I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody around- nobody big, I mean- except me. And I am standing on some edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, is I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff- I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they are going I have to come out of 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 is the only thing I’d like to be.
I know it’s crazy” (Salinger 173). The passage above sets us up for the story of a teenage boy on the edge of a mental breakdown trying to cope with all that is going on in his world. J. D. Salinger tells us a story through the eyes of Holden Caulfield; a teenager just kicked out of another prep school and is on his way home for Christmas. On the way home Holden introduces us to a variety of people that he meets or knows. Most of these people are what he calls “phonies” and he does not really want to see them.
Through all that Holden goes through we see his mental faculties start to diminish, and he eventually has a mental breakdown The story begins with Holden at a “rest home” in California. Holden is talking to a psychologist, and this is where the flashback to the events that led him their start. From the beginning, we see that Holdens’ mental state is not the best. Holden starts out with his school, “Pency Prep,” he says that the school in full of phonies, and the headmaster is the “biggest phony” of all. The school is full of people that are just out for something; most of these people he calls phonies.
We meet Robert Ackley he is the neighbor to Holden and is characterized by him as ” sort of a nasty guy ” (Salinger 19). Holden feels Ackley is an idiot, but he is good for conversation when no one else is around. We also find out that Holden is quite a liar, and this introduces a problem. If Holden is a liar, then what he is saying cannot be true. If Holden is not a liar, then the statement that he is a liar cannot be true. This situation is key to many of Holdens psychological problems. Next, we see his roommate Ward Stradlater appear.
Ward is going out on a date with Jane Gallagher, a girl that he has known for a long time. Holden debates himself over the idea of going to see Jane while Ward is getting ready for the date, but he does not feel like it and this proves to be another downfall for Holden later on. Ward also asks Holden if he will write a composition for him, after agreeing Ward leaves on his date. Holden is concerned about Jane because he knows what kind of person Ward is and he is really worked up that Ward is only interested in Jane for sexual reasons. Later that evening Holden writes the composition for Ward.
The composition is supposed to be descriptive and the only thing that he can think of is his dead brother Allies’ left-handed baseball glove. ” The thing that was most descriptive about it, though, was that he had poems written all over the fingers and the pocket and everywhere. In green ink. He wrote them on it so he would have something to read out in the field and nobody was up at bat” (Salinger 38). Holden tells us the story of Allies’ life, about how smart he was and how he had the most fantastic red hair. Holden is obviously shaken by the death of his younger brother and he tells us about his reaction.
I was only thirteen, and they were going to have me psychoanalyzed and all, because I broke all the windows in the garage. I do not blame them. I really don’t. I slept in the garage the night he died, and I broke all the goddam windows with my fist, just for the well of it. I even tried to break all the windows in the station wagon we had that summer, but my hand was already broken and everything by that time, and I couldn’t do it. It was a very stupid thing to do, I’ll admit, but I hardly diddn’t even know that I was doing it, and you diddn’t know Allie” (Salinger 39).
Even at an earlier age, we see that Holdens’ mental stability is not too good, and his love of his dead brother is very strong. At this point Holden tells us that ” some things are hard to remember. I’m thinking now of when Ward got back from his date with Jane. I mean I can’t remember what I was doing when I heard his goddam stupid footsteps coming down the corridor” (Salinger 40). Once Ward gets into the room, the first major conflict takes place in the story. Holden asks Ward if he made Jane sign in late and wants to know what they did in the back seat of the car.
That’s a professional secret, buddy” (Salinger 43) is the answer Holden receives, and this makes him very upset. Holden gets up and starts out, but as he gets closer to Ward he decides to strike him. Holden misses the punch that he wanted to throw and ends up just grazing Ward on the head. ” Anyway the next thing that I knew, I was on the goddam floor, and he was sitting on my chest, with his face all red” (Salinger 43). Here Holden shows an underlying affection for Jane, and this comes out more later in the story. Again, we see that when the situation gets tough for Holden he tends not to remember what happens too well.
Holden starts calling Ward all kinds of names and finally Ward lets him up off the floor after Holden agrees to shut up. Well this does not last to long. Holden starts back up with the name-calling and Ward hits him. Ward tried his best not to have to strike Holden, but Holden just would not shut up. Holden finally gets up and looks at himself in the mirror, and thinks ” all that blood and all sort of made me look tough” (Salinger 45). After visiting Ackley for a while Holden decides that it is time for him to leave Pency and goes back to his room, finishes packing, and leaves there for the last time.
This is, in fact, the end of a chapter in Holdens life, and he is aware of it. ” I was sort of crying. I don’t know why” (Salinger 52). He then turns and yells ” Sleep tight, ya morons,” (Salinger 52) so loudly that it wakes everyone up. That would have been a good place to close the chapter, but Holden has one more fact to report; one more instance of the humanity of man to man: ” Some stupid guy had thrown peanut shells all over the stairs, and I damn near broke my crazy neck” (Salinger 52)” (Carey 21). Holden walks to the train station, which gives him time to clear his head and clean the blood off his face.
