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Blogging The Catcher in the Rye: Part 6 (In Which We Get the Song that Inspired the Title and Are TOTALLY Mystified)

Last time, Holden thought about Jane Gallagher, went to a bar called Ernie’s that was filled with phonies, walked back to the hotel alone, and invited a prostitute—who ended up making him very uncomfortable—to his room.

I have to admit that I do not remember this book being so dark. Which means it either 1) went over my 14-year-old head; 2) was so entirely in line with my own emo teenager way of seeing the world I didn’t think twice about it; or 3) was so deeply depressing I blocked out everything but Holden’s wry sense of humor and idiosyncratic way of speaking. But, *SPOILER ALERT*, it is dark. Like dementor-face dark.

This section opens with Holden getting into to bed and trying to pray even though he’s “sort of an atheist” because even though he “likes Jesus and all,” the disciples “annoy the hell out of him.” Any time Jesus appears in a story my antennae go up: Jesus is a BIG DEAL, generally, but particularly in literature. Although Holden doesn’t say it, I’m guessing he sort of identified with Jesus, who was, after all, like Holden, an outsider. And so, if you think of Holden’s “friends” at Pencey, or even his family, as stand-ins for the disciples, it’s not too surprising he hates them or sees them as useless. He needs them now. And they aren’t there for him.

Holden’s thoughts about religion are interrupted by a knock on the door. It’s Maurice, the elevator operator/pimp, and Sunny, the prostitute Holden couldn’t sleep with. Maurice is angry. He claims Holden owes him five bucks and is ready to beat him up for it and all Holden can think about is 1) how much better this situation would if only he weren’t wearing his pajamas and 2) how much hair Maurice has on his stomach. Before they leave, with their five bucks, Holden calls Maurice a “stupid chiseling moron” and, in response, Maurice punches Holden in the stomach. If you’re having déjà vû, you’re not crazy: this is pretty much a repeat of the fight Holden had with Strad back at Pencey. At this point, I’m thinking it’s *almost* like Holden has a death wish…

The answer is yes (kind of). After being socked in the stomach, Holden takes a bath, crawls back into bed, and thinks:

What I really felt like, though, was committing suicide. I felt like jumping out the window. I probably would’ve done it, too, if I’d been sure somebody’d cover me up as soon as I landed. I didn’t want a bunch of stupid rubbernecks looking at me when I was all gory.

So, yes, he does seem to want to kill himself—I mean, duh, he says as much—and yet, in the same breath, he comes up with an excuse not to do it. Is anyone else getting some serious Hamlet vibes all of a sudden??

In the next chapter, our young Hamlet (*both names even start with an h*… I’m getting goosebumps, you guys) calls up Sally Hayes (Ophelia???), who sounds a lot like a modern-day FWB (friend with benefits)—they’ve known each other for years and have “necked” a LOT, but they both see other people. They make plans to go to the theater.

Afterward, Holden checks out of his hotel and goes to Grand Central Station, where he can check his suitcases in a locker for the day, and gets breakfast. Some nuns (hmmm… something is going on with religion here) sit next to him while he eats. Naturally, they strike up a conversation and even more naturally, it’s about Romeo and Juliet and most naturally of all, Holden is more upset by Mercutio’s death than by Romeo and Juliet’s deaths. “The thing is,” he says, “it drives me crazy if somebody gets killed—especially somebody very smart and entertaining and all—and it’s somebody else’s fault. Romeo and Juliet, at least it was their own fault.” SO, what I’m getting from that is suicide = okay. Allie’s death ≠ okay. Before they leave, Holden insists on giving the nuns $10 for their next charity collection (is anyone else kind of crushing on him at this point??).

Afterward, Holden buys a rare record for his little sister Phoebe (which has a ph in it…like Ophelia…) and then walks to the spot in Central Park where she often skates on Sundays, in the hopes of running into her. On the way,  AN ENORMOUSLY SIGNIFICANT, EXTREMELY IMPORTANT thing happens: Holden sees a young boy walking on the street, next to the curb, singing, “If a body catch a body coming through the rye.” Apparently this is a famous children’s song, but it must have been famous in another generation because I’m p sure Raffi doesn’t sing this one. Anyway, for some reason, hearing this song cheers Holden up—or, in Holden speak, makes him “feel not so depressed any more.” I’m assuming the song will come back because right now I HAVE NO CLUE why it’s the title or why it cheers him up. If you have ideas *without looking ahead*, please lmk, Nancy Drew!

Anyway, of course Phoebe isn’t in the park because, in case you forgot, OMG this book is sad and Holden can’t successfully communicate with anyone—except maybe Jane Gallagher who he’s never “in the mood” to call. So Holden walks to the Natural History Museum, where he used to go for field trips with his class every other Saturday. On the way, he actually gets happy thinking about those field trips to the museum. In case you were wondering why the museum makes him happy, he tells you: “The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move.” —or change or grow up or leave or die.

Catcher Index:

# of times Holden says “phony” or “phonies”: 5

# of times Holden says it in relation to Sally Hayes: 3

Phrase I read a few times because it was either a typo or super-duper pretentious: the heighth of modesty

Cleverest sentence: I used to think she was quite intelligent, in my stupidity.

Things that depressed Holden in this section: nuns eating toast and coffee, seeing cheap suitcases, money, the nuns never having a swanky lunch, people who really want to go see a movie, park benches that look wet

Looney Tunes moment: God, my old heart was damn near beating me out of the room.

That thing that sounds like idiom but is just a Holden-ism: It was getting daylight outside.

Moment that had me nodding like Hill: I always sort of think whoever I’m necking is a pretty intelligent person.

If you’re following along at home, this post covers chapters 14, 15, and 16. Catch up here!