“Holden . . . One short, faintly stuffy, pedagogical question. Don’t you think there’s a time and place for everything? Don’t you think if someone starts out to tell you about his father’s farm, he should stick to his guns, then get around to telling you about his uncle’s brace? Or, if his uncle’s brace is such a provocative subject, shouldn’t he have selected it in the first place as his subject—not the farm?”
In Chapter 24, after Holden explains that he’s failed his Oral Expression class because he liked to make digressions in his stories, Mr. Antolini wants to know more. Unlike other adult figures in the book, Mr. Antolini doesn’t simply dismiss Holden’s enjoyment of digressions as childish. Instead, he takes the time to engage with his former student. Rather than just telling him what he should or shouldn’t do, Mr. Antolini respects Holden’s intelligence enough to try to persuade him with a rational argument.
“This fall I think you’re riding for—it’s a special kind of fall, a horrible kind. The man falling isn’t permitted to feel or hear himself hit bottom. He just keeps falling and falling.”
Mr. Antolini addresses this speech to Holden in Chapter 24. Mr. Antolini believes that Holden is on track for some kind of psychological breakdown, which he describes as a “special kind of fall” in which the person falling never hits bottom. Once again, Mr. Antolini takes care not to talk down to Holden, but rather speaks to him openly and frankly, as if he were an adult. In doing so, Mr. Antolini also demonstrates his care for and concern about Holden’s well-being.
“[Y]ou’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them—if you want to.”
In this quote from Chapter 24, Mr. Antolini suggests that Holden is not as unique as he thinks in his concerns about humanity. Throughout the novel Holden feels alienated from just about everyone he meets. However, as Mr. Antolini points out, many people have had similar experiences of alienation and despair. Some of the great works of philosophy and literature concern the very concerns that cause Holden to feel alone in his experience. Were he to read some of these books, he’d discover he’s less isolated than he believes.