He meets a woman on the train and finds out that she is the mother of a student that he knows at Pency. Holden lies to her extensively about himself and her son. He gives her the name of the janitor as his and tells her that her son is really a shy type and does not do a whole lot around school. She asks him why he is out of school early, and he tells her that he is going home early so he can have an operation. She is concerned about him and says that he can visit them in the summer. Holden thanked her, but said that he is going to South America with his grandmother.
Of course none of this is true, and he ends up saying” I would not visit that sonofabitch for all the dough in the world, even if I was desperate”(Salinger 58). We see that Holden is very capable of lying and he gets really wrapped up in his lies. Nevertheless, he is a good person at heart and he only did it to save her feelings. Holden gets off the train at Penn Station and sees a phone booth he thinks about calling Jane but he decides not to. He gets a cab and tells the cab driver to take him to his home, he realizes this mistake and changes his destination to a hotel.
Holden checks into the hotel and goes up to his room. As he looks from his window he can see all the “perverts and morons” that occupy some other rooms. He starts to think about his own sexuality and says, “in my mind, I’m probably the biggest sex maniac you ever saw” (Salinger 62). ” Sex is something that I really don’t understand too hot. You never know where the hell you are. I keep making up these sex rules for myself, and keep breaking them right away. Last year I made up a rule that I was going to quit horsing around with girls that, deep down, gave me a pain in the ass.
I broke it, though, the same week I made it- the same night, as a matter of fact. I spent the whole night necking with a terribly phony named Anne Louise Sherman. Sex is something that I just don’t understand. I swear to God I don’t”(Salinger 63). Holden is insecure about himself and sex, and this shows later. He decides to call Jane, then decides not to so he calls a girl that a friend told him about. He calls her and ends up not getting anywhere and says, “boy, I really fouled that up”(Salinger 66). Holden decides that he wants to go down stairs to the club in the hotel. On his way down, he starts to talk about his sister Phoebe.
Phoebe seems to be the only light in Holdens dark world. When he speaks of her it makes him happy and makes him forget all the phonies of the world. He tells about how intelligent and how innocent she really is. Holden keeps stressing the phrase that “you’ll like her” as if to say you would like her or you are an idiot. He goes into the bar and says that the band is “putrid” and sees three females sitting at a table. After spending some time them he calls them phonies and wonders why anybody would go from Washington State all the way to New York just to see some buildings and some shows.
They say that they want to see movie stars and Holden wonders why they do not go to a better club that the one that they are in. The whole scene depresses him, and he decides to leave. He talks about things depressing him a lot, and you get another glimpse of his deteriorating mental state. Holden leaves the bar and goes into the lobby. He starts to think about Jane again, and more about Ward going out with her and what they did. “I was pretty damn sure that old Stradlater hadn’t given her the time- I know old Jane like a book-I still couldn’t get her off my brain.
I knew her like a book. I really did”(Salinger 76). Holden is here reassuring himself that nothing went on between Ward and Jane. Holden reflects on a time when he and Jane were young and he thought that Jane’s stepfather was molesting her she never said he did, but she didn’t say he did or didn’t either. I believe that this was on Holdens mind when he thought about Jane and Ward. Holden makes his way outside and gets a cab to another bar. On the way, he asks the cab driver if he knew where the ducks on the lagoon in Central Park go for the winter.
This kind of gets the cabby “sore” at Holden and the cabby asks him about the fish. The cabby asks Holden if he thinks that the fish leave in the winter. Holden thinks this is odd, but the cabby tells him,” if you were a fish, Mother Nature would take care of you wouldn’t she”(Salinger 83). Holden got to the club, and the owner was playing the piano. This kind of disgusted him to see all those phony people clapping their heads off at every little thing that the pianist did. ” I’m not sure of the name of the song he was playing when I came in, but what ever it was he was really stinking it up.
He was putting in all these dumb, show-offy ripples in the high notes, and a lot of other tricky stuff that gives me a pain in the ass. You should’ve heard the crowd, though, when he was finished. You would’ve puked. They went mad. They were exactly the same morons that laugh like hyenas in the movies at stuff that isn’t even funny”(Salinger 84). This shows more of his dislike of the way society is. Holden meets a girl that his older brother used to date; he does not really want to talk to her so he says that he is just leaving. Since he told the girl he was leaving, he feels he must be honest and go.
