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 18 Summary

Brief Summary

Holden goes to a drugstore for lunch after leaving Sally Hayes at the skating rink. He thinks again of Jane Gallagher and calls her, but there is no answer. He looks for other people to call, seeing that he has few people listed in his phone book. He finally decides to call Carl Luce, his Student Advisor at Whooton. They agree to meet for drinks at 10 o'clock, several hours away. To pass the time, Holden goes to see a movie at Radio City Music Hall. He loathes the entire show which makes him think about war and D.B. who enlisted in the army during WWII. Holden can't imagine committing the time required to be in the army and would prefer to be blown up by an atomic bomb if there is another war.

Detailed Summary

Holden heads to a drugstore to have a Swiss cheese sandwich and malted milk after leaving the skating rink. His mind wanders to calling Jane Gallagher again, but he quickly becomes distracted by memories. He remembers a dance at which he saw Jane dancing with a boy that Holden thought was a phony. Jane defended her dance partner by claiming his arrogance was due to an inferiority complex. Holden believes that girls use the inferiority complex as an excuse to associate with phonies. He also believes that having an inferiority complex does not preclude a boy from being a phony bastard (136). This reminded him of Roberta Walsh's roommate for whom he got a date with his friend, Bob Robinson. She claimed to dislike him because Bob told her he was captain of the debate team. Roberta's roommate took this as an indication of conceitedness. Holden doesn't understand why girls will excuse the pomposity of boys they like, but criticize a boy they dislike, no matter how nice he may be, for presumed vanity.

He calls Jane Gallagher's house again but receives no answer. He peruses his address book looking for other people to call, but he has approximately three people listed in it. He finally decides to call Carl Luce, a boy with whom Holden went to Whooton and now studies as Columbia University. Carl agrees to meet Holden for a drink at 10 o'clock. Holden goes to a movie at Radio City Music Hall to pass the time before meeting Carl.

He criticizes the show throughout its duration, from the pre-show extravaganza with Rockettes and a Christmas pageant to the putrid (138) romantic war drama of the movie. It is all too phony for Holden. When the movie is over, he heads to the Wicker Bar where he is to meet Carl. On the way he begins to obsess about war as a result of seeing the movie. He doesn't believe he could handle the army because you have to stay in the Army so goddam long (140).

His brother, D.B., enlisted in army as a chauffer during WWII. When he returned he was depressed and kept to himself. D.B. told Holden and Allie that if head to shoot someone, he wouldn't have known who to shoot because both sides of the war were wrong. It's at this time that D.B inscribed Allie's baseball mitt with poems by Emily Dickinson who Allie felt was the best war poet. Despite D.B.'s hatred for war, he convinced Holden to read A Farewell to Arms last summer. Holden doesn't understand D.B.'s reason for asking him to read a book about the phony Lt. Henry while also expecting him to appreciate a book like The Great Gatsby . Holden preferred The Great Gatsby to A Farewell to Arms . He considers Old Gatsby (141) to be a heroic figure. Holden then thinks about what he considers to be the advantages to the invention of the atomic bomb. He says that he would offer to sit on top of it if there is another war.

Chapter 19 Summary

Brief Summary

Holden arrives early at the Wicker Bar in the upscale Seton Hotel where he is meeting Carl Luce. He makes note of the seeming phonies and gay men in the bar. Seeing these presumably gay men reminds him of Carl Luce's obsession with discussing flits and other alternative lifestyles. Luce finally arrives to have a quick drink before heading off for a date. Holden annoys him with comments about sex and questions about Carl's sex life. Carl is disturbed by Holden's insistence and accuses him of being immature as well as in need of psychoanalysis. Carl Leaves Holden in the bar where he proceeds to get completely drunk and depressed.

Detailed Summary

The Wicker Bar, like the Lavender Room, is located in a hotel except the Wicker Bar is in the more upscale Seton Hotel. The bar used to feature a French cabaret act with two women who would sing and play the piano. Holden arrives early and sits at the bar drinking Scotch and sodas while waiting for old Luce (142) to show arrive. He peruses the bar and comments on all the phonies and flits around him.

