Summary: Chapter 16
After breakfast, Holden goes for a walk. He thinks about the selflessness of the nuns and can’t imagine anyone he knows being so generous and giving. He heads down Broadway to buy a record called “Little Shirley Beans” for Phoebe. He likes the record because, although it is for children, it is sung by a black blues singer who makes it sound raunchy, not cute. He thinks about Phoebe, whom he considers to be a wonderful girl because, although she’s only ten, she always understands what Holden means when he talks to her. He sees an oblivious little boy walking in the street, singing, “If a body catch a body coming through the rye.” The innocence of the scene cheers him up, and he decides to call Jane, although he hangs up when her mother answers the phone. In preparation for his date with Sally, he buys theater tickets to a show called “I Know My Love,” which stars the Lunts.
The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was.
(See Important Quotations Explained)
Holden wants to see Phoebe, and he goes to look for her in the park because he remembers that she often roller-skates there on Sundays. He meets a girl who knows Phoebe. At first, she tells him that his sister is on a school trip to the Museum of Natural History, but then she remembers that the trip was the previous day. Nevertheless, Holden walks to the museum, remembering his own class trips. He focuses on the way life is frozen in the museum’s exhibits: models of Eskimos and Indians stand as though petrified and birds hang from the ceiling, seemingly in mid-flight. He remarks that every time he went to the museum, he felt that he had changed, while the museum had stayed exactly the same.
Summary: Chapter 17
At two o’clock, Holden goes to meet Sally at the Biltmore Hotel; she is late but looks very attractive, so he immediately forgives her tardiness. They make out in the taxi on the way to the theater. At the play, the actors annoy Holden because, like Ernie the piano player, they are almost too good at what they do and seem full of themselves. During intermission, Sally irritates Holden by flirting with a pretentious boy from Andover, another prep school, but he nonetheless agrees to take her ice-skating at “Radio City” (Radio City Music Hall is part of Rockefeller Center, where there is an ice-skating rink) after the show. While skating, Holden speculates that Sally only wanted to go ice-skating so she could wear a short skirt and show off her “cute ass,” but he admits that he finds it attractive. When they take a break and sit down indoors, Holden begins to unravel. Oscillating between shouting and hushed tones, he rants about all the “phonies” at his prep schools and in New York society, and talks about how alienated he feels. He becomes even more crazy and impetuous, saying that he and Sally should run away together and escape from society, living on their own in a cabin. When she points out that his dreams are ridiculous, he becomes more and more agitated. The quarrel builds until Holden calls Sally a “royal pain in the ass,” and she begins to cry. Holden starts to apologize, but Sally is upset and angry with him, and, finally, he leaves without her.
Analysis: Chapters 16–17
Things go from bad to worse for Holden in these chapters. His behavior during his date with Sally is the surest sign yet that he is heading toward emotional collapse. Throughout his tirade, Sally asks Holden to stop yelling, and he claims not to have been yelling, indicating that he is unaware of his own extreme agitation. His attempt to convince a shallow socialite like Sally to run away with him to a cabin in the wilderness also shows his increasing distance from reality—or, at least, his inability to deal with the reality in which he finds himself.
Though Holden admits his behavior is odd when he says, “I swear to God I’m a madman,” he doesn’t do much to explain its significance. Salinger continues to drop hints—like Sally’s requests for Holden to stop yelling—to signal that the story behind Holden’s narration is darker and more troubling than it might at first appear. His mood swings with Sally serve a similar purpose. When he first sees her, he is convinced he is in love with her. He then alternates between annoyance and rapturous passion for the duration of their date, until he finally tells her that she gives him “a royal pain in the ass.” Sally’s coldness and her lack of compassion are reflective of the greater world’s lack of concern about Holden’s plight. Except for Jane and Phoebe, no one in his world seems to care how he feels, so long as he observes social norms. Only when his actions violate those norms does anyone notice his disturbed state, and even then, their usual response, like Sally’s, is to criticize him. Despite the fact that Sally is obviously not a good match for him, Holden claims that at the moment he proposed that they run away together, he did truly love her. His feelings are irrational, but they indicate how desperate he is to find love.
This desperate need for love is counterbalanced by his inability to deal with the complexities of the real world. Like his encounter with the nuns in Chapter 15, his date with Sally demonstrates how ill-equipped he is to deal with actual people. Sally does not seem to be a very complex character, but Holden cannot connect with her at all. His wild proposals are not the kind of thing Sally is interested in, and he displays callousness when he insults her. As Holden proposes impossible schemes only to lash out when their ridiculousness is made apparent, his oversimplified, idealized fantasy world begins to seem less endearing and more dangerous.
Holden walks to a record store to find a record he knows Phoebe would like. A family exits a church and walks ahead of Holden, the little boy happily singing a song: "If a body catch a body coming through the rye." Holden feels a little better until he reaches Broadway, which is crowded with people in their Sunday best. Holden felt depressed again because of the crowd's excitement over going to the movies. His mood bounces up again when he finds the record. He also buys tickets to a drama he thinks Sally will like, though he is no fan of theater.
At Central Park Holden asks children Phoebe's age whether they know where she is, and a classmate answers that Phoebe might be at a museum. He walks to the Museum of Natural History, which he'd often visited with his class when he was young. He remembers the sensory details of the museum: the cool stone floors, the stillness of each exhibit. Nothing changes there, he explains, except the viewer. Holden puts his hunting hat back on and walks on, thinking sadly about how Phoebe will be different each time she visits the museum. When he reaches the museum, he discovers that he doesn't want to go in.
Holden describes two representations of life, acting and museum exhibits:
- Acting, plays, and movies: Holden says he hates actors. He can hardly follow a play's plot for worrying whether an actor will "do something phony every minute." The mismatch between real life and how an actor portrays it, and the necessity of checking the genuineness of every word and gesture, exhausts Holden.
- Museum exhibits and dioramas: Holden finds these static displays soothing. They never change. The witch doctor is always wearing his mask; the Eskimo is forever fishing through the hole in the unmelting ice.
Holden's world is changing around him. Adult responsibilities and relationships press on him, and he does not know what the adult world will offer him or demand of him. His fears are hard to put into words, but his preference for the still, unchanging world of the museum over the shifting shadows on the movie screen help readers grasp the conflict.