We still see that Holden is actually good at heart. Holden leaves the bar and starts walking back to the hotel and realizes that someone has stolen his gloves. He wonders what he would if he confronted the thief but realizes that he would just talk his way out of a confrontation. “Then all of a sudden, I got into this big mess”(Salinger 90) this is the way that Holden tells us about the next step in his adventure. He enters the hotel that “smelled like fifty million dead cigars”(Salinger 90) and gets into the elevator. He talks to the elevator operator and sets himself up a prostitute for the night for five bucks.
He goes to his room and waits. While he waits, he tells us that he is actually a virgin, and he has had plenty of opportunities to lose his virginity but he keeps messing it up. He tries to tell us about a time that he came close, but he does not remember exactly what happened. His mind will not let him remember something bad. The prostitute shows up and wants to get right down to it, and Holden wants to take it easy. He eventually decides he does not want to have sex with the girl. He just wants to talk. This infuriates the girl and demands her payment so she can leave.
He gives her five bucks and she wants ten, he says no and she leaves. She comes back with the elevator operator and he assaults Holden and takes the five extra dollars. This is where Holden gets delusional. He pretends that he was just shot by the mob and he has to go after the person who shot him. He imagines that he puts on a trench coat and goes after the elevator operator with a gun and lets him have it. Then he would call Jane to come and fix him up. Again, he focuses his way out with Jane. In the morning, he thinks about calling Jane again, but he is not in the mood, so he calls this girl Sally.
He makes a date to see Sally later that day, then he realizes he is hungry so he leaves to eat. He goes to the train station to check his bags into one of the lockers there, and then goes to eat. While he is eating, he meets two nuns that he is very impressed with. He thinks about the nun’s baggage and how plain they are, and how they do not care about all the high priced things in the world. He gives them ten dollars for a donation, and they thank him and leave. He feels sad that he only gave then ten dollars, but he had a date to pay for. Holden leaves the restaurant and goes in search of a record for his sister.
After finding the record he leaves the store and gets behind a poor couple and their son. He is impressed with the boy and also the song he is singing:” If a body catch a body coming through the rye”(Salinger 115). The boy makes him feel not so depressed anymore. He goes on to Central Park to see if his sister is playing there, but does not find her. He tries to help these two children on a see saw but they do not want his help, still he still feels good about himself for trying. He heads out of the park, and passes the museum that he visited as a child. He stops, but decides not to go in.
Holden thinks about how that everything in that museum never changes, but humanity is constantly changing. He catches a cab to the hotel where he is going to meet Sally. Holden meets Sally for their date. He takes her to a show that is full of “phonies” and it depresses him. He tells her that he loves her and he wants her to run away with him, then he says he is crazy. ” The “crazy” pattern continues throughout the middle portion of the book and reaches a climax in the Sally episode; thereafter, by then Holdens neurosis has been established, it occurs less frequently, and other patterns come into prominence”(Belcher and Lee 84).
They leave the theater and go to the ice skating rinks so she can rent one of those “darling little skating skirts”(Salinger 129). The two go into a little place so they can rest for a while, and talk. Here we see Holdens problems start to appear. During the conversation, we hear Holden start rambling about school, and how he hated it and all. He also tells Sally that they should run away together and get married or something. Holden is really worked up and Sally tells him twice to lower his voice. Then the final straw is where Holden says “C’mon, let’s get out of here, you give me a royal pain in the ass”(Salinger 133).
Holden starts apologizing like a mad man, but Sally will not have anything to do with it. ” We observe, then, that the “madman” and the “crazy” patterns are employed most effectively in episodes, chiefly in the first two-thirds of the book, that reveal Holden’s neurotic condition and his sense of alienation”(Belcher and Lee 85). Holden leaves the rink and goes to get him a sandwich. He calls Jane’s house again, but he gets no answer, so he calls an old friend by the name of Carl Luce. The two agree to meet for a few drinks later that evening.
In the mean time, Holden takes in a movie where he encounters a woman who is completely phony. He observes her to fool people by being a kind-hearted woman because she cries all through the movie, but when her little boy needs to go to the bathroom, she ignores him. Holden meets Carl for their drink and mostly talk about sex or rather Holdens lack they’re of. Carl leaves and Holden gets pretty drunk and decides to call Jane again, but decides not to. He calls Sally instead, goes into his delusional game of being a mobster, and tells Sally that he has been shot by Rocks’ mob. She tells him to go home and get some sleep.
Holden tries to sober up, dunks his head in some water in the men’s room, sits on the radiator, and decides to leave. He walks to the park to answer the question of the ducks in the winter, and where they go. He sits to count his money, and his still wet head starts to freeze, and this makes him think that he is catching pneumonia and will die. Holden starts to think about a time when he visited his brother, Allie’s, grave. He says that it rained and all the people around started to run for cover, and that it depressed him to think that his brother has to lie there and just get wet.
