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The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger

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What does Holden think of the three women he meets in the Lavender Room in The Catcher in the Rye?

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Holden find himself bored and dissatisfied with the three women he meets in the Lavender Room. There is an age and class divide between them, as well a dullness in the women's conversation that Holden finds insurmountable.

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In chapter 10 of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden is in the Lavender Room, when he notices three women sitting nearby:

At the table right next to me, there were these three girls around thirty or so. The whole three of them were pretty ugly, and they all had on the kind of hats that you knew they didn't really live in New York, but one of them, the blonde one, wasn't too bad. She was sort of cute, the blonde one.

Holden dances with the blonde girl and complements her sincerely on being an excellent dancer. However, he finds little else to admire about her, remarking to himself that "some of these very stupid girls can really knock you out on a dance floor."

Bernice, the blonde girl, is moderately attractive and can dance. Even so, Holden finds her stupid and boring. The other two girls, Marty and Laverne, are ugly, and have no redeeming features for Holden, whose attitude towards them is somewhere between contempt and pity. His view of the three girls is colored both by class snobbery, and by the superior attitude that people from big cities often adopt to those from small towns. The girls are from Seattle, a place which now has a certain cachet and reputation for sophistication, but in the 1940s, a New Yorker would have regarded it as the middle of nowhere. Holden despises the way they chatter about tourist attractions and try to spot celebrities.

In the end, Holden feels sorry for the girls, and looks down on them as gauche tourists with no idea of what to wear or how to behave. Their determination to get up early the next day to see the first show at Radio City (which may, in fact, merely have been an excuse to leave) sums up their callowness as far as he is concerned:

If somebody, some girl in an awful-looking hat, for instance, comes all the way to New York-from Seattle, Washington, for God's sake, and ends up getting up early in the morning to see the goddam first show at Radio City Music Hall, it makes me so depressed I can't stand it. I'd've bought the whole three of them a hundred drinks if only they hadn't told me that.

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At loose ends, Holden heads to the Lavender Room, the bar in the downmarket hotel where he is staying. There he meets three woman he describes as "around thirty." They are Marty, Laverne, and Bernice. Bernice is blond, and Holden thinks she is reasonably "cute" and a good dancer, but finds her boring otherwise. He learns that all three woman work in the same insurance office in Seattle.

Holden is unimpressed with them, just as they are unimpressed with him, a sixteen-year-old who can't even get the waiter to bring him a drink other than a coke. He finds their conversation dull. They are looking for movie stars, and Holden feels bad when he lies and jokes that he saw Gary Cooper, who just left, because Bernice takes him seriously and gets excited, as do the other two.

The scene shows Holden bored and at loose ends. It also emphasizes the class divide that exists between him and the three women. He is a wealthy Manhattanite and prep school student, used to the elite country club set: normally he would not be near the hotel where he happens to be staying. He can see too clearly that the women are declassee: they wear garish hats, don't know what drinks to order that time of year, and are ga-ga over stars and Radio City Music Hall. That wouldn't bother him if they were kind or intelligent or sensitive, but they are conventional, shallow women.

Holden spends his time in New York in part exploring his sexuality, and this can be seen as his attempt to pick up the women—an attempt that is dissatisfying and unsuccessful for him. They leave him with the check and move on.

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Holden is drifting farther and farther into mental illness. He feels completely isolated from other people. He longs for human interaction and considers calling his sister Phoebe, who is 10, and in Holden's mind, is the only person who hasn't disappointed him yet. 

"While I was changing my shirt, I damn near gave my kid sister Phoebe a buzz, though. I certainly felt like talking to her on the phone. Somebody with a sense and all. But I couldn't take a chance on giving her a buzz, because she was only a little kid and she wouldn't have been up, let alone anywhere near the phone. I thought of maybe hanging up if my parents answered, but that wouldn't've worked, either. They'd know it was me. My mother always knows it's me. She's psychic. But I certainly wouldn't have minded shooting the crap with old Phoebe for a while." 

Holden decides to go to the Lavender Room and tries to buy a drink, but is carded and settles on a coke. He is trying to act older than he is, and fit in, even though he dislikes the people. He meets the three women, who are tourists, and strikes up a conversation with them. He doesn't like two of them, but somewhat enjoys the company of one. However, as with everything else in his life, he gets disgusted with the women. He thinks they are superficial and don't care about anything important. He ends getting stuck with the check for all of them, which deepens his dislike for society.

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The best way to describe his thoughts about the three girls he meets is "contempt." Holden claims that he is not all that interested in two of the girls, who he describes as "pretty ugly." Only one, a blonde woman, is "sort of cute." After the blonde woman dances with him, and tells him how impressed she was by seeing the actor Peter Lorre in person, he believes that she is "really a moron," though he is obviously attracted to her, and impressed by her dancing. He is highly dismissive of the intellectual abilities of the women, who he describes as "depressing." It is clear, though, that he primarily resents the fact that he, because of his age, seems to be a joke to them. This is a crucial tension in this chapter: Holden views the women and others in the bar as superficial and shallow, yet he tries to impress them by acting, in many ways, like the other bar patrons are acting.

Source: J.D Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (New York: Bantam Books, 1965).

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