The passage cited in J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye discusses Holden’s visit to Mr. and Mrs. Antolini and his intense conversation with Mr. Antolini. Holden initially describes Mr. Antolini as a heavy drinker, and the first thing that he notes in this particular passage is that Mr. Antolini “got up and poured some more booze in his glass.” After a period of sitting in silence, Mr. Antolini makes a seemingly strange remark to Holden:
"I don't want to scare you," he said, "but I can very clearly see you dying nobly, one way or another, for some highly unworthy cause."
This seems like a peculiar remark, but it also seems clear that Mr. Antolini understands Holden. He understands that Holden will not put up with phonies and has a noble view of the world. Most importantly, he understands that Holden is very unhappy and has tremendous angst, possibly beyond what most other young people of his age feel. Mr. Antolini then asks Holden to read something. He hands Holden a paper that says,
The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.
Mr. Antolini understands that Holden is an idealist and would be willing to die for a noble cause. However, through the statement written on this paper, he is telling Holden that it would be better to live and fight for that same noble cause instead. The interesting thing is that Holden says that he still has the note, which is a sign of his respect for Mr. Antolini and perhaps of the lesson that he took away from this exchange.
The passage contributes to the development of the themes of Holden’s angst and his sense of idealism in The Catcher in the Rye. After all, Holden says that he would like to be a catcher to catch the children before any harm can come to them. Authors frequently use dialogue to advance the plot of the story. However, in this case, the author use this dialogue between Holden and Mr. Antolini to advance these themes and also to show, as Mr. Antolini says, that there are ways to protect your ideals other than fighting to the death for them.