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The Catcher in the Rye

J. D. Salinger
Quotes Important Quotations Explained
Quotes Important Quotations Explained

Quote 3

The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move. . . . Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you.

This passage, in which Holden explains why he loves the Museum of Natural History, is located in Chapter 16. Killing time before his date with Sally, Holden decides to walk from Central Park to the Museum of Natural History. Along the way, he remembers in detail his school trips to the museum. Holden has already demonstrated that he fears and does not know how to deal with conflict, confusion, and change. The museum presents him with a vision of life he can understand: it is frozen, silent, and always the same. Holden can think about and judge the Eskimo in the display case, but the Eskimo will never judge him back. It troubles him that he has changed each time he returns, while the museum’s displays remain completely the same. They represent the simple, idealistic, manageable vision of life that Holden wishes he could live.

It is significant that in the final sentence Holden uses the second-person pronoun “you” instead of the first-person “me.” It seems to be an attempt to distance himself from the inevitable process of change. But the impossibility of such a fantasy is the tragedy of Holden’s situation: rather than face the challenges around him, he retreats to a fantasy world of his own making. When he actually gets to the museum, he decides not to go in; that would require disturbing his fragile imaginative construction by making it encounter the real world. He wants life to remain frozen like the display cases in the museum.