Summary: Chapter 7

Holden talks for a while with Ackley and then tries to fall asleep in the bed belonging to Ackley’s roommate, who is away for the weekend. But he cannot stop imagining Jane fooling around with Stradlater, and he has trouble falling asleep. He wakes Ackley and talks with him some more, asking whether he could run off and join a monastery without being Catholic. Ackley is annoyed by the conversation, and Holden is annoyed by Ackley’s “phoniness,” so he leaves. Outside, in the dorm’s hallway, he decides that he will leave for New York that night instead of waiting until Wednesday. After passing a few days there in secret, he will wait until his parents have digested the news of his expulsion before he returns to their apartment. He packs his bags, dons his hunting hat, and begins to cry. As he heads into the hallway, he yells “Sleep tight, ya morons!” to the boys on his floor before stepping outside to leave Pencey forever.

Summary: Chapter 8

Holden walks the entire way to the train station and catches a late train to New York. At Trenton, an attractive older woman gets on and sits next to him. She turns out to be the mother of his classmate, Ernest Morrow. He dislikes Ernest immensely but tells extravagant lies about him to his mother, claiming that he is the most popular boy on campus and would have been elected class president if he’d let the other boys nominate him. Holden tells her his own name is Rudolph Schmidt, which is actually the school janitor’s name. When she asks why he is leaving Pencey early, Holden claims to be returning to New York for a brain tumor operation.

Summary: Chapter 9

At Penn Station, Holden wants to call someone but cannot think of anyone to call—his brother, D. B., is in Hollywood; his sister, Phoebe, is young and probably asleep; he doesn’t feel like calling Jane Gallagher; and another girl, Sally Hayes, has a mother who hates him. So, Holden takes a cab to the Edmont Hotel. He tries to make conversation with the driver, asking him where the ducks in the Central Park lagoon go in the winter, but the driver is uninterested. In his room at the Edmont, he looks out across the hotel courtyard into the lighted windows on the other side and discovers a variety of bizarre acts taking place. One man dresses in women’s clothing, and in another room, a man and a woman take turns spitting mouthfuls of their drinks into each other’s faces. Holden begins to feel aroused, so he calls Faith Cavendish, a promiscuous girl recommended to him by a boy he met at a party and tries to make a date with her. She refuses, claiming she needs her beauty sleep. She offers to meet him the next day, but he doesn’t want to wait that long, and he hangs up without arranging to meet her.

Analysis: Chapters 7–9

The Catcher in the Rye is a chronicle of Holden Caulfield’s emotional breakdown, but Holden never comments on it directly. At no point in the story does he say that he is undergoing an emotional strain; he simply describes his increasingly desperate behavior without much explanation. Salinger cleverly manipulates Holden’s narrative to signal to the reader that there is more to the story than what Holden admits or describes. In the previous sections, Holden exhibited a number of behaviors that might indicate a troubled mind: running through the snow to Mr. Spencer’s house, writing Stradlater’s English composition about Allie’s baseball glove, attacking Stradlater for joking about Jane, leaving his dorm forever in the middle of the night, and yelling an insult down the hallway on his way out. In this section, Holden’s frantic loneliness and constant lying further the implication that he is not well mentally or emotionally.

Read more about mental health in the mid-twentieth century.

As soon as he gets off the train in New York in Chapter 9, Holden wants to call someone and seems especially to want to call Jane, but he is apparently too nervous (he suspiciously claims not to “feel like it” and runs through a long list of people he could contact instead). This seems particularly strange given Holden’s cynicism and evident dislike for most people; in Chapter 8, for instance, he describes enjoying the solitude of late-night train rides. His desire for human contact becomes even more intense as the section progresses: he begins to feel sexually aroused and tries to make a date with a stranger whose number he was given at a party, then goes to a nightclub to flirt with older women. Holden’s constant lying, in this section and throughout the novel, is a mark of immaturity and imbalance. As soon as he meets Mrs. Morrow on the train, Holden begins telling ridiculous lies, claiming to be named Rudolph Schmidt and to be going to New York for a brain tumor operation. He feels guilty for lying, but the only way he can stop is to stop talking altogether. There is no particular rhyme or reason for the lies he tells Mrs. Morrow—his intentions toward her may be kind, or cruel, or simply careless. What does seem clear is that he lies to deflect attention from himself and what he is doing.

Read more about alienation as a motif.

In his reactions to the other guests in the hotel, whom he refers to as “perverts,” Holden reveals a great deal about his attitudes toward sex and toward what makes him uncomfortable about sexuality. He admits that he is aroused by the idea of spitting in someone’s face and that the couple across the courtyard seems to be having fun. But he thinks that people should only have sex if they care deeply for one another, and “crumby” behavior such as this seems disrespectful. What bothers him is his perception that sexual attraction can be separate from respect and intimacy, and that sex can be casual or kinky. He knows this from his own experience with a former girlfriend, from observing Stradlater’s mating habits, and from watching his new neighbors. As he tells his story, Holden never seems particularly concerned about his own behavior or that of those around him. He often seems angry, but he rarely discusses his feelings. By combining what we know about Holden from his narration with his actions in the story, we can piece together the desperation, the pressure, and the trauma he endures during this difficult time in his life.

Read more about point of view in The Catcher in the Rye.