Holden has recently failed out of school and is dreading facing his parents and himself. He wanders around the city to avoid going home early and alerting his parents that something is wrong. He knows what their reaction will be since he has failed out of several schools already. In addition, wandering around the city helps him to avoid dealing with his own emotions.
Holden is desperately seeking help, although he is unaware consciously of this fact. He is good at avoiding people, but especially good at avoiding himself. Holden has been unable to come to terms with the major tragedy of his life—the death of his brother Allie—and all of his actions are a means of avoiding the truth.
A major concern of Holden’s is Jane Gallagher. He has always thought highly of her and now he recalls spending time with her in the past. He thinks back to playing checkers with her, her family, and how he enjoyed spending time with her. Holden cares for Jane and she is the only one he trusted enough to show the poems on Allie’s baseball mitt to. Holden admits that he was happy when he was with Jane, a positive feeling he has been unable to have lately. He cannot think of Jane with Stradlater because “it drove me crazy” so he goes out.
He wanders around New York City seeking companionship, but failing to find anyone who genuinely cares about him. He strikes up conversations with strangers but does not get the help he needs. For instance, he asks the cab driver, Horwitz, about the ducks in the frozen pond. Holden’s concern is that they have no place to go in the winter; he identifies with those ducks because he feels he has no place to go since he cannot return to school or home. However, Horwitz is more annoyed than understanding: he tells Holden his question about the ducks is stupid. Horwitz turns the conversation to the fish because he knows that the fish stay in the frozen pond; when Holden challenges him, Horwitz becomes impatient. “What’sa matter with ya?” Holden gets no compassion from this conversation and no answer to his original question. He needs to know that the ducks are taken care of when things become difficult, just like he needs to know that he’ll be taken care of now that things are difficult for him.
So far, Holden does not have that feeling of comfort and care that he so desperately craves and needs as he becomes more and more ill. Except for his little sister Phoebe, there is no one in Holden’s life that he genuinely feels close to. Being alone would force him to think about truth, and he doesn’t feel capable of dealing with his brother’s death yet. He’d rather seek out the company of strangers that he believes are all “phonies” and “jerks,” than be alone and afraid.