Chapters 20–24 Summary and Analysis
After Luce leaves, Holden stays at the bar, getting “drunk as hell.” He tries to invite one of the singers to join him for a drink and imagines that he is wounded.
Holden leaves the bar to call Jane Gallagher, but when he gets to the phone booth he decides to call Sally Hayes instead. He tells Sally that he’ll help her trim the tree on Christmas Eve. Sally tells him that he’s drunk and that he should go to bed.
After speaking with Sally, Holden goes to the men’s room and dunks his head in cold water. He strikes up a conversation with the piano player, who tells him to go home to bed. Beginning to cry, he gets his coat and record from the friendly girl at the hat-check room.
Even though it’s cold, Holden decides to walk through the park to see if the ducks are there. Along the way, he drops the record and puts the broken pieces in his pocket.
Holden doesn’t see any ducks and begins to shiver with the cold. Sitting down on a bench, he imagines his own funeral and being buried in a cemetery; details of his brother Allie’s death merge with his fantasy. He wishes that Allie were still alive.
Holden counts his dwindling supply of money and skips the last of his coins across the unfrozen part of the lake. He thinks about his sister and decides to go to his house to see her.
Tricking the elevator boy, Holden sneaks into his family’s apartment. Holden finds Phoebe in his brother D.B.’s room and, watching her sleep, he feels “swell, for a change.” Smoking his last cigarette, Holden reads Phoebe’s school notebooks on the desk.
Holden wakes Phoebe up and she greets him affectionately. Phoebe tells Holden about the play she is in at school, and she says that their parents are out at a party. Holden gives her the record he bought for her, explaining how he broke it, and Phoebe keeps the pieces. Phoebe keeps asking Holden why he is home early; Holden tries to lie to her, but she knows that he got expelled from Pencey. She is upset by this, putting her pillow over her head. She worries about their father’s reaction, but Holden tells her that he is going to go work on a ranch in Colorado. Holden tries to get Phoebe to take the pillow off of her head, but she refuses, so he leaves the room to find some more cigarettes.
When Holden returns to Phoebe’s room, she has removed the pillow but is still upset. She continues to worry about their father’s reaction and asks Holden why he was expelled. Holden tries to explain to her some of the reasons he hated Pencey. He tells her that Pencey was “full of phonies,” students and teachers alike. He recounts a story of a Pencey alumnus whose search for his initials in the bathroom struck Holden as depressing.
Phoebe tells Holden that he doesn’t like “a million things” and challenges him to think of one thing that he truly likes. Holden struggles to concentrate as he tries to think of an answer. All he can think about are the two nuns he met, as well as James Castle, a former schoolmate of his who committed suicide. Finally, Holden tells Phoebe that he likes Allie and he likes sitting talking with her. Phoebe argues that those aren’t adequate answers and demands that he name a career that he would like to pursue.
Holden tells Phoebe that he wants to be “the catcher in the rye.” He imagines children playing in a field of rye, and himself catching them before they go over the cliff.
Suddenly, Holden decides to call Mr. Antolini, one of his former English teachers.
Holden calls Mr. Antolini, and Mr. Antolini invites him to come over. Holden describes Mr. Antolini as “about the best teacher [he] ever had,” and he remembers how it was Mr. Antolini who picked up James Castle’s body.
Holden goes back to Phoebe’s room, and they dance together. Holden’s parents come home, and Holden hides in the closet as his mother checks on Phoebe. After she leaves, Holden tells Phoebe that he’s going to leave.
Phoebe insists on giving Holden her...
(The entire section is 1,520 words.)