Holden says, “I just wish he wasn’t there. You didn’t know him. If you’d known him, you’d know what I mean”(Salinger 156). It is important to remember that he is telling this to his psychoanalyst. He decides that he wants to see his sister before he dies, so he goes home. Holden makes it home and sneaks into his house, and into his sister’s room where he wakes her and they begin to talk. Phoebe is glad to see him and tells him about a play she is in and that she is going to play Benedict Arnold. He tells her to quiet down before their parents hear, but she tells him they are gone for the evening, and not to worry.
She figures out that he has flunked out of school again and that “daddy’s gonna kill you” she repeats this several times and eventually covers her head with a pillow, and will not speak to him. This is the biggest rejection of all. Phoebe asks him why he flunked out again, and he says, “oh, God, Phoebe, don’t ask me that. I’m sick of everybody asking me that”(Salinger 167). If we look back we only see that Mr. Spencer is the only one who has ever asked him that, so obviously he has been running it through his own hear a lot. Phoebe asks him what did he like, and he has the hardest time telling her.
First, he says that she is a thousand miles away and he cannot concentrate. Then, all he could think about was the nuns, and then about a boy he knew that committed suicide at a school that he went to, finally he says that he likes Allie, and her. She says that Allie is dead, and Holden states that he can still like someone although they are dead. Holden leaves Phoebe’s room, makes a call to an old teacher of his, and asks to stay a couple of days. Holdens parents return and he must leave the house. He is not worried about sneaking out because he really does not care if he is caught or not.
Holden goes to Mr. Antolini’s house where he plans to stay a while. Mr. Antolini and his wife greet him and offer him some coffee. Mr. Antolini tells Holden that he is more or less a rebel without a cause. He gives him a note that says ” A mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one”(Salinger 188). Holden finally falls asleep and he is awakened by Mr. Antolini patting his head and looking at him in the dark. He gets up very fast, gets dressed, and leaves. He goes to the train station to get some sleep.
At the train station, he thinks about the way, he treated Mr. Antolini, and that maybe he was wrong. Here we see Holden not trying to judge anyone, and just wants to go on. The next day Holden reads a magazine and decides that he is going to die of cancer. He leaves the train station and goes for a walk toward Central Park. During his walk he has more delusions of schizophrenia where he believes that every time that he crosses a road, it is sucking him down into it. He calls out for Allie, which is like his guardian angle that protects him to the park.
When he gets to the park, he dreams of going out west and living as a deaf mute so he will not have to talk to anybody. He says that at his house there can be nothing phony or any phony people. Holden decides to go see Phoebe one more time. He goes to her school where he is confronted by two counts of blatant vulgarity. He is appalled by this and tries to get rid of them, but he is scared that he will be blamed for them if he is caught. He leaves a note for his sister to meet him at the museum and leaves. He goes in to the museum and helps these two kids find the mummies.
While looking at the mummies, he sees the vulgarity again. ” I think, even, if I ever die, and they stick me in a cemetery, and I have a tombstone and all, it’ll say “Holden Caulfield” on it, and then what year I was born and what year I died, and right under that it’ll say “fuck you. ” I’m positive in fact”(Salinger 204). “Since Holden’s neurosis includes feelings of insecurities stemming from Allie’s death and from Jane’s “lousy childhood” (like his own) and since Allie and Jane have become inextricably bound together in his mind, Holden conquers the two-fold hysteria at one and the same moment.
There is sexual imagery in “this narrow sort of hall” and the room containing the mummies, especially since the obscene word is written ” with red crayonright under the glass part of the wall. ” Again as in Phoebe’s school he reacts with weariness over the corruption of this world and solemnly reflects that if he ever dies and is buried, his tombstone will bear the ugly legend. Here, at last, the identity of the fear of death and the fear of sex is made clear, and these fears are to be seen, actually, as a pervasive fear of violence to body or spirit and the ensuing mutilation”(Belcher and Lee 91).
Holden is sick and he goes to the bathroom to relieve himself, when he starts to leave he faints and says that he actually feels better afterwards. Phoebe finally shows up, he tells he that she cannot go with him out west, and she gets mad. He takes her to the zoo and he lets her look at all the animals and ride the carrousel. Holden watched Phoebe ride the carousel and felt so happy that he bawled his eyes out, he could not help it he just cried. “Holden is quite sick, but he is willing to return home at once. In a sense, he has been beaten by the system.
He suffers from the world as it is. Most men learn to suppress the occasional idea that the world as it is really cannot be borne, but a few-children, maniacs, and saints-never learn the trick”(Carey 51). When Holden begins to probe and investigate his own since of emptiness and isolation, before finally declaring that the world is full of “phonies” with each one out for their own phony gain. Is Holden actually the one who is going insane, or is it society which has lost its mind for failing to see the hopelessness of their own lives?