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Think about Holden's loneliness and how it affects everything he does. When he arrived in the city, he told us he wanted to call somebody- anybody, really. But he came up with a different reason for not calling each person he thought of. He ended up calling someone he'd never met, and pretending he was someone he wasn't.
Earlier we saw him try to explain to Mr. Spencer why he was being expelled. He soon realized that he and Spencer were talking different languages, and he hurried to get out of his teacher's house.
His conversations with Ackley were disastrous. The first time they talked, Ackley forced himself on Holden. But the second time, Holden did the forcing because he was desperate for someone to talk to.
On the train he met a woman he really liked. How did he deal with that potentially pleasant situation? He gave her a false name, drew a fraudulent picture of her son, and told her an outrageous lie about himself that effectively ended their conversation.
If there's a pattern here, it is that Holden wants to connect with people but can't, even when he has good opportunities. Though he tries talking to people, they all disappoint him, and he withdraws from them before anything can happen.
So far Holden has mentioned only two people for whom he has a continuing regard. One is Jane Gallagher, a girl he hasn't seen in almost two years. The other is his brother Allie, who has been dead for three years. Neither of these people is a part of Holden's life. For all we know, what he believes about them might be the product of his imagination.
At the beginning of Chapter 10 you'll read about a third person in this select group of people Holden thinks highly of. This one is alive, a part of his life, and very real. It's his younger sister Phoebe, and you'll meet her later in the story.
Read the opening of Chapter 10 with a pencil in your hand, because Holden (Salinger, actually) really gets carried away talking about Phoebe, and you might want to mark off some of the things he says about her. She's pretty, she's smart, she looks like Allie, she's "roller-skate skinny," and so on.
Phoebe is about the age Allie was when he died. Keep this in mind as you read the passage and as you continue to read the book. It will eventually give you a key to understanding Holden-and it is closely related to the books title.
The passage about Phoebe contains something else of interest-some detailed references to movies. Holden has already told us several times how much he dislikes movies. The most memorable remark he made was at the end of the opening paragraph of the book, when he called his brother a prostitute for working in Hollywood.
On the other hand, he makes many references to movies, some of them rather affectionate, such as the one in this section about The 39 Steps. His attitude toward movies is at least ambivalent; he certainly doesn't hate them as much as he would have us believe.
Why does Holden protest about movies so much, when he obviously sees many of them? It might be that Holden (who reads much more than his teachers think he does) feels movies should be beneath him. It might be that he has to convince himself from time to time that he really is an outsider. What better way to do that than to divorce himself from the most popular form of entertainment of his time? Or his complaints about movies might be an indirect echo of his dissatisfaction with his brother D. B., who gave up writing the stories Holden loves in order to become a screenwriter.
Holden tells us he goes down to the hotel bar "to see what was going on." But by this time you should be suspicious of such casual language. In fact, he's still in the state he was in when he arrived at Penn Station, and when he called a total stranger. What he's longing for is to make contact with another person.
Does he have a chance of making contact? He spots three women, older than he is, but probably wanting as much as he does to meet someone. "The whole three of them were pretty ugly," he says, and he doesn't think much of the way they're dressed, either. He refers to them as "the three witches," and he works up a good deal of hostility toward them before he even approaches them.
How good, then, do you think his chances are of striking up a friendly conversation with these women? If he fails to connect-and of course he does-is it because they're insensitive dolts? If so, is it only because of that? Or does Holden play some part in these dead-end conversations he keeps finding himself in? Notice how often he finds the wrong thing to say to people. Notice how adept he is at appearing hostile, even though we know he's desperate to make contact. If Holden can't find someone to talk with, it's often as much his fault as that of the people he meets.
By the time the three women walk out on him, Holden has the explanation for his failure all prepared. "They were so ignorant, and they had those sad, fancy hats on and all. And that business about getting up early to see the first show at Radio City Music Hall depressed me."
It makes him so depressed he can't stand it, he tells us. He's already used the word "depressed" a few times, and he'll use it many more times later on. Pay attention to the kinds of things he finds depressing. The pattern will help you understand Holden better.