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The gist of the advice that Mr.Antolini gives Holden in Chapter 24 is that he is going to have to find out where he wants to go in life and then
“your first move will be to apply yourself in school. You’ll have to. You’re a student—whether the idea appeals to your or not. You’re in love with knowledge.”
It is ironic that Antolini tells him:
“. . . you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior.”
Holden observes that the older man is drinking heavily throughout their conversation. Like most heavy drinkers, he likes big highballs heavily laced with whiskey. Antolini’s remarks become more and more suggestive as he becomes more and more intoxicated. He asks, “How are all your women?” He specifically inquires about Sally Hayes and Jane Gallagher. He would like to know more about Holden’s sex life. And finally he says, “All right. Good night, handsome.” (That word “handsome” should have been a warning. It also helps to characterize Holden indirectly.)
Holden finally goes to sleep on the couch—but he suddenly wakes up because “. . . he was sort of petting me or patting me on the goddam head.” It is almost tragic that the man Holden has come to for advice and protection, the man who told him that he wasn’t the first person to be confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior, should have become emboldened by liquor to be making unmistakable homosexual overtures to his underage guest.
Holden leaves the apartment feeling even more “confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior” than he felt when he went there. Antolini’s advice is good, but his behavior seems to cancel out its value.
Holden is an interesting literary character. He is intelligent and sensitive enough to make keen observations about people but not yet old enough to be able to analyze and digest their deeper significance. For example, his description of his host and hostess shows that Mr. Antolini is not sexually attracted to women. He stays up late because he does not want to go to bed before his wife falls asleep. He married for money. He has given up on any intellectual aspirations he probably once had and now wants a soft life with good food and plenty of liquor, along with the protective “cover” of marriage to disguise his homosexuality in an era when gay men still had to remain in the closet. Mrs. Antolini understands her husband and is just looking for a companion and escort in her old age. She has bought herself a husband who is a good host and a good conversationalist. Holden notes: “They were always kissing each other a lot in public.” This strongly suggests that theirs is what the French call a mariage de convenance. The reader picks these things up even if Holden does not.
Antolini’s advice is irreproachable but conventional, all-purpose, stale and platitudinous. It is easy to tell somebody else what he should do. Holden says that Antolini teaches at New York University, but he arrived there late in life after leaving Elkton Hills prep school (for what reason?) and probably is only a part-time, untenured lecturer or assistant professor. His advice is good, but it is putting Holden to sleep because the intelligent boy can see that the source is a disappointed old man who has given up on life and only half-believes what he is saying.
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