Last time, Holden got drunk and went to find the ducks in Central Park. They weren’t there. Then he went home to talk to his little sister Phoebe, who basically excoriated him for having no goals in life.
When we left Holden, it was still the middle of the night and he was excusing himself from Phoebe’s room to call his old English teacher Mr. Antolini—probably the first character in the whole novel whose last name isn’t very clearly Anglo-American. Mr. Antolini tells Holden to come right over if he wants to. Honestly, at this point, I’m wondering how Holden managed to get so far off the rails with a support system as strong as his seems to be. I mean, a number of teachers really seem to be rooting for him—definitely not the math and science ones, but still.
Holden says he’ll come over, but then his parents come home, forcing him to hide in Phoebe’s closet because, you know, the last people he wants to tell about his mental and emotional breakdown are his parents. Which I make fun of, but I actually really get. I feel like, as a teen, I was just as intent on hiding my personal life from parents as I was on finding other adults to confide in.
Just before Holden leaves for Mr. Antolini’s place, he asks Phoebe if she’s got “any dough” she can lend him, and she gives him the money her parents gave her to buy Christmas gifts, all $8.65 of it. Which sounds pretty adorable—look at that $8.65!!—but that adorable $8.65 would be $115.64 in today’s dollars. And what does Holden give her in return? His hunting hat. I *think* Salinger is just maybe trying to make a comment on value here… But I’ll leave you to figure out what exactly that is.
It turns out Mr. Antolini is “a pretty sophisticated guy”: he’s wearing a bathrobe and drinking a martini when he lets Holden in. Mr. Antolini is also, in the humble opinion of this recapper, an arrogant you-know-what. He manages to simultaneously talk to Holden as if he were an adult (“Are you smoking now?”) and condescend to him (“you little ace composition writer”). They start talking about why Holden left Pencey, and their conversation goes approximately like this:
MR. ANTOLINI: Frankly, I don’t know what the hell to say to you, Holden.
*Holden thinks about his headache and tries to suppress a yawn.*
MR. ANTOLINI: Honestly, I think you’re riding for a terrible, terrible, TERRIBLE—are you listening, Holden?
HOLDEN: Yes. *really wants to yawn*
MR. ANTOLINI: —TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE fall…. Like you, you might end up hating all the guys who look like they played football in college, you know?
HOLDEN: Sure. *can barely hold in the enormous yawn*
*Mr. Antolini pours himself another martini*
MR. ANTOLINI: This fall is so bad it’s like a black hole, Holden. You might never end up making any money. You might even stop being friends with the preppy, boarding school set. This is very serious. Do you understand?
MR. ANTOLINI: I’m going to write something down for you. Will you promise to read it carefully and to keep it and treasure it for the rest of your life, even if we do lose touch because you fall out with the preppy, boarding school set?
MR. ANTOLINI: *writes*
HOLDEN: *reads* *realizes it’s actually an old fortune cookie saying*
MR. ANTOLINI: You’ll be alright, Holden. You just need to figure out what size mind you have.
HOLDEN: Yes, sir.
HOLDEN: *lets loose the yawn*
…And Mr. Antolini isn’t angry; he says, it’s time for bed and they say goodnight… until an hour or so later, Holden wakes up because Mr. Antolini—who, by the way, is married—is petting his head. I’d forgotten this happened, and it’s a pretty shocking scene; it made me wish I could say to Salinger, enough, Holden’s been through enough. Because with Allie’s death and his mother’s nerves and the fact that he saw a boy die at boarding school and can’t himself stay in school long enough to make friends and settle down, it just seems like he’s been through enough, you know? To make it worse, Holden says, “That kind of [perverty] stuff’s happened to me about twenty times since I was a kid.”
In the final chapters, Holden seems to be falling apart, not just mentally, but physically as well: he’s so dizzy he passes out, he starts acting paranoid, fearing that he’ll disappear before he crosses the street, and he talks to his dead brother Allie. It’s in this state of mind, he decides he’ll to go out West. The dream starts out pretty Jack Kerouac:
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 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.
But then it takes a weird-ish turn:
I’d pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes…if I wanted to get married or something, I’d meet this beautiful girl that was also a deaf-mute and we’d get married. She’d come and live in my cabin with me, and if she wanted to say anything to me, she’d have to write it on a goddam piece of paper, like everybody else.
And then it takes a live-free-or-die in a single-home house surrounded by all of your nine, homeschooled children kind of turn:
If we had any children, we’d hide them somewhere. We could them a lot of books and teach them how to read and write by ourselves.
But Holden can’t go away without saying goodbye to Phoebe. But, when Phoebe hears of his plans, she packs a suitcase; she doesn’t want to be left behind. And it takes just that: the sight of his baby sister walking down Fifth Avenue with a suitcase, planning to go west with him, for Holden to snap out of it, to become the responsible, parental figure, worried about her future, wanting her to live a normal, normative, respectable life. So he promises her he won’t leave and they go to the carousel in Central Park, where she rides around and around and Holden feels so happy watching her he thinks he might cry.
In the very short, final chapter, Holden reveals that he’s been institutionalized and is seeing a psychoanalyst. Everyone wants to know, will he apply himself when he goes back to school in September? “It’s such a stupid question, in my opinion. I mean how do you know what you’re going to do till you do it?”
Nicest way of saying someone looks pretty bad: She didn’t look too gorgeous.
Nicest way of saying someone looks pretty effing nervous: He wasn’t any too goddam cool.
Best new adjective: perverty
What I’m calling coffee from now on: cheerer upper
What you are when you’ve had too much to drink (or throwing a discus): oiled up
That time Holden went out of his way not to use a swear word in front of Mr. Antolini: No—heck, no.
Truth 1: I mean you can’t hardly ever simplify and unify something just because somebody wants you to.
Truth 2: You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t an. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write “F*ck you” right under your nose.
If you’re following along at home, this post covers chapters 23, 24, 25, and 26. Read them all here!