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The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger

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In The Catcher in the Rye, why does Holden feel lucky when he remembers throwing a football with Robert and Paul?

Holden feels lucky when he remembers throwing the football with Robert and Paul because the pleasant memory provides him with an opportunity to finally say goodbye to Pencey Prep. Despite his terrible experience at Pencey Prep, Holden is able to recollect a happy memory, which allows him to move on and recognize that his time at Pencey Prep was not a complete failure.

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At the beginning of the novel, Holden Caulfield stands at the top of Thomsen Hill attempting to feel some sort of goodbye before he permanently leaves Pencey Prep after flunking out. As Holden stands alone on the hill, he tries to conjure pleasant memories of Pencey Prep, which is relatively difficult, considering the fact that he hates almost everything about the school. Holden continually expresses his displeasure with Pencey Prep and states that it is full of phonies. In addition to failing his classes, Holden has been ostracized by the fencing team and has not been able to form meaningful friendships with his peers. However, Holden doesn't care if it is a bad goodbye or a pleasant one as long he knows that he is leaving. Holden's obsession with searching for a final goodbye stems from the traumatic death of his younger brother Allie.

When Allie died, Holden was completely caught off guard, and he has never emotionally recovered. His need to experience a goodbye reveals his desire to recognize that a particular phase of his life is ending. Fortunately, Holden remembers the pleasant memory of throwing the football around with Robert Tichener and Paul Campbell one October evening. Although the sky kept getting darker, the boys continued to throw the football around until their biology teacher told them to stop. After remembering the pleasant experience, Holden says,

If I get a chance to remember that kind of stuff, I can get a goodbye when I need one—at least, most of the time I can. (Salinger, 3)

Overall, the happy memory of throwing the football around with Tichener and Campbell allows Holden to acknowledge that his time at Pencey Prep has come to an end. The comforting memory provides Holden with a sense of closure, which will make it easier for him to move on in life. Despite his terrible experience at Pencey Prep, the happy memory allows him to leave on a good note and recognize that his time at school has not been a complete waste.

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