1Metaphor in the Text of The Catcher in the RyeDR S. MNGADI, DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH, B-RING 723CONSULTATION TIMES: MONDAY; TUESDAY; THURSDAY: 10H30 – 12H30;FRIDAY: 10H00-12H00 (OR BY APPOINTMENT)PLEASE NOTE: LIKE ANY OTHER SOURCE, THESE NOTES ARE MEANTTO SUPPLEMENT YOUR OWN READING OF THE NOVEL AND NOT TOREPLACE IT.IntroductionThe penultimate chapter of The Catcher in the Rye (1994) concludes with the image ofPhoebe, the narrator Holden Caulfield’s young sister, taking a second ride on thecarrousel as the rain begins to fall. As he watches her while standing in the rain andgetting soaked, Holden informs his reader/listener that, I didn’t care, though. I felt so damn happy all of a sudden, the way old Phoebe kept going around and around. I was damn near bawling, I felt so damn happy, if you want to know the truth. I don’t know why. It was just that she looked so damn nice, the way she kept going around and around, in her blue coat and all. God, I wish you could’ve been there. (191)The story then ends with a short chapter, two-thirds of a page long, in which Holdenaddresses his reader/listener – the “you” in his narrative – about what it has been likespending time in a mental/rehabilitation institution. Holden narrates the entire story of afew days before and after he leaves Pencey Preparatory School, the fourth school fromwhich he is expelled for performing badly in all but one of his subjects, from a mental orrehabilitation institution. The image of the carousel, and of Phoebe “going around and around” on it whileHolden stands in the soaking rain watching her, elaborates on one of the rare instances inhis narrative in which he expresses his happiness (or excitement/interest) at something. Itforms part of the recurring images of children as both inventive and genuine (or intuitive)
2and of childhood as a stage that is not yet weighed down by social compromise asadulthood is. I shall return to these opening remarks in due course. What follows is thesummary of the chapters of the novel.The narrativeThe novel comprises twenty-six chapters of relatively short length. Each chapter,sometimes more, deals with an event in the few days of December before and afterHolden leaves Pencey, which is then linked to the overall theme of the narrative. Thetheme of the narrative can be summed up as follows: the world of adulthood, and/or ofadults, is one of compromise and pretence. In Holden’s choice word, it is a world of“phonies” (12). Schools, in this case, only serve to prepare young people for theirpredetermined or “phony” roles in this “phony” society. Holden’s narrative may thus beseen as his physical and psychological journey in search of meaning as he is about toenter into adult life.Chapter 1In the first chapter, after telling his reader/listener that he is “not going to tell you mywhole goddam autobiography or anything” (1), Holden introduces his story as one about“this madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas just before I got prettyrun-down and had to come out here [i.e. the mental/rehabilitation institution] and take iteasy” (1). As it turns out, the “madman stuff” is Holden’s failure (or, in his mind,refusal) to adjust to the social expectations (or to fit into the social mould) which theschool system is designed to help young people do. Needless to say, Holden believes thatadjusting to the expectations of his teachers (and, by association, his society) istantamount to endorsing the values of the “phony” élite. He expresses his view on thematter of adjusting to these expectations quite early in his narrative. For instance, inresponse to Pencey’s motto that “‘Since 1888 we have been molding boys into splendid,clear-thinking young men’” (2), he reckons that, They don’t do any damn more molding at Pencey than they do at any other school. And I didn’t know anybody there that was splendid and clear-thinking
3 and all. Maybe two guys. If that many. And they probably came to Pencey that way. (2)It is this type of cynicism that Holden reserves for those who have adjusted to the school,and by extension social, system. In the first chapter, they are his brother, D.B., who is“out in Hollywood . . . being a prostitute” (1) and the principal of Pencey, Dr Thurmer,who is “a phony slob” (3). It is also his cynicism that has landed him in amental/rehabilitation institution as a ‘maladjusted’ young man, even though, for obviousreasons, he does not think that he is a maladjusted person. Chapter 1 ends with Holden entering the Spencer household, having come to bidgoodbye to his aging History teacher, Mr Spencer.Chapter 2In the second chapter, Holden begins by describing Mr Spencer as an old and sickly man,and probably senile. He describes Spencer’s room as having “pills and medicine all over. . . and [that] everything smelled of Vicks Nose Drops” (6). About the bed that he(Holden) sits on, he says it “was like a rock” (7). The conversation between them mirrorsthe uneasiness that he already feels about being in Spencer’s room and in Spencer’spresence. Indeed, on entering the room he says, “The minute I went in, I was sort ofsorry I’d come” (6). Anyway, rather than bid Spencer goodbye, which is the only reason that he pays him avisit, Holden finds himself sitting through what he calls “a terrific lecture” (9) about hispoor performance in four of his five subjects. The substance of Spencer’s “lecture” ispredictable; it is about how Holden has failed to apply himself to his studies and how hisfailure to do so will affect his future. However, what is of more interest than the“lecture” – and Holden’s pretense that he is listening – are Holden’s unspoken thoughts(his asides) during the course of Spencer’s speech. Firstly, when Spencer asks him whatthe principal, Dr Thurmer, said to him about his expulsion, and he answers that he (theprincipal) talked about “Life being a game and all. And how you should play itaccording to the rules” (7), he adds, as an aside, Game, my ass. Some game. If you get on the side where all the hot-shots are, then it’s a game, all right – I’ll admit that. But if you get on the other side, where there aren’t any hot-shots, then what’s a game about it? Nothing. No game. (7-8)
4Secondly, when Spencer tells him that he “had the privilege of meeting [his] mother anddad” and that “They’re grand people,” Holden again says to himself: “Grand. There’s aword I really hate. It’s a phony. I could puke every time I hear it” (8). Thirdly, whenSpencer tells him that he “doubt[s] very much if [he] opened [his] textbook even once thewhole term” (9), and begins to read his unfinished History essay inbetween what Holdenconsiders to be “sarcastic” remarks (9 &10), Holden’s mind starts to wander. He says,for instance, I was sort of thinking of something else while I shot the bull. I live in New York, and I was thinking about the lagoon in Central Park, down near Central Park South. I was wondering if it would be frozen over when I got home, and if it was, where did the ducks go. I was wondering where the ducks went when the lagoon got all icy and frozen over. I wondered if some guy came in a truck and took them away to a zoo or something. Or if they just flew away. (11)Lastly, when Spencer tells him that he left Whooton School and Elkton Hills because he“also had some difficulty” (11), Holden says to the reader/listener: I didn’t feel like going into the whole thing with him. He wouldn’t have understood it anyway. It wasn’t up his alley at all. One of the biggest reasons I left Elkton Hills was because I was surrounded by phonies. That’s all. (12)He then goes on to describe the headmaster of Elkton Hills, Mr Haas, as “the phoniestbastard I ever met in my life” (12) and why he thinks so. Chapter 2 ends with Holden assuring Spencer that he is “just going through a phase”(13), like everybody else, and that he (Spencer) must not “worry about [him]” (13).Chapter 3In Chapter 3, Holden returns to the school after saying goodbye to Mr Spencer. He talksabout his dormitory on the Ossenburger Memorial Wing of the new dorms and how it“was named after this guy Ossenburger that went to Pencey” (14). After leaving Pencey,Ossenburger made a lot of money in the undertaking business and gave the school “a pileof dough, and they named [Holden’s] wing [of dormitories] after him” (14).Unsurprisingly, Holden’s opinion of Ossenburger is unflattering: he thinks that he is aheartless money-grabber who hides his true self by pretending to be “a regular guy” (14)and a devout Christian. For instance, Holden recalls a visit by Ossenburger to the school
