The Catcher in the Rye

J. D. Salinger

Chapters 13–15

Summary Chapters 13–15

The tension between Holden’s growing sexuality and his fragile innocence grows much stronger throughout this section. He wants to live in a beautiful world, but the pressure of his emerging sexuality and the demands of his loneliness compel him to enter into encounters with people like Maurice and Sunny. Such encounters are so far removed from the idealized encounters he fantasizes about that he departs from them much more hurt and wounded than before. Scared of the adult world, Holden clearly shies away from intimacy and is terrified of his burgeoning sexuality: he is too scared both to call Jane and to sleep with Sunny. He takes refuge in isolation, but this isolation only deepens the pain of alienation and loneliness.

While the harm Maurice and Sunny cause Holden is obvious, there are much more subtle reasons why his encounter with the nuns leaves him feeling hurt and wounded. Holden has constructed a simplistic divide between childhood, which he sees as innocent and good, and adulthood, which he finds superficial and evil. This worldview allows him to maintain his cynical barrier of defense: he is able to rationalize his loneliness by pretending that every adult around him is phony and annoying. In a way, Holden’s encounter with Maurice and Sunny helps Holden by reaffirming his understanding of a cruel and senseless adult world. But the nuns are kind, intelligent, and sympathetic. They don’t conform to his stereotyped understanding of organized religion, nor do they seem to have the phoniness that Holden expects of anything institutionalized. He is surprised that one nun loves Romeo and Juliet and that they can have a conversation about it.