Old Luce finally arrives and joins Holden at the bar. Holden recalls that Old Luce was supposed to be his Student Advisor at Whooton, but he really was his sexual advisor. In particular, Old Luce would give lectures about perverts and all (143): men who committed bestiality and men who carried women's underwear in the hats. Holden believed Old Luce to also be an authority on the homosexual lifestyle and, at one point, believed Luce to be a homosexual as well.

As soon as Luce sits down, he tells Holden that he can only stay for a few minutes because he has a date. Holden notices that Luce orders a very dry Martini with no olive. Holden immediately directs Luce's attention to the men he believes are flits. Luce responds dryly and sarcastically by asking Holden when he's going to grow up. Despite Luce's clear disinterest in discussing anything sexual, Holden proceeds to inquire into Luce's sex life. Luce tells him to relax. He wants to have a quiet drink at the bar before going on his date, but Holden is determined to prevent that from happening. He badgers Luce about his love life, thus learning about his relationship with a Chinese sculptress. Holden is taken aback by Luce's choice of companionship and does not understand it. Luce explains to him that he enjoys the Chinese woman because of her appreciation for both the spiritual and physical aspects of sex. Holden becomes intensely curious and begins to loudly question Luce about developing a spiritual and physical bond with a girl. Luce is obviously uncomfortable with the volume and topic of conversation. Holden presumes that Luce is upset and threatened by his domination of the conversation.

Holden reveals to Luce that his love life leaves much to be desired. Luce blames Holden's immature mind for his lack of intimacy. Rather than be offended by Luce's remark, Holden agrees and tells him that he cannot be aroused by a girl for whom he does not have intense feelings. Luce considers this to be natural for someone like Holden who is need of psychoanalysis, something he has been telling Holden to try. After explaining the process of psychoanalysis to Holden, Luce finishes his drink and says farewell. Holden wants him to stay for one more drink, but Luce is running late and needs to leave. When Luce leaves, Holden says he is a pain in the ass (149) with an excellent vocabulary.

Chapter 20 Summary

Brief Summary

Holden stays in the bar after Luce leaves and drinks himself into a stupor. He attempts to hit on one of the performers, but is unsuccessful. He reacts to the performer's rejection in the same way he reacted to Maurice's assault: by pretending he is gangster who has been shot in the stomach. He thinks of calling Jane Gallagher, but calls Sally Hayes instead to accept her invitation to a tree trimming party. Realizing how drunk he is, Holden goes to the men's room to sober up. He dunks his head in clod water and neglects to dry it off. While in the bathroom he nearly has an argument with the bars piano player about the performer who rejected him. He leaves the bar after both the piano player and the hat-check girl tell him to go home. He walks to the park, breaking Phoebe's record along the way, to see what the ducks are doing, but does not find any there. After brooding by the lagoon for a while, he decided to go home to see Phoebe.

Detailed Summary

Holden remains at the bar after Luce leaves and proceeds to get drunk. A new cabaret singer by the name of Valencia performs. Holden finds her attractive and attempts to seduce her. He tells the headwaiter to ask Valencia if she would join him for a drink, but she nothing happens. He continues to drink until he is completely inebriated and begins to pretend, again, that he is a gangster who has been shot. Holden suddenly wants to call Jane Gallagher, but finds himself calling Sally Hayes. Sally's grandmother answers the phone, very upset by Holden's late night, drunken phone call. Although she tells him that Sally is asleep, he demands the grandmother wake her. Suddenly Sally is on the phone speaking to him with concern in her voice. He promises to accept her invitation to a Christmas tree trimming party. After hanging up, he stays in the phone booth imagining her with the Lunts and her friend form Andover swimming in a pot of tea.

When he leaves the phone booth, he goes to the men's room to dunk his head in cold water. Without drying his head off, he sits on the radiator letting the water drip everywhere. Then the piano player comes into the bathroom to comb his hair. Holden begins to ask the piano player about Valencia. The piano player, seeing that Holden is drunk, repeatedly tells him to go home before leaving the bathroom. Holden leaves the bathroom shortly after and goes to the hat-check room to retrieve his coat. Holden finds himself crying and overwhelmed by depression and loneliness. He cannot find his ticket, but the hat-check girl gives him his coat anyway and also tells him to go home. Still wet, he steps out into the winter air and begins to walk to the park. He wants to see what the ducks are doing if they are still there.

