Leaving Mr. Antolini’s, Holden takes the subway to Grand Central Station. He tries to sleep on one of the benches in the waiting room, but isn’t able to sleep for long, as “a million people” begin to arrive at the station in the morning. Holden wakes up to a worsened headache, feeling “more depressed than [he] ever was in [his] whole life.”
Holden begins to think about Mr. Antolini. He feels confused, wondering if he made a mistake. He remembers Mr. Antolini’s kindness and councel. He remembers how it was Mr. Antolini who picked up James Castle’s body.
To take his mind off of Mr. Antolini, Holden begins reading a magazine left on the bench beside him. The magazine articles about hormones and signs of cancer worry Holden. Even though he’s not hungry, he decides to go buy something for breakfast.
Holden begins to feel ill. He orders coffee and doughnuts at a restaurant but is only able to drink the coffee. Walking on Fifth Avenue, Holden notices the signs of Christmas around the city. He remembers taking Phoebe Christmas shopping downtown.
As Holden walks, something “very spooky started happening.” Every time he steps off a curb, he has a feeling that he’ll never get to the other side of the street, that he’ll “just go down, down, down.” He begins talking to his brother Allie, begging him to not let him disappear, and thanking him each time he reaches the other side of the street.
Holden finally stops and sits on a bench. He fantasizes about hitchhiking out West and starting a new, anonymous life. In a frenzy of excitement, he buys some stationery to write a note to his sister Phoebe and hurries to her school to give her the note.
At Phoebe’s school, Holden writes her a note inviting her to meet him at the museum. Holden sees graffiti on the wall of the school and becomes very angry, rubbing it off. Holden gives his note to a secretary, and on his way out of the school becomes depressed to see another “Fuck you” graffiti sign.
Holden goes to the museum to wait for Phoebe. He helps two boys find the Egyptian mummies. The boys become afraid and leave, and Holden is alone in the tomb. The peaceful moment is ruined when he sees another “Fuck you” written on the wall.
Holden feels sick and goes to the bathroom. Afterward, he “passes out” briefly. Holden goes back to the museum entrance to wait for Phoebe, imagining his new life out West and how he will arrange visits with his family members.
Finally, Phoebe arrives, dragging a large suitcase. Phoebe announces that she has packed her clothes and wants to go with him.
Holden feels like he might faint again. He tells Phoebe to shut up and refuses to let her come. Phoebe cries, and Holden reminds her of the play she is in. He “almost [hates] her,” thinking about how she would miss the play if she went away with him.
Phoebe is furious. She turns her back to Holden and throws his red hunting hat at him. She refuses to go back to school and tells Holden to shut up. Holden tells her that he won’t go out West and that he’ll go home instead, and he begins walking to the zoo. Phoebe follows him to the zoo and slowly begins to talk to him again. Holden buys her tickets to ride the carousel, and even though it begins to rain, he feels “so damn happy” watching her ride around and around.
(This entire section contains 1450 words.)
Holden tells readers that he has finished his story. He decides not to share about how he went home, how he got sick, or what school he will attend next.
Holden explains that people keep asking him if he plans to apply himself when he returns to school, which he believes is “a stupid question,” because he can’t predict it.
Although D.B. “isn’t as bad as the rest of them,” he also asks Holden a lot of questions. On a visit, D.B. asks Holden what his thoughts are about the experiences he has recounted. Holden admits that he doesn’t know what to think about his story and that he regrets telling “so many people about it.” He confides that he misses different people that he has described in his narrative, including Stradlater, Ackley, and even Maurice.
He finishes on a note of advice: “Don’t tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”
In the last two chapters of the novel, readers see important changes in Holden. While the trajectory for Holden is still unclear—he himself cannot predict if he will apply himself in school—there are signs that his perspective on life is shifting.
Holden’s reflections on Mr. Antolini are complex and confused, quite unlike the sweeping judgments he has made of others throughout the novel. The encounter with Mr. Antolini remains ambiguous, both for Holden and for readers.
While Holden previously felt drawn to death, even contemplating suicide at times, the idea of cancer frightens him, and he feels a desire to live. Immediately after this, he decides to eat something for breakfast—not because he is hungry but because he thinks he should “get something with some vitamins in it.” Holden is demonstrating an urge to live.
Holden’s feeling of falling and disappearing off a curb echoes his “catcher in the rye” fantasy of children being caught before falling off a cliff. Once again, Holden seems to be yearning for someone to catch him. Holden’s fear of falling, expressed through his pleas to Allie, also indicates his impulse to live.
Although Holden’s physical and mental condition continues to deteriorate in chapter 25, his concern for his health marks a shift away from apathy. Despite this shift, Holden still feels the pull of death at times. At the museum, for example, Holden feels a sense of peace in the tomb and once again imagines his own grave.
Another change in Holden is his ability to see the impact his choices have on others. He plans to move out West, but Phoebe’s reaction of anger and grief erodes his fantasies. He sees the impact that such a reckless move would have on his younger sister—exemplified by his dismay at the prospect of Phoebe missing her play—and he changes his mind.
At the end of chapter 25, Holden’s depressed state seems to break. Watching Phoebe ride the carousel, he feels so happy that he is “damn near bawling.”
However, the strength of Holden’s emotional reactions in specific moments—feeling deliriously happy watching Phoebe ride the carousel; feeling angry when seeing the “Fuck you” graffiti at the school—perhaps demonstrate Holden’s emotional immaturity. Holden does not reflect on the intensity of his anger at the imagined “perverty bum” who wrote the graffiti, particularly after his experience with Mr. Antolini. Similarly, he does reflect on why Phoebe’s riding the carousel sparks such a strong emotional reaction.
Both details—the graffiti and the carousel—seem to represent Holden’s views of the world. The graffiti seems to infiltrate everything; it marks up the memories of Holden’s school, it steals the innocence of children who see it, and it ruins a moment of peaceful solitude in the Egyptian tomb at the museum. The world around him, once innocent, has been permanently soiled by hostility and perversion. The carousel, on the other hand, embodies the beauty and innocence of childhood. Even though Holden himself does not ride the carousel, acknowledging that he is separated from childhood, watching his sister ride it brings him joy.
In the last chapter, Holden’s story is abruptly cut short by the present-day narrative voice. As in the first chapter, Holden addresses readers directly and discusses the choices he has made in telling his story. While Holden says that he doesn’t “feel like” sharing more, he does give away some key clues as to his current situation. He mentions that he “got sick” and that he seems to be staying in some type of mental health facility and is being treated by psychoanalysts.
Holden finishes the novel by admitting that he misses different characters he has described. This expression of warmth is a sign that Holden’s cynical view of the world is changing. This change is not complete, however. He finishes the novel by warning readers not to make his mistake. Holden still wants to mask his vulnerability, uncomfortable as he is with his feelings of missing others.