5“in [his] big goddam Cadillac” and how they “all had to stand up in the grandstand andgive him a . . . cheer” (14) before he gave a speech. He reckons that the “only good partof his speech was when he “was telling us what a swell guy he was, what a hot-shot andall” (14). Holden’s implication here is that Ossenburger was, for once, honest about whohe truly was. In this chapter, Holden also talks about his love for reading: he says, “I’m quiteilliterate, but I read a lot” (15). Of the authors that he has read, he singles out ThomasHardy as the kind of author he would like to befriend and “call . . . up on the phone” (16).This is because, in his view, Hardy’s portrayal of Eustacia Vye in The Return of theNative is a fine example of character portrayal. In Hardy’s novel, Eustacia Vye, likeHolden in The Catcher in the Rye, feels weighed down by impersonal social forces overwhich she has no control. Lastly, Holden talks about two of his schoolmates, Robert Ackley, who stays in thedormitory next to his, and Ward Stradlater, his (i.e. Holden’s) roommate. He portraysAckley as a slob and Stradlater, who is dating his love interest, Jane Gallagher, as apompous narcissist from a wealthy background, but “generous in some things” (21).Chapter 4Chapter 4 is about Holden sitting in the bathroom and talking with Stradlater whileStradlater prepares to go out on a date with Jane. Holden does not know yet whoStradlater’s date is but finds out in the course of their conversation, much to his distress.Stradlater asks Holden to do his English composition project for him while he is out on adate, to which Holden agrees (but this is before Holden finds out the identity of his date).After Holden finds out that Jane is Stradlater’s date, he starts telling him about how heknows her and his whole speech about Jane suggests that he is infatuated with her.Chapter 5Chapter 5 is a short chapter about Holden going out to watch a movie with schoolmatesAckley and Mal Brossard on a Saturday. It turns out that both Ackley and Brossard hadseen the movie before, much to Holden’s relief that he will not have to watch it. Theyreturn to their dorms and Holden starts writing the composition for Stradlater. Thecomposition is a descriptive piece about his dead brother Allie’s baseball mitt. Hedescribes Allie as having been “terrifically intelligent” and “the nicest” member of his
6family (33). For instance, he (Allie) “had poems written all over the fingers and thepocket and everywhere [on his baseball mitt]. . . . He wrote them on it so that he’d havesomething to read when he was in the field and nobody was up at bat” (33).Chapter 6In chapter 6, Stradlater returns from his date and does not say anything about Jane, muchto Holden’s anxiety. Stradlater does not like the composition that Holden has written forhim and they argue about it, which results in Holden tearing it up and throwing “thepieces in the waste-basket” (36). However, Holden’s exaggerated anger is really aboutStradlater going out on a date with Jane. Indeed, his persistent questions about whereStradlater took Jane, how long they were out together and what they did, and Stradlater’sanswer that it is “a professional secret” (38), cause him deep anxiety. They also engagein a physical fight after Stradlater refuses to tell him if he had sex with Jane. In thischapter, readers also get the slight impression that Holden is at a confusing stage of hissexual life. For instance, he talks about dating and displays an exaggerated interest insexual matters.Chapter 7In this chapter, Holden goes to Ackley’s dormitory to cool off after his fight withStradlater. He asks Ackley, who is already sleeping, if he wants to play a game ofCanasta and Ackley is less than pleased by Holden interrupting his sleep. Holden asksAckley if he can sleep in his roommate Ely’s bed, to which Ackley responds withdisapproval. Holden keeps thinking about Stradlater and Jane together in the car thatStradlater had borrowed from his basketball coach, Ed Banky, to take her out. He finallyleaves Ackley’s dormitory after a few unsuccessful attempts at making conversation. Onhis way back to his dormitory, he starts thinking about leaving Pencey “that same night”because he “just didn’t want to hang around anymore. It made [him] too sad andlonesome” (45). He plans to take up a room in a cheap hotel in New York City and thengo home on the Wednesday when his parents expect him to return for the Christmasbreak. He goes to his room and packs his bags. He describes his last moments before heleaves thus: I stood for a while next to the stairs and took a last look down the goddam corridor. I was sort of crying. I don’t know why. I put my red hunting hat on,
7 and turned the peak around to the back, the way I liked it, and then I yelled at the top of my goddam voice, ‘Sleep tight, ya morons!’ I’ll bet I woke up every bastard on the whole floor. Then I got the hell out. (46)Chapter 8After he leaves Pencey, he takes a train to New York City. Along the way, the mother ofone of his schoolmates, Ernest Morrow, boards the train and they strike up aconversation. He calls himself by his dorm’s janitor’s name, Rudolf Schmidt, because, ashe says, he “didn’t feel like giving her [his] whole life history” (48). Anyway, they talkabout Pencey and Ernest, with Holden lying about Ernest being able to “adapt himselfwell to things” (48), as “one of the most popular boys at Pencey” (49), as having a “veryoriginal personality that takes you a while to get to know” and as a “very shy, modest guythat wouldn’t let us nominate him for president” of the class (50). He also lies about whyhe is not at school when Ernest’s mother tells him that Ernest wrote to tell her that“Christmas vacation would start on Wednesday” (51). He says he has “a tiny little tumoron the brain” and is going “to have [an] operation” (51). The chapter ends with Ernest’smother inviting him to visit them at “their house . . . right on the beach,” and telling himthat “they had a tennis court and all” (51). This puts him off and he says to himself: “. . .I wouldn’t visit that sonuvabitch Morrow for all the dough in the world, even if I wasdesperate” (52).Chapter 9Holden arrives at Penn Station in New York City and thinks about calling someone – hisbrother, D.B., Phoebe, Jane Gallagher’s mother (to find out when Jane’s vacation starts)or Sally Hayes (a “girl [he] used to go around with quite frequently” ) – but forvarious reasons decides not to call any of them. He takes a cab to the hotel, but on theway remembers that he wants to find out where the ducks in the “lagoon . . . near CentralPark South” go “when it gets all frozen over” (54). So he asks the cab driver, who“looked at me like I was a madman [for asking him about the ducks]” (54), to turn aroundand take him to Central Park instead. However, he ends up asking him to take him to theEdmont Hotel where he checks in. Through the window of his hotel room, he observes a man in another room, alone,putting on women’s clothing; in another room, he sees a man and woman “squirting
8water out of their mouths at each other” (55). He concludes that the Edmont Hotel “waslousy with perverts [and that he] was probably the only normal bastard in the whole place[which] isn’t saying much” (55). He starts thinking about sex and girls in quite anabstract way and comes to the conclusion that “Sex is something I just don’t understand”(56). Again he thinks about calling Jane at her school and pretend to be her uncle, butagain decides not to, because “he wasn’t in the mood” (56). He then remembers a “guy” named Eddie Birdsell that he “met at a party” (57) theprevious summer giving him an address for a girl named Faith Cavendish who prostitutesherself on the sly. He calls her and tries to get her to come to his hotel room for sex, buthe is unsuccessful.Chapter 10Still in his hotel room and unable to sleep, he decides to bathe, change and “godownstairs and see what the hell was going on in the Lavender Room,” which is thehotel’s “nightclub” (60). While changing into fresh clothes, he thinks about givingPhoebe “a buzz” (60) but decides against it, fearing that his parents might answer thephone. He then starts describing Phoebe in a tender and endearing way, saying to thereader/listener, You should see her. You never saw a little kid so pretty and smart in your whole life. She’s really smart. I mean she’s had all A’s ever since she started school. As a matter of fact, I’m the only dumb one in the family. My brother D.B.’s a writer and all, and my brother Allie, the one that died, that I told you about, was a wizard. I’m the only really dumb one. But you ought to see old Phoebe. She has this sort of red hair, a little bit like Allie’s was, that’s very short in the summertime. In the summertime, she sticks it behind her ears. She has nice, pretty little ears. In the wintertime, it’s pretty long, though. Sometimes my mother braids it and sometimes she doesn’t. It’s really nice, though. She’s only ten. She’s quite skinny, like me, but nice skinny. Roller-skate skinny. I watched her once from the window when she was crossing over Fifth Avenue to go to the park, and that’s what she is, roller-skate skinny. You’d like her. (60)He continues at some length in this vein describing various sides of Phoebe that make hera likeable “little kid” (60 & 61).