On the way to the park, he drops Phoebe's record which shatters from the impact. He picks up the pieces, places them in his pocket, and continues walking to the park. Despite having grown up near Central Park, he has trouble finding the lagoon. He walks further into the darkness of the park eventually finding the lagoon. It was partially frozen, but there are no ducks. He sits on a nearby bench, allowing small hunks of ice to freeze on his head. He worries about dying from pneumonia. He pictures his entire family coming to his funeral as they did to Allie's funeral. Everyone attended Allie's funeral except him because he had been admitted to the hospital after punching out the garage windows. He worries about what would happen to his mother if he dies from pneumonia and says that the only good thing about his funeral is that his mother will not allow Phoebe to attend.

The idea of a funeral and his body being buried is so distasteful to Holden that he doesn't visit Allie's grave anymore. He hopes that rather than burying him, someone will dump his body in the river. In order to stop thinking about dying from pneumonia, he counts the money he has left: three singles, five quarters, and a nickel (156). He skips the change across the lagoon. His mind wanders back to the possibility of his getting pneumonia and how bad Phoebe will feel if he dies. He decides to risk going home to see her just in case he dies. He leaves the park and walks to house in the cold, lonely night.

Chapter 18-20 Analysis

In Chapter 18, Holden makes an interesting transition from discussing love to discussing war. His ramblings about war and volunteering to sit on an atomic bomb in the event of another war remind the reader of the gangster fantasy he uses to recover from humiliating events. The incident with Sally Hayes is a humiliating event for Holden and therefore he must recover from it in the best way he knows how, fallacious machismo.

Throughout the text, Holden's preoccupation with machismo and courage is illustrated. However, it isn't until this section that it is given a thorough treatment by the author. Salinger uses these chapters to reveal that, like everything else in his life, Holden has yet to understand manhood or define manhood for himself. He is, undoubtedly, a victim of the macho stereotype he's seen at the four schools he's attended. As mentioned in early sections of the text, Holden believes that men should exhibit controlling behavior as well as be knowledgeable of the ways to sexually please women. These ideas are particularly important here because of whom Holden meets or a drink.

Carl Luce is remembered as a sexual provocateur. When in prep school, he played courtier for his classmates by often giving lectures on various sexual practices and lifestyles, particularly homosexuality. This last topic is one which proves to be a preoccupation of Holden's because like most young, teenage boys he is uncomfortable with and unsure of his own sexuality. Due to Luce's effeminate nature and comfort with his sexuality, Holden wonders if Carl is a flit or homosexual. At the same time, Holden idolizes Carl for the brand of machismo he demonstrated at Whooton and attempts to emulate it at the bar.

When Luce arrives at the Wicker Bar, Holden immediately and aggressively questions him about sex and his sex life in particular. It becomes evident that Holden is seeking guidance from the one man he ever spoke to in depth about sex. It is also clear that he is trying to relate to Luce on a level to which he presumes his former classmate will relate. Unfortunately, for Holden, his personification of Lucian machismo becomes a gross caricature: tactless and crude. His desperation to connect with someone, though, prevents him from seeing Luce for who he is today and relating to him on that level. Luce, now a Columbia student, no longer has any interest in discussing sex as frankly as he once did. This is, in large part, due to his having matured by undergoing a profound, introspective process since prep school. Personally defining manhood has been a part of that process. He attempts to explain this Holden, but it is beyond his comprehension as he is unwillingly to perform a self-reflective exercise. Luce recognizes from Holden's inappropriate questions that he has yet to mature mentally and intellectually, despite his obvious physical maturity. He also recognizes that Holden is suffering from a detrimental level of confusion and inner-turmoil, for which he recommends psychoanalysis.

Although Luce's comments provide much insight for Holden, he proceeds to get drunk at the Wicker Bar. Complete inebriation, a state for which Holden has been striving for the entire text, becomes his response to Luce. He also attempts to return to the innocent world of childhood with memories of Allie. However, those memories are warped by Holden's increasing preoccupation with death, which in a sense becomes another dominant theme of this section. Allie's premature death and Luce's prep school identity's death force Holden to reexamine the unhealthy nostalgia he has for adolescent navet. Childhood is painful and difficult growth process that involves the death of youth and innocence. Phoebe's shattered record emphasizes this point while on the other hand, the ducks in Central Park South represent the natural rebirth and renewal cycles of life. Everything in the world sustains changes.

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