Extended Character Analysis
Mr. Antolini is Holden’s English teacher from his previous school, Elkton Hills. Mr. Antolini is young, intelligent, and suave, with a nice home in New York City. He has a propensity for smoking and drinking. Holden calls him up in the middle of the night to ask for help. Mr. Antolini readily invites Holden to his home to stay the night on his couch. After Holden arrives, Mr. Antolini’s wife serves Holden coffee before going to bed, and Mr. Antolini stays up with Holden to talk with him.
Mr. Antolini represents academia and demonstrates the benefits of becoming a learned person. He shows Holden how schooling can help a person make sense of the universal problems of life. He believes that Holden is experiencing a type of “fall” and is trying to “die nobly” for an unimportant cause. He tries to convince Holden to instead “live humbly” and return to school with vigor. Mr. Antolini cares for Holden and also appears to be close to Holden’s family. Seemingly the only paternal figure Holden interacts with, Mr. Antolini appears to be at the beneficent end of the mentor spectrum. He cares for Holden and works to make sure Holden is not only paying attention but also understanding him as he tries to help.
In contrast to Holden’s stodgy and rude history teacher, Mr. Spencer, Mr. Antolini is young and enlightened. He does not try to shame Holden. Rather, he wants to lift him from his “fall.” Holden recalls Mr. Antolini’s kindness at his past school, Elkton Hills. Holden’s classmate James Castle killed himself by jumping out of a window. Holden remembers that everyone gathered around James but wouldn’t touch him. Mr. Antolini, however, was the only person who was willing to pick James up. Holden recalls how Mr. Antolini carried James to the infirmary, not caring that James’s blood was getting all over his jacket. In contrast to the other adults that Holden encounters, Mr. Antolini appears to understand Holden’s predicament. The suicide of James Castle is an encounter that ties Holden and Mr. Antolini together. They were both witness to James’s death, and now are both witness to Holden’s “fall” into the adult world.
However, Holden is scared away from Mr. Antolini’s home when he wakes in the night to find Mr. Antolini stroking his head. Unwelcome physical touch from a male, father-like character terrifies Holden. It is apparent that Holden has not experienced tender physical touch from any male before, and he is disturbed by the gesture. It remains unclear why Mr. Antolini was stroking Holden’s hair. Yet, Mr. Antolini tries to show Holden afterwards that he meant no ill will: he asks Holden to come back and expresses worry for him. Later, Holden reflects on the ordeal and feels guilty for not returning to or calling Mr. Antolini. He realizes that Mr. Antolini wasn’t trying to hurt him. Holden also sees that the advice Mr. Antolini gave was interesting and useful. Although Holden acknowledges this, he avoids Mr. Antolini from then on. This encounter highlights Holden’s isolation from the educated and successful male world.