9 When he gets to the Lavender Room, Buddy Singer is playing. He hates the “cornybrassy” (62) music of the band, the people in the club and the general atmosphere of theclub. When he orders a Scotch and a soda, the waiter asks for “some verification of hisage” (62), so he orders only Coke instead. He gets interested in three women at a tablenearby, and even though he thinks that they are “morons” (63), he asks one of them for adance. The conversation on the dance-floor is far from exciting (read pp. 63-67) andeventually he leaves the Lavender room.Chapter 11This is another very short chapter. Here Holden is leaving the club and is thinking aboutJane again: how he got to know and be friends with her, how his mother did not like her,how they played golf and went to the movies together and how he got close to having sexwith her. All the while he cannot get the image of Jane and Stradlater together in EdBanky’s car out of his mind, which “almost drove [him] crazy” (72). The chapter endswith Holden taking a cab to Ernie’s, a night club in Greenwich Village. Ernie playspiano at the club and Holden thinks that even though he (Ernie) “can really play thepiano,” he is “a terrific snob and . . . won’t hardly talk to you unless you’re a big shot or acelebrity or something” (72).Chapter 12In the cab to Ernie’s, Holden asks the driver, Horwitz, about the ducks at the Central ParkSouth lagoon, who in turn asks him: “How the hell should I know . . . a stupid thing likethat?” (74). They argue about it a bit and Holden decides to stop “having a conversationwith him” (75) but Horwitz continues, this time about the fish staying “frozen right in oneposition for the whole winter” (75). The conversation starts to become one-sided, withHorwitz insisting on his point about the fish remaining frozen in the lagoon for the wholeof winter and only feeding on “[t]heir bodies” (75), until they reach Ernie’s. Ernie’s is“jam-packed . . . with prep school jerks and college jerks” (76). Holden describes Ernie again in unflattering terms as “show-offy” in his rendition ofthe songs, “putting all these dumb, show-offy ripples in the high notes, and a lot of othervery tricky stuff that gives me a pain in the ass” (76). He does not spare the “crowd”from his acerbic criticism too. He says: You should’ve heard the crowd, though, when he was finished. You would’ve
10 puked. They went mad. They were exactly the same morons that laugh like hyenas in the movies at stuff that isn’t funny. I swear to God, if I were a piano player or an actor or something and all those dopes thought I was terrific, I’d hate it. I wouldn’t even want them to clap for me. (76-77)However, Ernie is flattered by the clapping, which annoys Holden immensely, so muchso that he says: [O]ld Ernie turned around on his stool and gave this very phony, humble bow. Like as if he was a helluva humble guy, besides being a terrific piano player. It was very phony – I mean him being such a big snob and all. (77)He is then approached by Lillian Simmons, a girl that his brother, D.B., “used to goaround with . . . for a while” (78). The rest of the chapter is about the two of them talkingabout D.B. and Lillian also introduces her friend, a “Navy guy” by the name ofCommander Blop. Naturally, Holden thinks that the whole thing is a phony charade; hesays, for instance, that “You could tell that the waiter didn’t like her much, you could telleven the Navy guy didn’t like her much, even though he was dating her” (79). Anyway,Holden comes up with an excuse that he has to leave “to meet somebody” (79) becausehe “certainly wasn’t going to sit down at a table with old Lillian and that Navy guy andbe bored to death” (79). The chapter ends with him leaving the club, much to hisannoyance at how “People [meaning Lillian] are always ruining things for [others]” (79).Chapter 13After he leaves Ernie’s, he walks back to the hotel. Feeling cold, he starts thinking abouthis gloves that were stolen at Pencey and how he would not have had the courage toconfront the thief even if he had found out who he was. He gets depressed by thethoughts of his stolen gloves and his lack of courage (what he calls his “yellowness”). Back in the hotel, he is approached by the elevator guy (Maurice) with a proposal thathe (the elevator guy) can send a prostitute to his room if he wants one. Holden agrees,something he regrets later, and the prostitute, Sunny, duly arrives but he changes hismind about having sex with her. He pays her “[f]ive bucks for a throw” (82), which is ashort stint, as agreed with the elevator guy (who is a pimp on the side). He claims tohave had an operation on his “clavichord” (87) and that they could just talk, but he thinks
11that she is “a lousy conversationalist” (87). After a short while she decides to leave andthey argue about the fee; she claims that he owes her ten bucks, rather than the five thathe gives her, but Holden insists on giving her only five bucks. She leaves, after callinghim “crumb-bum” (88).Chapter 14After Sunny leaves, and feeling depressed, Holden starts talking out loud, to Allie hisdead brother. It is getting daylight outside and he has not slept for the whole night sincehe left Pencey. In the imaginary talk with his brother, he “keep[s] telling him to go homeand get his bike and meet [him] in front of Bobby Fallon’s house” (89). He explains tothe reader/listener that he has this imaginary talk with Allie when he gets depressed,because on one occasion when they were “kids” he wouldn’t let Allie join him andBobby for a game because he “was a child” (89). Anyway, he undresses in preparation for sleep and feels like “praying . . . but . . .couldn’t do it” because he is “sort of an atheist” (89). He thinks about how Jesus’sdisciples were a useless lot and about the arguments he used to have with a boy namedArthur Childs at Whooton School on the issue of the disciples. He reckons that they werephonies like the ministers “they’ve had at every school [he has] gone to” (90), who “allhave these Holy Joe voices when they start giving their sermons” (90). He cannot sleepand while he smokes there is a knock on the door. It is Maurice, the elevator guy/pimp,with Sunny, the prostitute. Maurice has come to demand the five bucks that Holdenrefused to pay Sunny. They argue about what had been agreed, but Maurice insists thathe owes them five bucks. All the while that Holden refuses to pay, he tells thereader/listener that he is terrified of Maurice. Sunny then gets his wallet and takes outfive bucks. Before Maurice leaves, he punches Holden in the stomach for calling him “adirty moron . . . a stupid chiseling moron” (93). After Maurice leaves, he pretends that hehas been shot in the stomach like actors do in the movies (pp. 93-94). He goes to thebathroom to take a bath and returns to his room to sleep.Chapter 15It is Sunday morning and Holden wakes up at around ten and thinks about calling Jane,but ends up calling Sally Hayes whom he has known for years and in his “stupidity”thought was “intelligent” (because “she knew quite a lot about the theater and plays and
