Holden says, "People are always ruining things for you." Why does he say this? Who has ruined what for him in The Catcher in the Rye?

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pmiranda2857's profile pic

pmiranda2857 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Holden makes this statement on page 87 of the novel when he is at Ernie's where he succeeds in getting served alcohol.  While at Ernie's he runs into his brother D.B.'s former girlfriend, Lillian Simmons who is accompanied by her date, a Navy guy.  Holden finds both Lillian and especially her date, to be big phonies.  He is at the bar to drink and listen to Ernie play the piano. 

When he runs into Lillian, he feels like this has been ruined for him, because as soon as she starts to talk to him, he tells her that he was just leaving, he can't wait to get away from her.

"After I'd told her I had to meet somebody, I didn't have any goddamn choice except to leave.  I couldn't even stick around to hear old Ernie' play something halfway decent.  But I certainly wasn't going to sit down at a table with old Lillian Simmons and that Navy guy and be bored to death.  So I left, it made me mad."    

Lillian and her stupid date have ruined the opportunity for Holden to drink and listen to Ernie play the piano, something that he was really looking forward to, he just can't seem to catch a break.

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Like many teens, Holden Caulfield becomes disillusioned with the world of adults.

Having lost an artistic, creative, and highly intelligent brother and having a precocious little sister who is still innocent, Holden Caulfield is gravely disappointed in other people when he measures them against his siblings. He finds other people selfish, self-serving, or simply involved in trivial or useless pursuits.

A disaffected youth, Holden looks outward for someone and something to believe in, but he is too often disappointed, and believes, "People always ruin things for you." Finally, when he sneaks home and wakes his little sister Phoebe and she talks with him, Phoebe candidly confronts him: "You don't like anything that's happening."
When Holden argues that he does like some things, she demands, "Name one thing." All Holden can name is about his brother Allie and talking with Phoebe. Holden then expresses his desire to be like someone in Robert Burns's poem "Comin thro' the Rye" because he wants to "catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff--I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going, I. . . catch them."

In his teen angst, Holden Caulfield views the adult world with cynicism and disappointment, perceiving people as "phonies" who lack the courage to be genuine. That he oversimplifies the human condition is apparent, but often in their disillusionment with adults, which results when their ideals do not conquer the vicissitudes of life, teens like Holden react this way. Thus, although Holden is still ingenuous and disconnected from reality, his character accurately portrays the reactions of many teens who must abandon their naiveté as they discover the many imperfections in a humanity that "always ruins things."

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