clear to Holden that he and Sally have nothing in common, he is compelled to reach out to her as the only acquaintance in the city with whom he has made an effort to connect.

Unfortunately, she disappoints him, when they go skating at Rockefeller Center. He does not want to go skating with her, but he also does not want to be left alone. His ever increasing desperation for someone to hold his hand coupled with the poor decision-making leads to his outburst at the skating rink. His ramblings and disjointed, bitter declarations have the same effect as his sarcastic wit in that they upset Sally. They also disturb her to such a degree that they become alienated from each other. Like Mr. Spencer, Stradlater, the taxi driver, and the trio of women from Seattle, Sally penetrates his delusions and exposes them to Holden for what they are. The only difference between Sally and the others is that she is brutal in her exposure. Holden cannot cope with the fact that Sally, someone who epitomizes the superficiality he despises, understands both the world and the nature of his internal conflict better than he does. Ironically, it is Sally who forces Holden to admit: I'm a madman (134).

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