12literature and all that stuff” ). They have had a platonic relationship in the past. Hesuggests that they go to a matinee. Sally talks about two guys who are interested indating her and Holden hangs up after she agrees to meet up with him, because “she gaveme a pain in the ass” (96). He leaves the hotel, takes a cab and asks the driver to take him to Grand CentralStation (which is near the Biltmore where he will meet Sally later in the afternoon). Heputs his things in a strong box and goes to a restaurant for breakfast. While he has hisbreakfast, two nuns come in and sit down next to him at the counter. He takes note oftheir “inexpensive-looking suitcases” (97) and recalls a boy he roomed with at ElktonHills, named Dick Slagle, who “had these very inexpensive suitcases [he] used to keep . .. under the bed, instead of on the rack, so that nobody’d see them” (97). Anyway, hestrikes up a conversation with the nuns and ends up donating ten bucks. It turns out thatthey are schoolteachers from Chicago on their way to start teaching at a convent in NewYork. One is a history teacher and the other teaches English. Holden starts to wonderhow the English-teaching nun deals with books “not necessarily with a lot of sexy stuff inthem, but . . . with lovers and all in them” (99). After he tells them that “English was[his] best subject” (99), they start discussing some of the literatures he has studied (p.100). They leave and he is relieved that they did not ask him if he was Catholic. He talksabout why he hates that “Catholics are always trying to find out if you’re a Catholic”(101) and recalls a Catholic boy at Whooton School, Louis Shaney, who wished that he(Holden) was Catholic, the “kind of stuff that drives [him] crazy” (101).Chapter 16After he finishes his breakfast, he takes a long walk and cannot stop thinking about thenuns. He thinks about how others like his aunt and Sally Hayes’s mother would probablynot last very long if they had to collect money for charity like the two nuns. He thinksthey are both too swanky: his aunt is “very well-dressed” and would not “wear blackclothes and no lipstick” (103) for charity work; for her part, “the only way that [SallyHayes’s mother] could go around with a basket collecting dough would be if everybodykissed her ass for her when they made a contribution” (103). He walks over to Broadway to find a record store where he could buy ‘Little ShirleyBeans’ for Phoebe: this is a record he had heard at Pencey about “a little kid who
13wouldn’t go out of the house because two of her front teeth were out and she wasashamed to” (103-104). He thinks that the record “would knock Phoebe out” (104).On his way, he comes across a family: “a father, a mother, and a little kid about six yearsold” (104). He remarks that “[t]hey looked sort of poor” (104). Anyway, he is drawn tothe six-year old kid who is “walking in the street, instead of on the sidewalk” (104). Thisis how he describes the scenario: The kid was swell. He was walking in the street, instead of on the sidewalk, but right next to the curb. He was making out like he was walking a very straight line, the way kids do, and the whole time he kept singing and humming. I got up closer so I could hear what he was singing. He was singing that song, ‘If a body catch a body coming through the rye.’ He had a pretty little voice, too. He was just singing for the hell of it, you could tell. The cars zoomed by, brakes screeched all over the place, his parents paid no attention to him, and he kept on walking next to the curb and singing ‘If a body catch a body coming through the rye.’ It made me feel better. It made me feel not so depressed any more. (104)This image of a six-year old boy singing “for the hell of it” is immediately replaced bythe image of “Broadway [which] was mobbed and messy” (104). This is how hedescribes the scenario: Everybody was on their way to the movies – the Paramount or the Astor or the Strand or the Capitol or one of those crazy places. Everybody was all dressed up, because it was Sunday, and that made it worse. But the worst part was that you could tell they all wanted to go to the movies. I couldn’t stand looking at them. I can understand somebody going to the movies because there’s nothing else to do, but when somebody really wants to go, and even walks fast so as to get there quicker, then it depresses hell out of me. (104-105)He finds the first record store which also happens to have the record. He then walks intoa drug store to call Jane, but again decides not to. He buys a paper to check what showsthey have at the theater and buys “two orchestra seats for I Know My Love” (105). Heremarks that, I didn’t much want to see it, but I knew old Sally, the queen of the phonies, would start drooling all over the place when I told her I had tickets for that, because the
14 Lunts were in it and all. She liked shows that are supposed to be very sophisticated and dry and all, with the Lunts and all. I don’t. I don’t like any shows very much, if you want to know the truth. (105)He continues to give reasons why he does not like shows very much, which is importantto take note of (pp. 105-106). He takes a cab to the park, which is cold, and then walks tothe Mall where he hopes to find Phoebe; it is “where Phoebe usually goes [skating] whenshe’s in the park” – “near the bandstand” – and it is “the same place [he] used to like toskate when [he] was a kid” (106). When he gets there, he does not “see her aroundanywhere” (107). He asks a girl he finds skating if she has seen Phoebe, but she does notknow who Phoebe is and says she is “prob’ly in the museum” (107). He remarks on howthe girl “was having a helluva time tightening her skate” and how he helped her. He alsoremarks about how she thanked him and how she “was a very nice, polite little kid”(107), saying, “God, I love it when a kid’s nice and polite when you tighten their skatefor them or something. Most kids are” (107-108). He walks to the Museum of Natural History anyway, even though it is “Sunday andPhoebe wouldn’t be there with her class or anything” (108). As he walks, he remembershis own time as a child attending the school that Phoebe goes to and visiting the museum.He describes the experience in the museum and how everything was always the same andthat the “only thing that would be different would be you” (109). This is anotherimportant part of the narrative in that it describes the monotony to which schoolchildrenare subjected as part of their day to day school experience, even outside the classroom(pp. 108-110). When he reaches the front of the museum, he decides to take a cab to theBiltmore where he will meet Sally.Chapter 17He is early for the appointment and decides to wait “in the lobby and watched the girls”(111). He starts “sightseeing” (111), observing the people around the Biltmore,particularly looking at and describing the college girls in a sexual way. He thinks aboutthe “dopey” and “boring” guys they will marry when “they got out of school and college”(111). He remembers a boy he roomed with at Elkton Hills named Harris Macklin, whowas “very intelligent . . . but one of the biggest bores I ever met” (111). He describeshim at some length (pp. 111-112).
