Chapters 16–19 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on February 25, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1427

Chapter 16

Holden finishes his lunch around noon, with two hours left before he is scheduled to meet Sally Hayes. He thinks about the nuns he met and compares them to the wealthy women in his life.

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Holden begins to walk toward Broadway. He plans to buy a record for his sister Phoebe and then bring it to the park where she regularly skates on Sundays. Holden sees a family that “looked sort of poor” walking together. As he walks next to the curb, the six-year-old boy sings, “If a body catch a body coming through the rye.” Watching the family and hearing the boy sing makes Holden feel “not so depressed anymore.”

The crowds and line-ups on Broadway depress Holden. He finds the record he is looking for and buys it. He calls Jane Gallagher but hangs up when her mother answers the phone. Holden buys theater tickets, reflecting that shows are “not as bad as movies, but they’re certainly nothing to rave about.” He explains that he hates actors because they “never act like people” and recalls a production of Hamlet he saw with D.B.

Holden takes a taxi to the park to find Phoebe. He goes to the spot where she regularly skates. He sees other children there but can’t find her. He asks a girl if he knows Phoebe Caulfield. She does, and she mentions “the museum” as Phoebe’s likely location. Holden helps the girl tighten her skates and asks if she would like to have a hot chocolate with him, but she declines.

Holden walks to the Museum of Natural History. He remembers going to the museum as a child with his class. He states, “the best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was.” Even though the children walking through the museum would change, the museum was always the same. Holden wishes that some things could be kept in a glass case to stay the way they are.

When Holden finally arrives at the museum, he suddenly doesn’t feel like going in at all. Instead, he takes a taxi to the Biltmore to meet Sally.

Chapter 17

Arriving early, Holden sits on a couch and watches girls. He becomes depressed thinking about “what the hell would happen to all of them” and what kind of “dopey guys” they would marry. He reflects that maybe it’s not so bad. Even if they marry boring men, perhaps the men would have redeeming qualities, like being “terrific whistlers or something.”

When Sally arrives, Holden feels infatuated with her. In the taxi, he tells her he loves her; he admits that “it was a lie” but that, in the moment, he meant it.

Sally and Holden watch a show, and during the intermission they encounter an “Ivy League guy” that Sally knows. Holden is annoyed by their “phony” conversation, and by the time the show is over, he “sort of [hates] old Sally.”

At Sally’s suggestion, they go ice-skating at Radio City. They both struggle to skate, so they go to the bar to get drinks. Holden asks Sally if she ever gets “fed up.” He begins to vent about everything he hates about living in New York, talking to “phony” people, and attending boys’ schools. Sally keeps asking him to lower his voice and agrees with Holden when he admits that he’s “in lousy shape.”

Holden proposes that they drive north together, stay in a cabin, and get married. Sally refuses, and Holden becomes depressed thinking about his life after college. They begin to argue, and Holden apologizes after he makes her cry. He apologizes again after he begins laughing. Sally refuses to let Holden take her home, so he eventually leaves without her.

Chapter 18

After leaving the skating rink, Holden considers calling Jane Gallagher to see if she will go dancing with him. He reflects on the time that he saw her dancing; she was dating someone else whom she claimed “had an inferiority complex.” He calls Jane but there is no answer.

Holden decides to call Carl Luce, an old classmate about three years older than him; Carl agrees to meet him that night for a drink.

Holden goes to the movies. He is annoyed by the shows before the movie, by the audience, and by the movie itself. The movie is a war movie, and after leaving Holden begins to think about war. He remembers his brother D.B.’s experience in World War II, including his dislike for being in the Army. Holden imagines that he would hate being in the Army, too. Holden doesn’t understand how D.B. could “hate the Army and war and all so much” but like the book A Farewell to Arms

Chapter 19

Holden goes to the Wicker Bar to meet Carl Luce. Holden describes Luce as very intelligent, and he remembers how Luce gave “sex talks” late at night, telling the boys in the dorm at Whooton about “perverts” and homosexuals. Holden suspects that Luce himself is a homosexual.

Holden annoys Luce by asking about his sex life and his relationship with an older Chinese woman. Luce tells Holden that he should see a psychoanalyst to help him “recognize the patterns of [his] mind.” Luce’s father is a psychoanalyst, and Holden asks Luce if his father has psychoanalyzed him. He asks Luce to stay for one more drink, admitting that he is “lonesome as hell,” but Luce declines.

Analysis 

A significant scene in this section is when Holden watches a young boy singing the lyric “If a body catch a body coming through the rye.” This the first direct reference to the novel’s title. The boy is quoting a line from a Robert Burns poem, but misquotes the word “meet” as the word “catch.” Holden builds on this mistake; in later chapters, he describes a dream he has for his life’s purpose that is shaped around the idea of being a “catcher in the rye.”

The boy delights Holden and reflects Holden’s idyllic view of childhood. He is constantly irritated by the behavior of adults but frequently admires and appreciates children. The boy is walking on the street, close to the curb, and his own parents are oblivious to how close he is to danger. The boy is lost in his own world, “singing for the hell of it,” seemingly cut off from the world of adults. The details of this boy become significant later in the novel, as they enrich Holden’s image of a “catcher in the rye.”

Stemming from Holden’s idealized view of childhood is his fear of change. When Holden visits the Museum of Natural History, he remembers vivid details of visiting it as an elementary school student. “The best thing in that museum,” Holden declares, “was that everything always stayed right where it was.” Even though the museum artifacts seemed immune to the passing of time, their viewers—the children themselves—were always different each time they visited. Holden wishes that he could put some things “in one of those big glass cases” so that they would never change.

Holden’s fear of change taints his experience of the present. While waiting for Sally Hayes to meet him, Holden watches teen girls in the lobby of the Biltmore. While he calls this experience “nice sightseeing,” he can’t help but start “wondering what the hell would happen to all of them.” He becomes depressed thinking about the men that most of the girls would likely go on to marry. With Sally, Holden concocts a fantasy version of his future, a dream of moving away and living in a cabin. This unrealistic vision momentarily energizes Holden; he is attracted to the idea of escaping the future that realistically lies before him.

This section also contains several references to literature, a pattern that recurs throughout the novel. Holden is repulsed by any type of “phoniness,” in literature or in actors. He complains that when seeing Hamlet with his brother D.B., the actor “was too much like a goddam general, instead of a sad, screwed-up type guy.” Later, Holden wonders how his brother can like both A Farewell to Arms, which Holden considers phony, and The Great Gatsby, which Holden enjoys. Holden’s attraction to the themes of Hamlet and The Great Gatsby arguably reflect his own melancholy and troubled state of mind.

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Chapters 20–24 Summary and Analysis