SparkNotes Blog

Blogging The Catcher in the Rye: Part 3 (In Which Sh*t Gets Really Real)

Last time, we learned that Holden is actually a p nice guy because of the way he gets his nail scissors down for Ackley and lets his roommate Stradlater borrow his jacket for a date. Oh, and he seems to be in love with a girl named Jane Gallagher, who’s really into checkers. 

Sh*t gets real in chapter five. How real? Well, it opens with Holden going off about how Pencey only serves steak on Saturday night so that when the students see their parents on Sunday—as many of them do—and their parents ask what they had for dinner last night, they can answer, “steak,” and ends with Holden writing a descriptive essay for Stradlater about a baseball mitt that belonged to Holden’s younger brother Allie—a red-haired kid who used to laugh so hard he’d fall out of his chair—who died of leukemia a few years ago. While writing the essay (which, again, is for his moron-roommate), Holden remembers how after Allie died, he broke all the windows in the garage, breaking his own hand in the process. He still can’t form a proper fist. There may be a joke hiding there, but I don’t want to find it. It’s a deeply sad chapter.

In the middle of the chapter, before he starts thinking about Allie, Holden packs a snowball. He wants to throw it at something, “but I changed my mind. The car looked so nice and white. Then I started to throw it at a hydrant, but that looked too nice and white, too. Finally I didn’t throw it at anything.” Here’s a teenage boy, who’s so attuned to beauty, he doesn’t want to throw a “nice and white” snowball at the snow-covered landscape, a boy who seems, here, unable to act. That moment is almost the most heartbreaking moment in the chapter for me—maybe because it’s so at odds with Holden’s cursing, swaggering, devil-may-care, rebel persona.

Oh, and it doesn’t end with chapter five. In the next one, Stradlater comes back from his date with THE JANE GALLAGHER, reads Holden’s essay, and gets mad at him for writing about a baseball mitt when he’d given him clear instructions write about a room. By this time, I’m thinking that if Strad and Donald Trump could meet, they’d be thick as thieves. In response, Holden tears up the essay and throws it out. *gets out a box of tissues*

It gets worse. *blows nose* In fact, it gets pretty effing dramatic. *readies clean tissue* I didn’t remember this book being so dramatic.

So, in case you forgot, Strad was out with THE JANE GALLAGHER and he tells Holden that they spent most of the date in the car together. If you’ve ever seen a romantic comedy about high schoolers living in the suburbs, you know what usually happens in cars. So does Holden. So he punches Strad. Or, rather, he winds up to punch him in the face and ends up just grazing the side of his head. It reminds me of how he can’t throw the snowball. Holden talks a lot of sh*t, but he seems incapable of actual violence. In fact, he is pretty literally incapable of actual violence: part of the reason the punch fails is because he can’t fully form a fist. [I am developing a theory that one reason high schoolers like me love this book so much is that the symbolism, which you’re just learning to recognize then, is so damn heavy that it’s pretty much impossible to miss. The book makes you feel smart. Stay tuned.]

Afterward, Strad punches Holden in the face and breaks his nose because Holden won’t stop calling him a moron. [Or I’m assuming Holden’s nose is broken, because Holden says, “You never saw such gore in your life.” On the other hand, I am starting to see that Holden has a just a tiny penchant for exaggeration (see the “index” below for more instances).] Holden only picks himself up off the floor after Strad leaves the room. He goes into Ackley’s room [I am starting to think that Ackley is actually Holden’s only friend, that Holden is just as much of an outsider as he is], lies down on his roommate’s empty bed, and thinks about Jane. True to form, Holden finds that thinking about her makes him feel so lonely, he says he almost wishes he were dead. [Okay, so maybe teenagers like this book because, in Holden, Salinger has managed to capture the existential despair of what it means to be feeling certain feelings for the first time—the extremes of joy and anger and loneliness, and the total lack of reference points teenagers have for any of them.]

A few minutes pass there. And “all of a sudden” (everything in this book is of “all of a sudden”), Holden decides to leave Pencey that night, instead of waiting for Wednesday. He plans to spend a few nights in a cheap hotel in New York City thanks to “a grandmother that’s quite lavish with her dough.” And then comes the moment we’ve all been waiting for, the paragraph I almost used in the quarter of a page I was allotted for my senior year yearbook “goodbye” (yes, I was angsty):

When I was all set to go, when I had my bags and all, 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, 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!”

Catcher‘s Index:

Best insertion of a curseword into a regular word: backasswards

# of hours it takes Ackley to get ready to go to the movies (according to Holden): 5

# of hints Holden dropped to get Ackley to leave his room (according to him): 1,000

# of hours Holden “kept calling [Strad] a sonuvabitch” (according to him): 10

# of times he actually calls Strad a moron (in a single scene): 10

Most surprising moment of diction: Holden calls sex “sexual intercourse”

Moment at which I found myself vigorously nodding my head: “In every school I’ve gone to, all the athletic bastards stick together.”

Best modification of a cliché: “stark staring mad”

New usage of a word I already knew: “he’d start snowing his date”

What I’m going to think the next time I’m asked a question with a super obvious answer: “I wasn’t going to break my neck telling him.”

Most poetic phrase: “one single solitary word”

If you’re following along at home, this post covers chapters 5, 6, and 7. Catch up here!