15 Sally arrives and looks “nice” in her “black beret” and Holden jokingly says he “feltlike marrying her the minute I saw her” (112). But then Sally starts to speak in glowingterms about the Lunts, saying how “marvelous” (112) it is that they are going to see ashow with the Lunts in it. She also asks Holden to “[p]romise me you’ll let your hairgrow [because] [c]rew cuts are corny [a]nd your hair’s so lovely” (113), which makeshim say to himself: “Lovely my ass” (113). The show is not “as bad as some [Holdenhas] seen [but] it [is] on the crappy side. . .” (113). He describes the show and how theactors “acted more like they knew they were celebrities and all [. . .] a little bit the wayold Ernie, down in the Village, plays the piano” (113). At the end of the first act they goout for a cigarette and Sally sees “some jerk she knew” (114). His name is George andthe way Holden describes the scene is important to read (pp. 114-115). After they leave the show, Sally suggests that they “go ice-skating at Radio City”(115). They go, and after skating they talk about “a few topics [that Holden has] on [his]mind” (117): “‘living in New York and all. Taxicabs and Madison Avenue buses, withdrivers and all always yelling at you to get out at the rear door, and being introduced tophony guys that call the Lunts angels, and going up and down in elevators when you justwant to go outside, and guys fitting your pants all the time at Brooks, and people always-’” (117). Before he can finish, Sally tells him not to shout, but he continues to criticisethe phony people of New York and their petty preoccupations. He also talks about howin a boys’ school, which is “full of phonies” . . . all you do is study so that you can learnenough to be smart enough to be able to buy a goddam Cadillac some day” (118). Hethen suggests that they drive up to Massachusetts and Vermont the next day. Sally turnshim down and they argue until he gives up. The chapter ends with him feeling dejectedat having asked her, because this time he “meant it when [he] asked her” (121).Chapter 18He leaves the Radio City ice rink, has a sandwich and thinks about calling Jane. Heremembers a time at a club and Jane was dancing with her “terrible” date, Al Pike (122),before she knew her well. He also remembers getting a roommate of a girl namedRoberta Walsh a date with a friend of his, Bob Robinson, who “really had an inferioritycomplex” (122). Robinson was “ashamed of his parents . . . because they said ‘he don’t’and ‘she don’t’ and stuff like that and they weren’t very wealthy” (122). Anyway, the
16point of this recollection is that Roberta’s friend thought Robinson was conceited whenHolden thinks “he wasn’t a bastard or anything . . . [but] a very nice guy” (123). He gives Jane a call, but there is no answer. He then calls Carl Luce, a formerschoolmate at Whooton who is studying at Columbia and whom he “once called . . . a fat-assed phony” (123). They arrange to meet later in the evening and he goes back to RadioCity to kill time. A show by The Rockettes is on and they (The Rockettes) are “kickingtheir heads off [. . .] and the audience is applaud[ing] like mad” (123). He remarks on aguy sitting behind him, who keeps saying to his wife, “‘You know what that is? That’sprecision’,” which “kill[s] him” (124). A few other events take place after TheRockettes’ performance, including a “putrid” movie, all of which he hates (pp. 124-125).After the movie, he starts walking down to the Wicker bar where he is to meet Carl. Ashe walks, he thinks about war and how his brother, D.B. spent four years in the Army.What he says about his brother’s stories of his experience in the Army is interesting toread (pp. 126-127).Chapter 19He starts by describing the Wicker Bar, which is in a “swanky hotel, the Seton Hotel”(128), and why he stopped going there (read the first paragraph on p. 128). He is earlyfor his meeting with Carl and decides to order Scotch and sodas while he watches“phonies for a while” (128). He remarks about a guy sitting next to him who “wassnowing hell out of the babe he was with. He kept telling her she had aristocratic hands.That killed me” (129). After Carl arrives, Holden starts describing him to thereader/listener (p. 129). Their conversation is about the girls they used to know andHolden is interested in the subject of sex, which Carl refuses to entertain. Theconversation is important if one is to understand Holden’s attitude toward sex at thisstage in his life; for most of what he asks Carl about his sex life reflects his anxiety abouthis sexual inexperience (read pp. 130-133).Chapter 20Here he talks about how he remained at the Wicker Bar “getting drunk and waiting forTina and Janine to come out and do their stuff, but they weren’t there” (135). Tina andJanine are “two French babes” who used to “sing [at the bar] three times every night”(128). Instead, a “new babe, Valencia came out and sang” (135). He sits at the bar “till
17around one o’clock or so, getting drunk as a bastard” (135). After a while, he feels like calling Jane, pays his bill and goes to the telephones. Hedoes not call Jane because he is not “in the mood any more to give old Jane a buzz”(135), so he calls Sally Hayes. Sally’s grandmother answers the phone and tells him thatSally is asleep. He insists that she wakes her up, which she does. Sally tells him he isdrunk and must to go to bed. After a few drunken questions about whether Sally stillwants him to come and trim her Christmas tree, Sally says yes, tells him to go to bed andhangs up the phone. He remains inside the “phone booth for quite a while [. . .] holdingonto the phone . . . so [he] wouldn’t pass out” (137). He then goes into the “men’sroom,” fills “one of the washbowls with cold water” and dunks “his head in it, right up tothe ears” to sober up (137). The Wicker Bar pianist comes into the men’s room and theyhave a brief conversation about Valencia: Holden asks the pianist to give her hiscompliments and the pianist, seeing that he is drunk, suggests that he goes home “and hitthe sack” (137). He goes to the hat-check room to pick up his coat and the record he bought for Phoebeand leaves. He walks over to the park and decides he would “go by that little lake andsee what the hell the ducks were doing, see if they were around or not” (138). Just as hegets to the park, “something terrible happen[s]”: he drops Phoebe’s record and it breaks“into about fifty pieces” (138). He puts the pieces in his coat pocket and goes in the park.He has difficulty finding the lagoon in the dark, but eventually does. There are no ducksaround the partly frozen lake. He decides to sit down on the park bench and worriesabout getting pneumonia and dying. He starts “picturing millions of jerks coming to [his]funeral and all” (139). He worries about his mother, but knows that “she wouldn’t let oldPhoebe come to [his] . . . funeral” if he died (139), which he says would be a “goodthing” (139). He then thinks about “the whole bunch of them sticking [him] in a goddamcemetery and all, with [his] name on this tombstone and all. Surrounded by dead guys”(140). He also thinks about his dead brother, Allie. The chapter ends with him deciding to go home and sneak in to see Phoebe.Chapter 21When he gets to the apartment block where his parents’ house is, he manages to dupe thenew elevator attendant into thinking he is visiting another family, the Dicksteins, and
