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 arrives at Mr. Antolini's where finds their apartment and the Antolinis in disarray. He and his teacher sit down to coffee and cakes to discuss Holden's crisis. Mr. Antolini expresses dire concern for Holden and tries to impart his own hard learned lessons on him. Holden, tired and feeling ill, cannot concentrate on the conversation. He explains his expulsion and his reasons for hating Pencey Prep. Mr. Antolini understands Holden's skepticism about social institutions, but he doesn't understand his reticence to make an effort to improve his life and general attitude. They finish their conversation and Holden retires only to awaken to Mr. Antolini stroking his forehead. Holden quickly dresses and rushes out of the apartment despite his exhaustion and delirium.
Holden arrives at Mr. Antolini's upscale Sutton Place apartment to find them wide awake and cleaning up after a dinner party they hosted that night. Mr. Antolini is drinking highballs and Mrs. Antolini is making coffee in the kitchen. Mr. Antolini invites Holden to sit and offers him a cigarette. He then begins to ask Holden for details regarding his expulsion, making sure that Holden, at least, did not flunk English. Holden assures him that English is the one course he passed before discussing the Oral Expression class that he failed. He starts feeling a dizzy spell and a headache come on when Mr. Antolini asks him about flunking Oral Expression. Holden tells him that one of the major criteria for passing the class was not to digress from the main theme of the speech. However, Holden prefers when someone digresses in his speeches. Mr. Antolini is confused by his former student's disinterest in [having] somebody stick to the point (183). Holden clarifies by saying that he doesn't like it when someone [sticks] to the point too much (183).
He tells Mr. Antolini about Richard Kinsella who always digressed. Although the other boys in the class would reprimand Richard for deviating from the main point of his speeches, Holden found the information offered in these ramblings to be more interesting than the main theme. He also did not appreciate the fervent attacks on Richard, which are examples of the exclusivity practiced at Pencey. Mr. Antolini asks Holden if he believes there is a time and a place for everything. Holden agrees, but adds that, at times, it is difficult for someone to know what interests him most until he begins to explore that which doesn't interest him. At that point Mrs. Antolini brings the coffee with some cakes into the living room. She returns to bed after setting the tray down. Once Mrs. Antolini says good night, Mr. Antolini tells Holden that he had lunch with his father a couple of weeks ago. Mr. Caulfield expressed to him that he received a letter from Pencey's headmaster detailing Holden's lack of effort in school. His father is highly concerned about Holden.
Like Mr. Spencer, Mr. Antolini attempts to impart some wisdom on Holden. Yet, as Holden has admitted earlier, he is difficult to help. Mr. Antolini reveals his fear that Holden is heading for some kind of terrible, terrible fall (186) from which he may never recover. This is a fall that results from championing a noble yet unworthy cause. In this case, the cause is toppling the status quo. Mr. Antolini tells Holden that the only fool-proof way to challenge the establishment is through education and acceptance of the realities of human behavior. He goes on to say that an education will do three major things for Holden: it will enhance his brilliance and creativity, give him the ability to see his thoughts through to the end (189), and allow him to assess the type of convictions he ought to hold. Holden yawns from sheer exhaustion indicating to Mr. Antolini that he needs to sleep.
While he is sleeping, Mr. Antolini sits on the floor next to the couch, stroking Holden's head. Delirious from a lack of sleep and an ensuing cold, Holden bolts off the couch and hurriedly dresses. He demands to know what Mr. Antolini is doing, but before giving him a chance to answer, Holden tells his teacher that he needs to retrieve his bags from the train station. Mr. Antolini is confused by Holden's reaction and tries to prevent him from leaving the apartment. Holden, believing that Mr. Antolini acted inappropriately, refuses to stay in the apartment. However, rather than telling his teacher that he feels uncomfortable and will not stay with him, he promises to return after picking up his bags. Mr. Antolini simply looks at Holden and calls him strange. He lets Holden leave, telling him that he will keep the doors unlocked. Holden thanks him and quickly boards the elevator.
Mr. Antolini becomes Holden's last chance of making a connection within the adult world. Mr. Antolini empathizes with Holden's disillusionment because he himself felt that way at Holden's age. An illustration of this is the manner in which Mr. Antolini discusses the expulsion with Holden. Rather than lecturing at Holden, as Mr. Spencer does, Mr. Antolini makes an attempt to fully understand Holden's perspective. It is important to note at this point that Holden refers to Mr. Antolini in the formal whereas when he refers to Mr. Spencer, he uses only his surname. This indicates that Holden has respect for Mr. Antolini and rightfully so. Yet beneath this veneer of respectability looms a threatening, undefined energy as is evident in Holden's description of the Mr. Antolini's apartment.
The Antolinis are awake at an extremely late hour on a Sunday night when Holden arrives. Mr. Antolini claims that they have been entertaining guests from Buffalo thus the scattered cocktail glasses and dishes of peanuts. However, Mrs. Antolini supposedly just arose from bed when Holden called. Mr. Antolini may have entertained the guests alone, but this is doubtful given the fact that Mrs. Antolini is now playing hostess by making coffee and setting out cakes. Also Mr. Antolini is still drinking hardballs alone. The above observations combined with Mr. Antolini's frank, but congenial, nature make Holden uncomfortable. His discomfort is heightened when he awakes to find Mr. Antolini stroking his forehead. Holden's sexual insecurities and the encounter with Carl Luce still fresh in his mind, cause him to overreact to what is an innocent gesture typical of what may pass between a father and his troubled son. The threatening energy referred to above turns out to be frightening only to Holden. The Antolinis illustrate a lifestyle that is contradictory to Holden's perspective on the adult world. They are not stodgy, superficial, or boring. They entertain, they allow friends in need to find refuge in their apartment at any hour of the night, and they care about neither their appearance nor the appearance of their upscale apartment when they do have guests. They completely expose themselves in a way that is unfamiliar to Holden and challenging to his world view.
Mr. Antolini is clearly moved by Holden's physically manifested desperation as the reader can cull from the conversation between the young man and his teacher. He wishes to save Holden from succumbing to a special kind of fall, a horrible kind (187) that usually results from people giving up on their search for meaning, purpose, and higher ideals. In this way, a parallel can be drawn between Mr. Antolini and Holden's vision of being a catcher in the rye though with one important distinction: Mr. Antolini as catcher functions to rescue those who are lost and have not and cannot define the type of life for which they desperately seek, whereas Holden as catcher functions to prevent children from ever having to face the self-determination that all must confront in the maturation process. Unfortunately, Holden permits his cynicism and insecurities to prevent him from reaching out to grab hold of Mr. Antolini's hand and being guided into the adult world. This is why he abruptly leaves when he awakens to Mr. Antolini's touch. While Mr. Antolini's behavior is peculiar, it is far from a sexual advance. On some level, Holden knows Mr. Antolini is not making a pass at him; however, Holden also knows that he isn't ready for the process discussed above.