18then quietly gets into his parents’ apartment. Phoebe is sleeping in D.B.’s room andHolden turns on the light but she does not wake up; so he “look[s] at her for a while”(144) and says the following: She was laying there asleep, with her face sort of on the side of the pillow. She had her mouth way open. It’s funny. You take adults, they look lousy when they’re asleep and they have their mouths way open, but kids don’t. Kids look all right. They can even have spit all over the pillow and they still look all right. (144)He then says that he “went around the room, very quiet and all, looking at stuff for awhile. I felt swell, for a change. I didn’t even feel like I was getting pneumonia oranything anymore. I just felt good, for a change” (144). He talks about Phoebe’s neathabits and her clothes that suit her and then sits down at D.B.’s desk to look at Phoebe’sbooks. He reads from her notebooks (pp. 144-145). Then he wakes her up. Phoebe is excited to see him and they start to talk about various things (read pp. 146-148). Phoebe suspects that Holden might have been “kicked out” of school, since he ishome before Wednesday (148). She is upset about it and tells him that their father will“kill you!” (149) The chapter ends with Phoebe refusing to talk to him and Holden goingout into the living room.Chapter 22He returns to Phoebe, who is still upset with him, and tries to cajole her into changing thesubject. She tells him, “‘I suppose you failed in every single subject again’” (150) andHolden tries to explain why he did not like school (read pp. 151-154). In the course ofhis criticism of the boys at Pencey and Elkton Hills, Phoebe accuses him of not liking“anything that’s happening” (152) and asks him to “[n]ame one thing” that he likes (153).He cannot concentrate and all he can think of are the two nuns he met in a restaurant anda boy he knew at Elkton Hills, James Castle. He then remembers an incident in whichJames Castle was involved and which led to him committing suicide: There was this one boy at Elkton Hills, named James Castle, that wouldn’t take back something he said about this very conceited boy, Phil Stabile. James Castle called him a very conceited guy, and one of Stabile’s lousy friends went and squealed on him to Stabile. So Stabile, with about six other dirty bastards, went
19 down to James Castle’s room and went in and locked the goddam door and tried to make him take back what he said, but he wouldn’t do it. So they started in on him. I won’t even tell you what they did to him – it’s too repulsive – but he still wouldn’t take it back, old James Castle. And you should’ve seen him. He was a skinny little weak-looking guy, with wrists about as big as pencils. Finally, what he did, instead of taking back what he said, he jumped out the window. I was in the shower and all, and even I could hear him land outside. But I just thought something fell out the window, a radio or a desk or something, not a boy or anything. Then I heard everybody running through the corridor and down the stairs, so I put on my bathrobe and I ran downstairs too, and there was old James Castle laying right on the stone steps and all. He was dead, and his teeth, and blood, were all over the place, and nobody would even go near him. (153)Even though he does not mention this incident to Phoebe, readers nevertheless realise theseverity of his trauma and, thus, his general dislike of boys’ schools. Anyhow, Phoebethinks that his silence means he cannot think of anything that he likes: she tells him,“‘You can’t even think of one thing’” (154). He tries a few answers, but Phoebe is notconvinced. And then he asks Phoebe if she knows the song “If a body catch a bodycomin’ through the rye” (155). Phoebe tells him that “‘It’s “If a body meet a bodycoming through the rye”!’” and that “‘It’s a poem. By Robert Burns’” (155). He admitsthat she is right, but says the following to her: Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy. (156)Phoebe does not say anything for a while and then repeats her threat that their father willkill him. Holden goes out to the living room to call his former English teacher at ElktonHills, Mr Antolini, to ask him if he could sleep over at his house.
20Chapter 23He calls Mr Antolini, who tells him that he can come over. He then remembers that itwas Mr Antolini who covered James Castle with his own coat when nobody else wouldtouch the dead boy. He clearly has great respect for his former teacher and describes himin glowing terms. When he gets back to Phoebe, she turns the radio on and listens to thedance music playing on the radio. They dance to about four songs. They talk for a whileuntil they hear their parents come in (they have been away). Holden hides in the closetuntil his mother leaves Phoebe’s (D.B.’s) room. He comes out of the closet and getsready to leave. The chapter ends with him walking downstairs.Chapter 24He starts by describing Mr and Mrs Antolini’s apartment and the Antolinis themselves.When Mr Antolini opens the door, he has a glass in his hand and Holden describes him as“a pretty sophisticated guy, and . . . a pretty heavy drinker” (163). They exchangegreetings and Mrs Antolini makes Holden coffee. They talk about Pencey and MrAntolini asks him why he has been expelled. Holden talks about a few things that he didnot like, such as the rigid teaching style in subjects that required creativity (read hisillustrative story on pp. 165-166, in which he talks about a boy, Richard Kinsella, whogot a D plus because he did not follow the rigid form of telling stories in the OralExpression course). Mr Antolini is not convinced by Holden’s explanation andchallenges his example of Richard Kinsella. What follows thereafter is a long ‘lecture’ inwhich Mr Antolini talks about a number of things that academic education will do forHolden (pp. 166-171), concluding with the following: Something else an academic education will do for you. If you go along with it any considerable distance, it’ll begin to give you an idea what size mind you have. What’ll fit and, maybe, what it won’t. After a while, you’ll have an idea what kind of thoughts your particular size mind should be wearing. For one thing, it may save you an extraordinary amount of time trying on ideas that don’t suit you, aren’t becoming to you. You’ll begin to know your true measurements and dress your mind accordingly. (171)To this, Holden yawns and says to himself: “What a rude bastard. . .” (171). Mr Antolinitakes the hint and takes him to where he is going to sleep. Holden falls asleep quickly,
21but is later woken up by Mr Antolini’s hand on his head, “sort of petting me or pattingme on the goddam head” (172). Terrified by what this could mean, he asks him, “Whatthe hellya doing?” to which Mr Antolini replies, “I’m simply sitting here, admiring -’”(172). Holden decides to leave immediately, saying to the reader/listener: “I was sodamn nervous. I know more damn perverts, at schools and all, than anybody you evermet, and they’re always being pervert when I’m around” (173). Realising what Holden isthinking, Mr Antolini, Holden tells his reader/listener, tries “to act . . . casual and cooland all, but he wasn’t any too goddam cool. Take my word” (173). As Holden preparesto leave, the conversation between them is strained, with Mr Antolini trying to stop himfrom leaving and Holden making excuses about going to get his bags from a locker andpromising to come back soon thereafter. The chapter ends with Holden going down theelevator. He says to his reader/listener: Boy, I was shaking like a madman. I was sweating, too. When something perverty like that happens, I start sweating like a bastard. That kind of stuff’s happened to me about twenty times since I was a kid. I can’t stand it. (174)Chapter 25When he goes outside, it is “just getting light out” (175). He takes the subway down toGrand Central station . . . and “figure[s] [he’d] sleep in that crazy waiting room where allthe benches are” (175). He does, “till around nine o’clock because a million peoplestarted coming in the waiting room” (175). He starts to think about Mr Antolini andwonders if he was “wrong about thinking he was making a flitty pass at [him] . . . ifmaybe he just liked to pat guys on the head when they’re asleep” (175). He worriesabout it for a while and starts “thinking maybe [he] should’ve gone back to his house”(176). He then picks up a magazine that “somebody’d left on the bench next to [him] . . . andstart[s] reading it . . . [hopefully to stop] thinking about Mr Antolini and a million otherthings for a while” (176). The article he reads from the magazine is “all about hormones”(176; read the second paragraph in which he summarises the article’s contents). He thendecides to take a walk to get something to eat. He passes two guys unloading a bigChristmas tree off a truck before he goes into a cheap-looking restaurant and hasdoughnuts and coffee. He cannot eat the doughnuts, though. It is near Christmas and
22everything is “fairly Christmasy” (177). He wishes Phoebe was around and rememberstaking “her downtown shopping with [him]” the “Christmas before last” (177). He thenremarks on “something very spooky [which] started happening [. . .] [e]very time [he]came to the end of a block and stepped off the . . . curb” (178): a “feeling that [he’d]never get to the other side of the street” (178); that he would “just go down, down, down,and nobody’d ever see [him] again” (178). This scares him and every time he would “getto the end of the block [he would] make believe [he] was talking to his brother Allie”(178), begging him not to “let him disappear” (178), and thanking him once he reached“the other side of the street without disappearing” (178). This goes on for a while untilhe finds a bench and sits there “for about an hour” (178).He then comes to the decision that, I’d go away. . . . I’d never go home again and I’d never go away to another school again. . . . I’d just see old Phoebe and sort of say good-by to her and all . . . and then . . . start hitchhiking my way out West. What I’d do, I figured, I’d go down to the Holland Tunnel and bum a ride, and then I’d bum another one, and another one, and another one, and in a few days I’d be somewhere out West where it was very pretty and sunny and where nobody’d know me and I’d get a job. I figured I could get a job at a filling station somewhere, putting gas and oil in people’s cars. I didn’t care what kind of a job it was, though. Just so people didn’t know me and I didn’t know anybody” (178; read on until the end of this long passage on p. 179).He leaves the bench and heads for Phoebe’s school to say good-by to her. On the way hebuys a pad and a pencil to write Phoebe a message telling her where to meet him. At herschool, he gives the note to an old lady who “was sitting at a typewriter” with themessage to give it to Phoebe. They talk for a while and he leaves. He thinks of callingJane, but decides against it. He then goes to the museum to wait for Phoebe. There hetalks to two children about Egyptian mummies. He leaves them and goes to wait by themuseum door for Phoebe. He thinks about how he “might come home when [he] wasabout thirty-five” (184), after he leaves. He imagines where he would live (in a cabin)and how he would [L]et old Phoebe come out and visit [him] in the summertime and on Christmas
23 vacation and Easter vacation. And I’d let D.B. come out and visit me for a while if he wanted a nice, quiet place for his writing, but he couldn’t write any movies in my cabin, only stories and books. I’d have this rule that nobody could do anything phony when they visited me. If anybody tried to do anything phony, they couldn’t stay. (184)At twenty-five to one he leaves the museum, fearing that Phoebe has not received hismessage. Finally he sees her “dragging [a] big suitcase with her” (185). In the suitcaseare her clothes; she wants to go with him. Holden refuses and she starts to cry. SoHolden decides to walk to the zoo and Phoebe walks on the other side of the street;Phoebe eventually joins him. They look at the animals and end up at the carrouselswhere Phoebe rides on a horse. After the first ride, he buys her a ticket for another rideas it starts to rain. She tells him that she is not mad at him anymore and asks him if hewill stay, to which he agrees. As Phoebe goes around and around on the carrousel,Holden remarks: Boy, it began to rain like a bastard. In buckets, I swear to God. All the parents and mothers and everybody went over and stood right under the roof of the carrousel, so they wouldn’t get soaked to the skin or anything, but I stuck around on the bench for quite a while. I got pretty soaking wet, especially my neck and my pants. My hunting hat really gave me quite a lot of protection, in a way, but I got soaked anyway. I didn’t care, though. I felt so damn happy all of a sudden, the way old Phoebe kept going around and around. I was damn near bawling, I felt so damn happy, if you want to know the truth. I don’t know why. It was just that she looked so damn nice, the way she kept going around and around, in her blue coat and all. God, I wish you could’ve been there. (191)The chapter ends with this image of Phoebe on the carrousel and of Holden in the rain.Chapter 26This is the last and very short chapter – only two-thirds of a page long. Here Holdenreturns to what he mentions in the first chapter, that is, that he is telling his story fromwhat seems to be a mental/rehabilitation institution. He remarks about how “a lot ofpeople, especially . . . [the] psychoanalyst guy they have here, keeps asking me if I’mgoing to apply myself when I go back to school next September ” (192), and how “It’s
24such a stupid question, in my opinion” (192; read the rest of the chapter).This, then, is the story of a young man whom his society has deemed psychologicallyunfit for adult life and has placed in an institution to be rehabilitated. However, theobvious question that his narrative provokes is: how does his society judge those whom itdeems psychologically unfit to enter the stage of adulthood? The related question is:what price do those who are welcomed into adulthood in this society that Holdendescribes have to pay for such a ‘privilege’? The following discussion is an attempt toaddress these two questions.‘Catcher in the rye’ as the central/extended metaphor in The Catcher inthe RyeThe connection between the title of Salinger’s novel and Robert Burns’ poem is tenuousat best: while they both deal with the taboo subject of sexuality, The Catcher in the Ryegoes much further, for obvious reasons. For this reason, I shall not dwell on thisconnection beyond this brief remark. Rather, what I discuss is Holden’s (and, byassociation, Salinger’s) use of ‘catcher in the rye’ as a metaphor for his vision of a caringsociety and, inversely, as his critique of a society that thrives on the rapacity andduplicity of individuals like Ossenburger, the violence of conceited Prep school boys likePhil Stabile and his gang of bullies and the conformism of his teachers, Mr Spencer andMr Antolini. I consider, in particular, how in Holden’s narrative this metaphor findsextended expression in the contrasting (and recurring) images of adult violence andconceit, on the one hand, and childhood innocence and authenticity on the other. Andsince it is a metaphor that Holden not only identifies with himself, but also with thevulnerability of the children or the weak in his society, its function in his narrative ismuch broader than the function it serves when he uses it to describe his emotional state atthe end of Chapter 22. It is a metaphor that touches virtually every critical issue that headdresses in his narrative (or confession). How, then, does the metaphor of ‘the catcherin the rye’ function as an extended metaphor in the novel? Perhaps the best place to begin is by considering Holden’s view of his society asuncaring, which is the view that gives the metaphor of ‘the catcher in the rye’ its primarymeaning and function. For instance, readers are struck by the discrepancy between his
25perceptive criticism of his society, on the one hand, and the fact that he is telling his storyfrom a mental or rehabilitation institution, on the other hand. Given that his story is aconfession, that is, his honest account of why he cannot possibly be psychologicallyunbalanced, readers have a responsibility to re-assess the “madman stuff” (1) that haslanded him in the institution where he finds himself. This is so as to establish if indeedhis reasons for feeling alienated, which push him to picture himself as “the catcher in therye” (156), are valid, or if he is truly unbalanced, as he has been deemed to be by thosewho have placed him in the institution. We must keep in mind that Holden hopes that hisnarrative confession will show that the standard that his society has used to judge himsimply conceals his society’s own ‘madness’. Holden illustrates his society’s ‘madness’by means of a number of anecdotes (exemplary stories) which increasingly form a pictureof a society that has abandoned its responsibility to protect the most defenceless of itsmembers. The closest to a literal illustration of the central metaphor that Holden provides is thestory of James Castle’s suicide, whom nobody is there to catch when he falls to his deathafter he refuses to retract his criticism of Phil Stabile as “a very conceited guy” (153).Holden remarks that, even as he lay “dead, and his teeth, and blood, were all over theplace, . . . nobody would even go near him” (153). This grisly image is contrasted to thelight punishment that Phil Stabile and his gang receive; Holden informs us that “[a]ll theydid with the guys that were in the room with him was expel them. They didn’t even go tojail” (154). It is important to recall that Holden thinks of this incident in the same chapterin which he tells Phoebe what he would “really like to be” (156), that is, “the catcher inthe rye” (156). Thus, while this incident is one among many examples of the rule of thestrong over the weak in the society of Holden’s narrative, it nevertheless seems to havestood out as a defining moment in his experience of his society’s apathy toward, andtolerance of, the Phil Stabile type of characters. However, the case of Phil Stabile andJames Castle is just an extreme example of a number of subtler ways in which Holdenshows how the strong (physically, economically, or authority figures in general) alwaysprevail over the weak (physically, economically, or children in general) in his society. Holden’s description of the visit to Pencey Prep school, his last school, byOssenburger is one of the subtle ways in which he elaborates on the novel’s central
26metaphor. Ossenburger is a former pupil at Pencey who has made a lot of money in theundertaking business and donated some of it to his former school, leading to one of theschool’s dormitory wings being named after him. Holden describes one occasion onwhich Ossenburger came to Pencey to give a speech, and does so by using contrastingimages of a wealthy businessman arriving in a big Cadillac and of schoolboys standingup to give him a cheer. In his description, he remarks that Ossenburger tried to hide hisrapacity (single-minded obsession with making money) by pretending to be “a regularguy” (14) and devout Christian. For instance, before he gave his speech, he told jokeswhich Holden describes as “corny” (14). And in his speech he attributed his success tohis Christian faith, but still talked about “what a swell guy he was, what a hot-shot andall” (14), which led one of the boys in the audience, Edgar Marsalla, to lay a “terrificfart” (15). The point that Holden makes through this anecdote is that on that occasionOssenburger was portrayed by his school as an example (of success) to which theschoolboys were encouraged to aspire, however low the opinion of some of them was ofOssenburger. Indeed, later in the novel Holden tells Sally Hayes that at boys’ schools“all you do is study so that you can learn enough to be smart enough to be able to buy agoddam Cadillac some day” (118). In this view, boys’ schools capture young mindsbefore they can develop their own independence and channel them towards narroweconomic goals. In short, education at boys’ schools is in Holden’s view a means to anend, which for him defeats the point of cultivating a truly educated society. A trulyeducated society for Holden is one that values the authentic character mostly seen inchildren. Holden develops his idea that in his society education is a means to an end, rather thana preparation for service to the innocent, by means of the example of the kind of lawyerthat his society produces. When Phoebe asks him to name something he would like to be,“Like a scientist. Or a lawyer or something” (155), Holden’s answer is revealing; hesays: Lawyers are all right, I guess – but it doesn’t appeal to me. . . . I mean they’re all right if they go around saving innocent guys’ lives all the time, and like that, but you don’t do that kind of stuff if you’re a lawyer. All you do is make a lot of dough and play golf and play bridge and buy cars and drink Martinis and look like
27 a hot-shot. And besides. Even if you did go around saving guys’ lives and all, how would you know if you did it because you really wanted to save guys’ lives, or because you did it because what you really wanted to do was be a terrific lawyer, with everybody slapping you on the back and congratulating you in court when the goddam trial was over, the reporters and everybody, the way it is in the dirty movies. (155)The subject of movies comes up quite frequently in Holden’s narrative, and I shall dealwith it in due course in the context of the novel’s central metaphor. Nevertheless, whathis example above reveals is another aspect of what the metaphor of the catcher in the ryemeans to him. Just as he pictures himself saving “little kids . . . all day” (156) withoutexpecting anyone to slap him on the back and to congratulate him, or reporters to flashtheir cameras at him, so too must service to the innocent be given without anticipation ofpraise or reward. This, for Holden, is what would save the legal profession frombecoming mere theatre or a cheap (dirty) movie where everything is about the lawyer-starand the innocent is just a prop – a means to an end. Schoolteachers occupy an ambiguous place in Holden’s vision of a caring society: asauthority figures, they enforce the inequalities in his society by encouraging conformityto the status quo, but as people tasked with the care and education of young people, theymust foster creativity and intellectual independence in their charges. Thus in Holden’seyes Mr Spencer and Mr Antolini are sincere and conceited simultaneously: they aresincere in wanting him to do well, but conceited in expecting him to play the game of life“according to the rules” (7), as Spencer tells him, or to ‘wear’ the kind of thoughts thathis “particular size of mind should be wearing” (171), as Antolini advises him “anacademic education will do for [him]” (171). Holden is clearly not one to miss thecontradiction between “game,” “play” and “thoughts” on the one hand, and “rules,”“size” and “measurement” on the other. Even though he does not ask Spencer whomakes the rules that he must play according to, or Antolini who determines the size ormeasurements of one’s mind or the size of thoughts his size mind can fit in, henevertheless concludes that both speak for the same status quo that reduces young peopleto the lowest common denominator. In Holden’s view, movies and mass entertainment also play a major part in
28reproducing a passive, apathetic and self-satisfied society. He remarks about how hisbrother, D.B., is “out in Hollywood . . . being a prostitute (i.e. writing for the movies);how the bars in New York hire “phony” entertainers who are pretentious; and how thepeople who patronise movie theatres and shows derive cheap pleasure from themeaningless world of make-believe. There are a number of examples that he uses tobuttress this point, such as when he describes Ernie, the piano player, at Ernie’s, thesingers Tina and Janine at the Wicker Bar and the Lunts at Radio City. He also describesthe mad clapping of the audiences at these shows, all of which exemplifies the after-effects of a gradual process of socially-induced mass hysteria and self-delusion. ForHolden, this process begins with how children are brought up and programmed torespond only to superficial stimuli, that is, cheap entertainment and status objects.Recall, for instance, what Holden says about how Prep school boys “learn enough to besmart enough to be able to buy a goddam Cadillac some day” (118). All of the above are examples of the pressures that young people of his society,including himself, are put under to conform to existing social and (im)moral values,which he regards as in need of re-evaluation and correction. Thus he imagines himself as‘the catcher in the rye’ who will rescue the most susceptible members of his society, theyoung and the weak, from falling into the trap of social ineptitude. This brings me to thelast part of this discussion, namely, Holden’s perception of childhood and/or innocence asa state that must be preserved, if only for its potential to teach us the value of authenticexistence and freedom. I started by citing the episode in which Holden watches his sister, Phoebe, on a toyhorse going around and around on a carrousel. In particular, I noted Holden’s remarkthat this sight of Phoebe made him happy “because she looked so damn nice” (191). Thisimage of children in their non-conceited or true selves recurs in the narrative and drawsattention to Holden’s own feeling of being a child still, despite his age and prematuregrey hair. Indeed, what Holden says about children reflects a lot about how he feelsabout himself, that is, as someone who “act[s] quite young for [his] age sometimes” (8).While there are many examples in the narrative which portray children as genuine in theirinnocence and capacity to explore their potential, I want to comment on only two: onerelates to the six-year old boy who walks in the street while he sings “If a body catch a
29body coming through the rye” (104), and the other to Phoebe’s intelligence andinventiveness. The six-year old boy represents, for Holden, a remarkable determination to be his ownperson and, likewise, Holden describes Phoebe as someone that everyone would like.Read these instances in which Holden talks about children, and how they reveal the depthof his concern for their safety, well-being but most importantly their right to be protectedfrom social pressures to conform. It is Holden’s vision of childhood that leads him toimagine himself as the catcher in the rye.